Washington in the '70s

40 Years Ago, TVs Tuned to Watergate Hearings

Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin (center) and other committee members listen to testimony. (Photo source: WETA Archives)

May 17, 1973 began an enthralling summer of reality television in Washington. That morning Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin banged his gavel and launched hearings to investigate the details of the Watergate scandal, which had rocked the nation the previous June. Americans from coast to coast watched with great interest, trying to determine “what the President knew and when he knew it.” (Short answer: He knew a lot and he had known it for a long time.)

President Gerald Ford at a White House press conference, Washington, D.C., 1974. (Source: U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

When the White House Was in Alexandria

Everyone knows that the President lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. But some locals may remember a time when that wasn’t the case. For ten days in August of 1974, the leader of the free world lived in a relatively modest red brick and white clapboard house in Alexandria, Virginia and commuted to the Oval Office each morning. Life changed pretty quickly for Gerald Ford that summer.

Bomb Rocks U.S. Capitol

Washington Post cartoon March 1, 1971.

In the wee hours of the morning on March 1, 1971, a disturbing phone call came in to the Senate telephone switchboard. A man “with a hard low voice” told the operator that the U.S. Capitol would blow up in 30 minutes.

In the past, operators had fielded similar threatening calls from time to time, but all of them had turned out to be false alarms or pranks. This one, however, would be different.

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