Filene Center in 1980. (Source: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Wolf Trap Captures the Hearts of the DMV

Today, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a mainstay of Washington, D.C.’s cultural life. The park’s large outdoor auditorium and beautiful green space play host to a variety of performers. However, 50 years ago, some politicians questioned whether it was a wise decision for the government to accept the land gift from Catherine Filene Shouse and build the performing arts center.

Jeannette Rankin

The Jeannette Rankin Brigade

In 1916, Jeannette Rankin made history as the first woman elected to Congress. A renowned pacifist, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. involvement in World War II. At age 87, Rankin made one final push for peace by leading an anti-Vietnam march: the Jeannette Rankin Brigade.

The Beatles hold a press conference in the Washington Senators' locker room at D.C. Stadium, August 15 1966. (Source: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The Beatles' Final D.C. Concert

Although their first appearance in Washington D.C. was certainly more historic, the Beatles' last visit was nothing if not eventful, and verged on the downright bizarre. In stark contrast to that triumphant first U.S. concert at Washington Coliseum in February 1964, by August 1966 the Beatles were mired in controversy, struggling to sell out concerts, and creating music too complex to be replicated on stage.

Owls, named "Increase" and "Diffusion", who lived in the West Tower of the Smithsonian Institution Building, perch on a ledge. (Source: Smithsonian)

When Owls Guarded the Smithsonian

In the 1960s and '70s, renovations in the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle sought to restore the building to its Victorian beginnings. Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, didn’t think architecture was quite enough to restore the #aesthetic. No, what the castle really needed was a few live-in barn owls, just like the old days.

The Making of Old Town

map of original oldtown

The picturesque Old Town we know today didn’t just happen naturally. It was planned in response to America’s burgeoning historic preservation movement, mid-century urban renewal efforts and a lot of involvement from local citizens.

Julius Hobson's Unlikely Relationship with the F.B.I.

Julius Hobson was as active an activist as you could imagine, but he also collaborated with law enforcement for several years. (Image source: DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division, Collection 1, Julius Hobson Papers.)

We’ve written before on this blog about the exploits of Julius Hobson. A D.C. civil rights activist in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, his campaigns against segregation and injustice were based on equal parts audacity and bluff, ranging from staging a “lie-in” at a D.C. hospital, to encouraging people to paste pro-integration stickers over the punchcards on their power bills,  to threatening massive protests and boycotts that had no chance of materializing. He combated police brutality by following policemen around with a long-range microphone, and, most famously, promised to release cages full of rats on Georgetown if the city didn’t deal with the rat problem elsewhere. His antics effected genuine social change, in large part because everyone was too nervous to call him on his bluffs, for fear that he might be able to back them up. His acts were already so outlandish, anything seemed plausible, except for one rumor that seemed to be too uncharacteristic to be true. Yet, it was the truth: for years, Julius Hobson passed information to the FBI.

Marion Barry Leads Bus Boycott

Boycotters board a “freedom bus,” one of the provided forms of transportation. (Source: Jet Magazine, Feb 10, 1966, accessible via GoogleBooks)

The price of public transportation in D.C. is rising and people are angry. Although this statement could accurately describe the present time, let’s turn back the clock to 1965.

D.C. Transit had just announced plans to raise bus fares and one man wasn’t having it. This man was Marion Barry, who would go on to become mayor of D.C., serving four terms. But Barry wasn’t mayor yet. He was a relatively new resident in D.C., having moved here to open up a local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Barry saw the bus company’s raised rates as a direct hit to low income people in the District, who were mostly African American.

"The Whitest Huddle of Any Team in the League"

The Washington football team in 1961. (Image source: RedskinsCardMuseum.com)

The Washington Redskins are being accused of insensitivity and intolerance. The government is taking steps to intervene if the team doesn’t change its ways. Sound familiar? That’s because today’s name-change controversy echoes the situation over fifty years ago, when the Redskins were the last all-white team in the NFL. By 1952, every other team in the league had African-American players, but Washington team founder and owner George Preston Marshall refused to integrate, and dragged his feet for ten more years until his hand was forced.

Hobson with his station wagon and trademark pipe and fedora, ready to harangue the multitudes. (Source: Evening Star)

Julius Hobson Gets Out of the Rat Race

Despite recent events at the National Zoo, scares about escaped rodents in Washington are nothing new, and since this is Washington, these scares have sometimes had a political bent.

If you lived in DC in August of 1964, you might have seen Julius Hobson driving through downtown with a cage full of enormous rats strapped to the roof of his station wagon. Frustrated by the city government’s refusal to do anything about the rat problem in Northeast and Southeast DC, and about the District’s more affluent citizens’ apathy about the issue, he said that if Southeast was having this problem, then Georgetown should share it too. Hobson caught “possum-sized rats” in Shaw and Northeast, and transported them up to Georgetown, promising to release the cage full of rats in the middle of the wealthy district unless the city government acted to curb the epidemic. Since he was, as a piece in The Washingtonian put it, “[a]ware that a DC problem usually is not a problem until it is a white problem,” he decided to go ahead and make it a white problem.