World War II

Filed Under:DC

Mussolini’s Mysterious Stay at St. Elizabeths

Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress)Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress) St. Elizabeths Hospital has had its fair share of infamous patients. Would-be Presidential assassins Richard Lawrence and John Hinckley, silent film actress Mary Fuller, and “The Shotgun Stalker” James Swann have all called the psychiatric hospital home. But the building has also had some lesser-known, but equally significant, guests – or at least parts of them. St. Elizabeths quite literally got a piece of Benito Mussolini’s mind when sections of his brain were sent there for research in 1945.That’s right: as literary great Ezra Pound spent time in the Chestnut Ward, a portion of his fascist idol was just next door. And while Pound left after twelve years, the brain remained, shrouded in obscurity, until its eventual disappearance more than twenty years later.

Let’s go back to April of 1945. It was the final year of World War II, and things weren’t going well for Il Duce. Allied forces were invading Italy, and as he attempted to flee, Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans near Lake Como. There, he was executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Filed Under:DC

How a Failed German Spy Mission Turned into J. Edgar Hoover’s Big Break

The Nazi Saboteur trial taking place in a converted Department of Justice room, 1942. (Photo source: Library of Congress)On June 13, 1942, four Nazi spies disembarked their U-Boat on a beach near Long Island, New York. Four days later, a similar group landed on Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. Their goal: to harm American economic targets in the hope of turning the war back in favor of Germany. The men had been extensively trained at a sabotage school near Berlin and carried enough explosives, primers, and incendiaries to support two years worth of destruction. They carried plans with them that outlined attacks of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, aluminum plants in Philadelphia, the canal lock systems in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and other targets.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland

Baseball But No Palm Trees: Nats Wartime Spring Training

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shown here in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium in 1934, recommended that baseball continue during World War II. However, teams were expected curtail travel and conduct spring training close to home. (Photo source: National Archives)Ah, Major League Baseball Spring Training, the annual spring rite when ball clubs escape the cold of the north and go to Florida or Arizona to shake off the winter rust. Teams have been doing it for over one hundred years.

In fact, our hometown Washington Nationals began the trend – sort of –  in 1888 when they became the first club to hold camp in Florida, setting up shop in Jacksonville. The experiment was a little before its time. When the Nats finished the 1888 season with a 46-86 record (a mere 37 and a half games out of first place), they and other teams decided traveling South to train was not a recipe for success.

It took a few years, but teams eventually reconsidered and – thanks largely to a sunshine state building boom – Florida’s Grapefruit League was well established by the 1930s. The Washington Senators camped in Orlando in 1936 and stayed there until 1960, except for a memorable three-year stretch during World War II.

Filed Under:DC

Standing Room Only: DC's WWII Housing Crunch

Two African American children in DC alley in 1930s. (Photo source: Library of Congress.)During World War II, the job market in D.C. exploded; between 1940 and 1945, the number of civilians employed by the government almost quadrupled. The Defense Housing Registry, created by the DC government to help these new employees find housing, processed around 10,000 newcomers every month.

The housing market in D.C. was not at all equipped to deal with this influx; construction in the city had slowed during the Great Depression, and halted completely when materials and labor were diverted to the war effort. So what resulted from the overcrowding of Washington?

Filed Under:Virginia

The Strange Arlington Saga of Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish hero buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsTonight at 8pm WETA TV 26 and WETA HD premiere a new local documentary, Arlington National Cemetery. It's a poignant look at one of our nation's most hallowed grounds and offers a inside view of the cemetery's operations and history. But, since it's impossible to include everything in a one-hour documentary, we've been looking for other interesting Arlington stories to explore here on the blog.

So, along those lines, allow us to introduce you to one of Poland's greatest heroes, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who took a hiatus from his career as a world-renowned pianist and composer to serve as that nation's first Prime Minister. What does this have to do with Arlington? Find out after the jump.

Filed Under:Virginia

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

Burial of the first official unknown soldier from World War I, on Nov. 11, 1921. Credit: U.S. ArmyAt Arlington National Cemetery, the subject of a new WETA program that premieres Feb. 5 at 8 p.m., one of the most haunting features is the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the rear of the monument, there's a haunting inscription: Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.

But the story of how the first official unknown soldier from World War I was selected for burial in the graves alongside the monument is a strange one. For one, he wasn't actually the first unidentified casualty to be entombed at Arlington.

Filed Under:DC

We Will Never Die Pageant, 1943

Harry Selden’s donation of this program to the Jewish Historical Society’s archives in 1998 prompted the Society to uncover the pageant’s local story. (Photo source: Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington)In an age before e-news, social media, and cellphones, one pageant helped bring the truth about the tragedy unfolding in Hitler’s Europe to the nation’s attention.

Seventy years after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, hundreds of members of Congress, and several Supreme Court Justices convened in Constitution Hall to learn of the atrocities being committed in Europe, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington will mark the anniversary of that pageant, entitled We Will Never Die – a Mass Memorial to the Two Million Dead of Europe.

Filed Under:DC

Commemorating the Four Chaplains

Rabbi Alexander Goode. (Courtesy JHSGW Collections. Gift of Theresa G. Kaplan.)The Second World War abounds with stories of heroism. This weekend, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of a now little-known event: the sinking of the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester and the brave sacrifices made by four chaplains, including the Washington-raised Rabbi Alexander Goode.

Thanks to David McKenzie from the Jewish Historical Society of Washington for contributing this guest post!

Filed Under:Virginia

Fairlington: Built to Last

Homes in Fairlington, 1943. (Source: Library of Congress)The year is 1943. You’re new to the area and looking for a place to live that’s close enough to the city that the commute to your government job won’t be completely terrible. Maybe you’ve got a dog. Maybe you’re starting a family. It’s a busy time. The war is going on, after all, and Washington is buzzing with activity. Where are you going to live?

Well, if you were looking in Arlington, there’s a good chance you might end up in the new Fairlington neighborhood…  That is of course, if you could get a spot -– easier said than done in those days.

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