Ford's Theatre sign. (Credit: Flick user @mr_t_in_dc Licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)

The Curtain Rises Again at Ford's Theatre

As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, President Lincoln wasn’t the only victim when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. There were several others who were victimized that night – some hauntingly so. What sometimes gets lost, though, is the impact of the assassination on the theater itself.

The Congressional Bathtubs

“A Senate bathtub, as it appears today. Six tubs were installed in a basement room in the Senate wing of the Capitol in 1859 to provide bathing facilities for senators” (Photo Credit: Senate Historical Office) https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/image/Senate_Bathtubs.htm

Deep in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building, used to stand six bathtubs, hand-carved from Italian Carrara marble. These tubs were installed intially as a practical bathing option for Congressmen living in D.C. boarding houses with primitive bathing facilities. Although mostly forgotten by the 1890's once the new Washington Aqueduct provided running water to most homes in the area, these exquisite tubs were once a popular attraction for Congressmen and their visitors alike.

Sarah Agnes Rice Pryor (Source: Wikipedia)

Impressions of Washington: Sarah Pryor, 1859 - 1861

Sarah Pryor (1830-1912), the daughter of a wealthy Virginian family, lived in Washington from 1859 until the outbreak of the Civil War. In her memoirs written in 1909, she recounts the grand society of antebellum D.C. and the shift to war tensions.

On her earliest memories of Washington

Washington was like a great village in the days of President Pierce and President Buchanan…. my heart would swell within me at every glimpse of the Capitol: from the moment it rose like a white cloud above the smoke and mists… the moment when a point on the unfinished dome glowed like a great blazing star after the sun had really gone down. No matter whether suns rose or set, there was the star of our country - the star of our hearts and hopes.

More after the jump!

What is the True Story Behind Georgetown's Gun Barrel Fence?

Gun Barrel Fence (Credit: Callum Cleary)

At first sight, the old wrought iron fence on the corner of P and 28th streets appears indistinct from the many other railings that skirt Georgetown’s redbrick sidewalks. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s clear this fence is unique. Cracks in some of the pickets reveal that although each upright is hollow, the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence. Plus, a number of the pickets feature small nubs just below the attached spikes, which, even to the untrained eye, resemble gun sights. While the Gun Barrel Fence has long been a Georgetown landmark, the fence’s origins remain shrouded in mystery and misconception. Let’s bust some myths, shall we?

A Forgotten Fight? Kicking Bear and the Dumbarton Bridge

Kicking Bear Bust on Dumbarton Bridge

Dumbarton Bridge is nestled between Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Bronze Buffalo guard the approaches and fifty six identical sculptures of a Native American man line the base of the bridge’s second tier of arches. Chosen to provide a distinctly “American character,” these design features are reflective of an artistic movement that idealized European settlement and western expansion. Ironically, the man depicted by the replicate busts spent his entire life fighting European settlement.

A Washington Landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Facade of Ben's Chili Bowl (Photo Source: Creative Commons) https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/12/15542832_25808e5769_b.jpg

According to co-founder Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never been “your typical restaurant.” Unlike other diners of the 1950’s, Virginia’s husband Ben thought “Washington might be hungry for the kind of spicy dishes he had known while growing up in the Caribbean,” and so he created his own recipe for chili con carne—which remains a closely guarded family secret. A unique element of the restaurant at the beginning, was that “Ben’s spicy chili was served only atop hot dogs, half-smokes or hamburgers,” and not by the bowl as the place’s name would suggest. Ben’s invention of the chili half-smoke quickly become D.C.’s staple food item, and for the next 20 years, loyal Washingtonians overcame a slew of significant obstacles to get their fix.

The Biggest Cheese in Washington

The Great Cheese Levee (Photo Source: Perley's Reminiscences, National Portrait Gallery Blog) http://npg.si.edu/blog/big-cheese-presidential-gifts-mammoth-proportions

While Presidents of the United States have received all different kinds of honors and gifts throughout the years, there is one particular 19th century trend of presidential gift-giving that stands out…or maybe stands alone. Giant wheels of cheese have appeared at the White House multiple times in presidential history, starting in 1801 when Thomas Jefferson was gifted the 4 foot-wide, 17 inch-high, 1,235 pound Cheshire “Mammoth” Cheese from the citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts. Funny enough, Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese was not the last one to enter the White House. Andrew Jackson received his 1,400 pound New York-made Mammoth Cheese in 1835, and invited all of Washington to a party at the White House 2 years later to eat it. 

Creating a National Culture Center

AR7606-H. President John F. Kennedy Speaks at Fundraising Event for the National Cultural Center, November 29, 1962 (Photo Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum) AR7606-H, Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

At 7 p.m. on November 29th , 1962, 5,000 Washingtonians dressed in black ties and furs arrived at the D.C. National Guard Armory for a $100-a-plate dinner, and fundraising show titled An American Pageant of the Arts. President and Mrs. Kennedy started the event by addressing the crowd about the importance of the arts in fostering American culture and a healthy democracy. Afterwards, the master of ceremonies, Leonard Bernstein, took over and the 2 hour and 43 minute show, featuring some of the greatest performers in music, literature, and comedy, began. The variety show kicked off a $30 million fundraising initiative to raise money for the construction of a National Cultural Center on the bank of the Potomac.

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