Impressions of Washington

Filed Under:DC

Impressions of Washington: Lead Belly's "Bourgeois Blues"

Lead Belly, National Press Club, Washington, D.C., between 1938 and 1948Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949), better known as Lead Belly, was a legendary folk and blues musician known for his virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, powerful vocals and the huge catalog of folk standards he introduced. Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, artists from Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin to Nirvana and the White Stripes have covered his songs and recognized his musical influence.

Somewhat less remembered, even locally, is Lead Belly's "Bourgeois Blues," a song written about his first visit to Washington, D.C. in 1937 — an incisive indictment of the city’s racial segregation conveyed in 3 minutes of rippling 12-string blues.

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Impressions of Washington: By the Light of the White House being Engulfed in Flames

Painting by Tom Freeman. Source: The White House Historical Association.Washington, D.C. has had many visitors since it’s inception, but it cannot be said that everyone was a huge fan. Actually, in 1814, there were quite a number of people who were a bit upset with the Capitol. You might have heard of them… The British?

Yes, on August 24, 1814, the British attacked and burned Washington, D.C. One of their number, George Robert Gleig, apparently found enough time whilst attacking the city at night in the middle of a hurricane to take in the sights and form some opinions.

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Impressions of Washington: "The head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva"

Self portrait by Charles Dickens during his American tour in 1842. The women in the bottom left is his sister, Fanny. (Source: Wikipedia)  Self portrait by Charles Dickens during his American tour in 1842. The women in the bottom left is his sister, Fanny. (Source: Wikipedia) When Charles Dickens visited Washington in 1842, he had a lot to say. But, perhaps nothing caught his eye -- and ire -- as much as Washingtonians' obvious love of chewing tobacco.

As Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva, the time is come when I must confess, without any disguise, that the prevalence of those two odious practices of chewing and expectorating began about this time to be anything but agreeable, and soon became most offensive and sickening.

Filed Under:DC

Impressions of Washington: A German Visitor to the Smithsonian in 1874

The Smithsonian Institution Castle as it appeared c.1870. (Photo source: Brady-Handy Photograph Collection at Library of Congress.)It's always interesting to read what visitors and residents of Washington have had to say about our fair city over the years.

In 1873, the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne Daily News) asked German anthropologist Friedrich Ratzel to take a trip to the United States and write a series of articles about life in America. He reached Washington in the winter of 1874 and, as a scientist, was particularly interested in the Smithsonian building. See what he had to say.

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