Patrick Kiger

Patrick J. Kiger is a journalist, blogger and author based in the Washington, DC area. He has written for print publications ranging from GQ and Mother Jones to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and wrote the "Is This a Good Idea?" blog for the Science Channel from 2007-2012. His books include Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America, co-authored with Martin J. Smith, which recently was reissued on in a Kindle edition. For more of his work, go to www.patrickjkiger.com or follow him on Twitter @patrickjkiger.

Posts by Patrick Kiger

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Bonus Marchers

In 1932, as the nation lingered in the desperate depths of the Great Depression, thousands of World War I veterans and their families marched on Washington to demand immediate lump-sum payment of their military pensions. To the consternation of President Herbert Hoover, who was about to embark upon a difficult reelection campaign, the ragtag army camped in tents and shacks along the Anacostia River, and began trying to pressure the White House and Congress by marching up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, the bill to pay them their benefits passed the House but was overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate in June.

The marchers stubbornly stayed, and rebuffed the Hoover administration's offer of train fare out of town. In response, Hoover decided to evict them by force. On July 28, in one of the most disturbing moments in the history of Washington, U.S. horse cavalry wearing gas masks and steel helmets, and backed by five tanks, descended upon the bonus marchers, scattering them and their wives and children and burning their campsites. 

When the Washington Monument Suffered from "Geological Tuberculosis"

The Washington Monument reopened this spring, after being closed for repairs needed to repair damage suffered during an earthquake three years ago this week. The latter included cracks that developed in the monument's marble panels and damage to the mortar that holds the approminately 555-foot-tall structure together.

But those problems aren't the first woes that have plagued the monument, which will mark the 130th anniverary of its completion in December. Back in 1911, for example, some believed that monument was afflicted with an even more peculiar problem, trumpeted in a December 1911 article in Popular Mechanics magazine by John S. Mosby, Jr., which bore the provocative title: Washington Monument Attacked by 'Geological Tuberculosis.'" Mosley wrote that the monument "is suffering from a disintegration that, while not immediately fatal, will materially shorten its life."

Al Capone in 1930 as photographed by the FBI's Chicago Bureau (Source: Wikipedia)

How Hoover--No, Not That Hoover!--Got Al Capone

Years after the 1931 federal conviction for tax evasion that put Al "Scarface" Capone in prison and ended his career as Chicago's most feared mobster, he was known to complain bitterly about the man whose vendetta, in Capone's view, had put him behind bars. "That bastard Hoover," Capone would rant. But he suprisingly, he wasn't talking about FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who, despite his heavily-hyped reputation as a gangster nemesis, had little to do with Capone's demise. 

Instead, Capone saw his true mortal enemy as President Herbert Hoover. And unlike most of the people who harbor grudges against Presidents, Capone actually was right. 

Flying Saucers Over DC?

In the 1950s, Washington seems to have been a popular destination for UFOs, both actual ones and cinematic. Two popular science fiction movies, 1951'sThe Day the Earth Stood Still and 1956's Earth Vs the Flying Saucersdepicted alien spacecraft arriving in the nation's capital, to the consternation of both residents and the government. But those close encounters may have seemed a bit more plausible, given that the Washington area also was the scene of one of the most celebrated real-life UFO incidents ever--one that still intrigues those who ponder the possiblity of extraterrestrial visits to Earth.

Before DC United, We Had the Ill-Starred Washington Diplomats

Today, soccer finally is a big enough deal in Washington that DC council is considering a proposed $119 million deal to acquire land at Buzzard Point for a new stadium for DC United, the district's team in Major League Soccer. The franchise has been playing since 1996 at antiquated RFK Stadium, which will turn 43 years old in the fall. But RFK always will have a storied place in local soccer history. In addition to serving as one of the host sites for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, it also was the home of a string of teams from the 1960s through the 1980s  —  forgotten names such as the Whips, the Darts, the Washington Diplomats, and Team America — who unsuccessfully tried to establish the sport here.

Of those ill-fated franchises, the most long-lived was the original Washington Diplomats, who played in the now-defunct North American Soccer League from 1974 to 1980.

The World Cup is in Brazil, but the Bossa Nova Craze Started in DC

Brazil, the site of this month's FIFA World Cup, is known for transforming the game of soccer with the free-wheeling offensive style that its great players pioneered. But Brazil also has another creative export that's nearly as famous as soccer virtuosos Pele or Ronaldo — bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and Brazil's own African-influenced Samba music. Oddly, though, it was an album recorded in Washington, DC in February 1962, that helped popularize bossa nova as an international sensation.

Washington's Dead Letter Office (Source: Library of Congress)

Washington's Dead Letter Office

In Herman Melville's classic 1853 short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener," the narrator offers a curious explanation for the self-destructive melancholy of the main character.

The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?

The "Dead Letter Office at Washington" might sound like a clever literary invention, but as it turns out, there actually once was such an institution, which existed to process mail that was either mis-addressed or undeliverable for a variety of other reasons. According to the official history of the U.S. Postal Service, the Continental Congress actually authorized appointment of an inspector of dead letters back in 1777, and there was a central office in the District at least as far back as 1830, according to an article by Wesleyan University historian Courtney Fullilove, who found a box of records in the National Archives that still contained four undelivered letters from 1889.

The Movie That JFK Wanted Made, But Didn't Live to See

It was July 1963, and on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, a brutal melee suddenly erupted between rival groups of pickets who were on opposite sides of a proposed nuclear test-ban treaty. As Washington Post reporter Stephen C. Rogers described the scene, the protesters began "slugging, kicking and gouging" one another, until baton-wielding policemen waded into the fray to separate them.

As the officers dragged the most vociferous brawlers away, a man in a bright-blue baseball cap suddenly stood up in the center of the confrontation. "All right! All right! All right!" he shouted, and the fighting abruptly stopped.

Muhammad Ali in 1967 (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress)

Muhammad Ali's Speech at Howard University, 1967

The PBS documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, covers the boxing champ's struggles outside the ring during the tumultuous mid-1960s, and his emergence as a symbol of protest and dissent for young people of that time. Ali's duality as a firebrand activist and a revolutionary icon is examplified, in some ways, by his controversial appearance at Howard University in April 22, 1967, where he gave a speech to African-American students just days before he refused induction in the armed forces, which led to his indictment and conviction for draft evasion. 

Pages