1940s

Fired for Being Gay, Frank Kameny Spent the Rest of His Life Fighting Back

Frank Kameny protests outside Independence Hall in 1965

You might be familiar with the Red Scare, Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to remove suspected communists from the U.S. State Department. But what about the Lavender Scare? Starting in the 1940s, government officials began firing thousands of employees based on their sexual orientation. Frank Kameny, a Harvard-educated astronomer was one of them. He lost his job in 1957 and challenged the dismisssal all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Forrest "Lefty" Brewer, pictured here in military uniform, was a minor league baseball player and paratrooper involved in D-Day during World War II. (Photo Credit: Gary Bedingfield, "Baseball in Wartime")

Lefty Brewer's Sacrifice

Scout Joe Cambria of the Washington Senators was in Florida in the summer of 1938, seeking out new recruits for D.C.’s major league baseball team. When he watched Forrest “Lefty” Brewer pitch for the St. Augustine Saints that summer, the scout had no doubt that this was a player who could help turn around the struggling D.C. club. On June 6, 1938, Brewer threw a no hitter in the minor leagues. Exactly six years later he jumped out of a plane over Normandy, France on D-Day.

When Autumn in D.C. Felt Like an Appalachian Spring

The Martha Graham Dance Company performs “Appalachian Spring” on the stage of the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30, 1944. The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2014/10/documenting-dance-the-making-of-appalachian-spring/

On the evening of October 30, 1944, hundreds of people filled the seats of the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress for the 10th  annual festival of chamber music. In the last performance of the night, the audience was transported to rural, 1800’s Pennsylvania through Aaron Copland’s musical masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. The ballet, featuring choreography by renowned American dancer, Martha Graham, enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive premiere that night, and became the most well-known piece of music commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—the “patron saint of American music.”

The Bumpy Road to Washington National Airport

Washington National Airport Terminal

Early in the 20th century, a modern, accessible, airport became a necessity for any major city, and Washington was no exception. However, while there was general agreement on the need for an air hub to serve the nation’s capital, the road – literally – to achieving that goal was fraught with delays and obstacles. It would take 12 years of debate and a president stepping in for the city to finally get the airport it so desperately needed.

Smokey the Bear, 20252

The original Smokey Bear frolicking in a pool at the National Zoological Park. (Photo credit: Francine Schroeder, used for educational purposes according to Smithsonian Archives terms of use.)

“Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Many of us, especially former Boy Scouts like myself, probably associate that statement with campfire safety. Indeed, Smokey the Bear has been around for as long as most of us can remember, reminding us follow safe fire practices in the backcountry. However, Smokey’s message – and even the bear himself – didn’t have much to do with campfires at first. His story actually dates to World War II and has a definite Washington flavor to it.

Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band Disbands

Glenn Miller’s band plays for US and Allied troops in England, Jun-Dec 1944. (Photo Source: U.S. Air Force, Public Domain) http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196150/maj-glenn-miller-army-air-force-band/

On November 13, 1945, the National Press Club hosted a dinner honoring President Harry Truman at Hotel Statler. The 1,000 person guest list featured a virtual who’s who of Washington’s political elite, but more than anything, attendees looked forward to a performance by Glenn Miller’s famous Army Air Force Band. While festive, the evening was also bittersweet, for the band was without its leader. Nearly a year earlier, Major Glenn Miller, famous bandleader and trombonist, had gone missing over the English Channel, while traveling from England to France to give concerts to the troops liberating Europe. 

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