Maryland

Jimmy Lafontaine: "The Gentleman Gambler"

Washington’s Godfather: “Gentleman Gambler” Jimmy Lafontaine

When one thinks of the gambling scene in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, the likes of Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel immediately spring to mind. However, the District had its own gambling godfather and Jimmy Lafontaine couldn’t have been further from the American gangster archetype. Though his extralegal line of work inevitably brought him unwelcome brushes with mobsters and the law, his story is not one of bootlegged booze or mysterious murders. Rather, he’s most often remembered for his charity and reputation as Washington’s “gentleman gambler.”

The Engrossed Declaration of Independence, circa. 1776 (source: Library of Congress)

Lost from History: Josias Wilson King

Josias Wilson King is a name that would probably not ring any bells. In fact, even when Google-searched, it takes a great amount of effort to find much if anything about him. In life, however, he interacted with some of the most prominent men in American history – Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – was involved in the first scandal in the Library of Congress’ history, and helped to save America’s keystone documents.

Picketers, including future Maryland State Senator Gwendolyn Greene Britt, stand outside Glen Echo Park in 1960. (Photo source: National Park Service)

Remembering the Summer of 1960 at Glen Echo

You might not immediately associate roller coasters with racial equality, but more than three years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, Maryland’s Glen Echo Park was a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement. It made sense: since its opening in 1899, Glen Echo had been the premier amusement park for white Washingtonians. The park featured a number of modern roller coasters, a miniature railway, a Ferris wheel, an amphitheater, a pool: everything and more that other parks provided.

Coach "Lefty" Driesell puffed on a cigar while his players huffed and puffed around the track at midnight on October 15, 1971. (Photo source: NCAA.com)

Midnight Madness Starts at Maryland, 1971

Coaches are always looking for an edge on the competition but former University of Maryland basketball boss, Charles “Lefty” Driesell may have been the best – or at least the most original. Case and point: October 15, 1971.

In an effort to keep everything fair and just, the NCAA has rules. [Insert your own joke here.] One of those rules concerns when teams are allowed to begin practicing at the start of a season. In 1971, the magic date was October 15 and Driesell wasn’t about to let any time go to waste.

So, at 12:03am – when presumably the competition was sleeping… or doing what college kids do in the wee hours of the morning – he blew the whistle to start his team’s first practice. In doing so, he unknowingly created a fad, which took off – first at Maryland and, soon, at other schools.

Len Bias

Remembering Len Bias

The court was closed off to students like it always was after basketball season was over. A sign over the floor read “Keep Off” and there was a still darkness inside of Cole Field House.

Students sat quietly in the top rows of the yellow seats in the arena, thinking, wondering. While some stared down at the court with wide eyes, others leaned back in their seats with their eyes closed.

Raw emotion spread across the arena as they came to remember the Maryland Terrapin legend, Len Bias.

Just a few days before, Bias had been on top of the world, the second pick in the NBA draft by the famed Boston Celtics.

Takoma Park's Emblematic Rooster

The Washington DC area has plenty of monuments and grand statues, to be sure. But my hometown of Takoma Park, that eccentric bohemian enclave just north of the District in Maryland, has one that stands out from the rest: A life-size bronze likeness of a rooster on a pedestal, which thrusts his feathered chest jauntily at passers-by, as if it owned the town. Which, in fact, he once did.

The statue, created in 2000 by local sculptor Normon Greene, pays homage to an actual fowl--known as Roscoe by Takoma Park residents--who jauntily roamed Takoma Park's streets during the 1990s, wild and free, in defiance of Montgomery County animal control officials and local city employees who fruitlessly tried to capture him.

The Who and Led Zeppelin Concert Poster, Merriweather Post Pavilion, May 25, 1969, Tina Silverman, artist

Merriweather Post's Legendary Double Bill

The Who vs. Led Zeppelin 

It's one of the eternal questions argued by classic rock aficionados — which of these virtuoso power trios could rock the hardest? Perhaps the only people qualified to make that call were those lucky enough to be at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. on the night of Sunday, May 25, 1969, when Led Zeppelin opened for The Who in one of the most epic double bills in rock history. It was a pairing of hall of fame live acts that would never be seen again on the same stage.