Virginia

Oscar-Winner "12 Years a Slave" is a Reminder of the Local Slave Trade

Director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards telecast on Sunday, serves to highlight a horrific and shameful part of local history — the area's role as a transit depot and resale market for humans held in involuntary servitude.

For those who haven't yet seen it, the acclaimed film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American violinist who in 1841 traveled from his home in New York to Washington, DC, with the promise of a high-paying job as a circus musician. He didn't know that his prospective employers actually were slave traders. 

The Strange Arlington Saga of Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Tonight 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.

Civil War Healing at Arlington National Cemetery

WETA Television's new documentary, Arlington National Cemetery (which premieres tomorrow night!) has inspired us to do some digging on cemetery history. Here's the background behind one of Arlington's most meaningful memorials.

On a warm, sunny day in June of 1914, a crowd gathered to witness the unveiling of what The Washington Post described as “a memorial of heroic size, commemorating war, but dedicated to peace.” It was an intricately designed, 32-foot tall granite monument deeply embedded with symbolic meaning for visitors to decode. A large statue of a woman facing southward dominated the top of the monument. In her extended arm was a laurel wreath meant to represent the sacrifices of fallen soldiers. Below her, a Biblical passage was inscribed, near four urns that symbolize the four years of the Civil War, and fourteen shields. Closer to the monument’s base are thirty-two life-sized figures, including Southerners of varying military branch, race, gender, occupation, and age, along with mythological characters such as Minerva, Goddess of War.[1]

So what was this new monument and why were so many people clamoring to see it?

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

At 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.

The Wawaset Disaster of 1873

Few remember it today, but in 1873 “the Waswaset horror” broke the hearts of many in D.C. and the surrounding area.

On August 8, 1873, the Wawaset was heading towards Cone River from Washington. Around 11:30AM, near Chatterson’s Landing, the fireman of the steamer raised the alarm that a fire had broken out on board. The boat was very dry, “almost like timber”, and it spread quickly on the oiled machinery of the steamer. Captain Woods immediately steered the boat towards shore. He stayed in the pilot’s house in order to keep the steering ropes from catching on fire; if those were lost, there would be no way to direct the steamer. If the steamer could make it to shore before the fire became too much for those on board, any loss of life could be avoided. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way.

10 Years Later: Remembering Elizabeth Campbell

January 9, 2004 was a very sad day for us here at WETA. It was the day that we lost Elizabeth Campbell, our founder and a pillar in the Washington, D.C. area community. Ten years later, we look back and celebrate her life and vision.

Thank you for everything you did to serve WETA and the Washington community, Mrs. Campbell. We still feel your impact today. May you continue to rest in peace.

Remembering the Titans

1971 T.C. Williams High School football team. (Source: Chasing The Frog website)

It's about time for my annual viewing of Remember the Titans. And fittingly so, since today is the anniversary of the 1971 T.C. Williams High School team's victory in the Virginia State High School championship game. Despite what you might remember from the Disney movie, which came out in 2000, the game was not close. There was no trick play in the final seconds to secure the victory. (Too bad -- Denzel Washington's "Fake 23 blast with a backside Georgia reverse" seemed to be quite a play. Maybe the Redskins should try it.)

As you might imagine, the fictional final play was not the only liberty that the movie producers took with this bit of our local history. But while some facets of the film were made up, it did illustrate some truths.

From Bolivia to Arlington

Inspired by the new LATINO AMERICANS film, we decided to seek out a local perspective on the Latino experience in our community. With the help of the good folks at the Arlington Historical Society, I got in touch with Luis Araya, who is a Bureau Chief in the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services (public works). He immigrated to Arlington from Bolivia as a young boy in 1966, when very few Latinos lived in the county. He's worked for the county government for 40 years and he also happens to be a Director at the Historical Society. So he brings an interesting perspective on the experience of Latinos in Arlington over time. On top of all that, he's one of the most accomodating people I've ever met -- offering up not only his insights but also his family photos for our local video project.

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