Ellen Wexler

Ellen Wexler was born in D.C. on Inauguration Day, and she has been exploring the city ever since. She is a recent gradate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where sections of campus are routinely roped off for archeological excavation. At William and Mary, Ellen worked on her college newspaper, attended class in the country’s oldest academic building, and ran into colonial interpreters whenever she steps off campus. When asked to pick a favorite historical figure, she is never able to decide.

Posts by Ellen Wexler

The Scurlocks Photograph Washington's Secret City

A husband and wife stand outside the Metropolitan Church (Source: Scurlock Collection/The Smithsonian)

Addison Scurlock dressed in a suit and tie whenever he held a camera. Confident and serious about his work and his appearance, he presented himself to the world the same way that he presented his subjects.

Scurlock was only 17 when he moved to Washington and listed “photographer” as his profession in the 1900 census. He apprenticed with a white photographer for three years before opening his own studio in his parents’ house. By 1911 he had a studio in northwest Washington, and soon he had two apprentices of his own: his sons, Robert and George. As adults, they joined him in the photography business. 

“I would describe my father as very intense, in all of his endeavors,” Robert Scurlock said in a 2003 interview. “He had a lot of drive to him. If he saw something he wanted to explore, he would find all means of doing it.”

'The real war will never get in the books'

When Walt Whitman first rushed to Washington in the winter of 1862, the trip had nothing to do with poetry.

It was Dec. 16 — nearly two years into the Civil War and seven years into Whitman’s poetry career — when the New York Herald listed a “First Lieutenant G.W. Whitmore” among the troops killed or wounded in Fredericksburg, Va. The misspelled listing was referring to George Whitman, Walt’s brother, who had enlisted in the Union Army in 1861.

Walt left immediately to search Washington’s hospitals. The poet would stay in the city for the next 11 years.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 21 Steps at a Time

Sentinels guard the Tomb at all times, and in all weather conditions. (Source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Lloyd Cosby remembers standing on the plaza at Arlington Cemetery, inspecting a guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when an elderly woman approached him. “Are the guards here at night?” she asked.

It was the late 1950s, during the year and seven months that Cosby served as the Tomb guards’ platoon leader. Later that day, the woman would tell Cosby about her son who had died at war, but had never been identified. The Tomb of the Unknowns was the only place she could come to pay her respects.

“Yes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Cosby told her. “Every second of every minute of every day.”

First Statue Representing D.C. Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.

Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol. 

 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade. 

Leonard Bernstein (Photo source: Library of Congress)

The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington

When West Side Story premiered in the summer of 1957, Felicia Montealegre wanted to be in Washington.

Felicia, wife of composer Leonard Bernstein, had come down with the flu while on a trip to Chile and was missing the August 19 premiere of Bernstein’s show at The National Theatre. A contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side, the show was scheduled to open in Washington for a three-week pre-Broadway tryout.

"Well, look-a me. Back to the nation’s capitol, & right on the verge,” Bernstein wrote to Felicia days before the premiere. “This is Thurs. We open Mon. Everyone’s coming, my dear, even Nixon and 35 admirals. Senators abounding, & big Washington-hostessy type party afterwards.”