DC

Dolley Madison and The Mercury 7

“The Mercury 7 astronauts (left to right) Slayton, Shepard, Schirra, Grissom, Glenn, Cooper, and Carpenter all raise their hands in reply to a question about whether they felt confident they would return from space – Glenn raised both hands,” 1959 (Photo Source: NASA) https://www.nasa.gov/feature/60-years-ago-nasa-introduces-mercury-7-astronauts

On April 9, 1959, the year-old National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) held a press conference to introduce the first ever American astronauts to the world. The seven military test pilots chosen to make up “The Mercury 7” sat lined at a table in the ballroom of the first NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as press and public looked on. Although the introduction of astronauts into American culture was historic in itself, the building in which it took place carried a legacy that predated NASA by nearly 140 years. Namely, the building that NASA acquired as its first residence in the District was the longtime home of the lively and revered first lady, Dolley Madison.

"Skyrockets in Flight:" Starland Vocal Band Launched from D.C.

The Starland Vocal Band in 1977, the same year they won 2 grammys for their 1976 debut album, which included the song "Afternoon Delight." (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The soundtrack of the summer of 1976 was a special one. Just after the USA celebrated its Bicentennial, one unlikely song, with its folksy style and airtight harmonization, soared past the countless disco tunes to the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts. No matter how you feel about it, “Afternoon Delight” was perhaps the perfect way to celebrate our independence. With lyrics referencing “skyrockets in flight,” the song (and the band behind it) has a very strong connection to the Nation’s Capital.  

It all started in 1974, when musicians Bill Danoff and Margot Chapman stopped at Clyde’s in Georgetown for a meal...  

The Birchmere Gets Its Start

Exterior of the original Birchmere location

Gary Oelze purchased a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere became a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre. 

End of an Era: The Evening Star Fades in Washington

“There is a great silence today in Washington. A fine newspaper is gone and a noble tradition ended.”

Ronald Reagan’s words appeared on the front page of the August 7, 1981, issue of the Washington Evening Star. The biggest piece of news that day was the end of a 128-year-old Washington institution—the story of the newspaper’s own demise.  

 

The Lesser-Known National Aquarium

Photo of empty National Aquarium in basement of Department of Commerce, 1932. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Since opening in 1981, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has proved a popular tourist destination, an educational excursion, and a great refuge from the heat in summer months. Many people don’t know, however, that there was a smaller, more modest National Aquarium in D.C. for years before the one in Baltimore popped up.

Those who recall the original National Aquarium will remember it as a dark, tiny exhibit tucked away in the basement of a gigantic government building. But how exactly did this little-known Washington spot end up on the lowest floor of the Department of Commerce—today known as the Herbert C. Hoover building—on 14th St NW?

L'Enfant's Guide to Getting Fired

It takes a lot of talent to design a city, especially one with such sweeping vistas and wide, radial streets as our Nation’s Capital.  It’s hard not to admire the vision of Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the engineer behind Washington, D.C. But everybody makes mistakes—even visionaries— and L’Enfant was certainly no exception.

His biggest blunder was probably tearing down the house of his boss’s nephew. 

An Evening at the White House with Johnny Cash

The Nixons and the Cashes pose for a photo on the evening that Cash performed at the White House. Image Source: National Archives.

April 17, 1970 was a big day for the United States—President Richard Nixon even described it as the “proudest day of [his] life and in the life of the country.” That afternoon, the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and made it to safety. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the day wasn’t over yet. That evening, President Nixon would sit in the East Room of the White House for another cultural milestone: a legendary performance by country music star Johnny Cash.

Maryland was almost "Almost Heaven"

In the summer of 1970, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were driving down Clopper Road to a family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Montgomery County was a much more rural place in those days, and the scenery inspired Danoff to repetitively sing “country roads, country roads, country roads.” 

Under normal circumstances, this burst of creativity might have gone nowhere, but the couple happened to be a duo of professional musicians. So, with the help of John Denver, they soon turned the phrase into the earworm we know today. 

Washington's "Official" Song

What songs come to mind when you think of Washington, D.C.? Maybe Go-go music, or patriotic Sousa marches? Then of course there’s the “official” song, that instantly recognizable classic— “Washington,” by Jimmie Dodd (Yes, the composer is the same grown man who went on to lead the Mouseketeers in the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955).

Doesn’t ring a bell? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Pages