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

The Beatles Storm Washington

The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)

In a previous post, we looked at the prelude to the Beatles' first-ever concert in the U.S. on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum.  Now, facing their first live U.S concert audience on an awkward stage with balky equipment, the Beatles opening chords were met with a deafening roar of 8,000 high-pitched screams, a barrage of jelly beans and the unleashed excitement of a new generation of fans. Here's more of what happened on that historic evening that changed Rock 'n' Roll forever.

Beatlemania Begins in DC

Paul McCartney and John Lennon are ushered through the crowd at Union Station on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)

It's hard to imagine that anyone would think the Beatles might not be a big enough concert draw. But when Harry G. Lynn, owner of the old Washington Coliseum at 3rd and M streets NE, was approached by local radio station WWDC in late 1963 about the possibility of booking the then-nascent British pop music sensations for their debut U.S. concert on Feb. 11, 1964,  he wasn't convinced that he would be able to sell the 8,000-plus tickets that it would take to fill his arena. That's why Lynn reportedly insisted upon hedging his bet by booking several other acts — the Caravelles, Tommy Roe and the Chiffons.

The Strange Arlington Saga of Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Tonight at 8pm WETA TV 26 and WETA HD premiere a new local documentary, Arlington National Cemetery. It's a poignant look at one of our nation's most hallowed grounds and offers a inside view of the cemetery's operations and history. But, since it's impossible to include everything in a one-hour documentary, we've been looking for other interesting Arlington stories to explore here on the blog.

So, along those lines, allow us to introduce you to one of Poland's greatest heroes, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who took a hiatus from his career as a world-renowned pianist and composer to serve as that nation's first Prime Minister. What does this have to do with Arlington? Find out after the jump.

Burial of the first official unknown soldier from World War I, on Nov. 11, 1921. Credit: U.S. Army

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

At Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most haunting features is the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the rear of the monument, there's a haunting inscription: Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.

But the story of how the first official unknown soldier from World War I was selected for burial in the graves alongside the monument is a strange one. For one, he wasn't actually the first unidentified casualty to be entombed at Arlington.

Pete Seeger performing at a party at the Congress of Industrial Organizations canteen in Washington DC in 1944, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on. Credit: Library of Congress.

Pete Seeger in Washington

Pete Seeger, the folk music legend who passed away on January 27, 2014 at age 94 in New York City, was a performer whose art was intertwined in close harmony with a slew of social causes, ranging from civil rights and the organized labor movement to environmentalism. As he once wrote, "Music, as any art, is not an end in itself, but is a means for achieving larger ends." While Seeger lived most of his life in upstate New York, Seeger's twin passions for music and activism often brought him to Washington, where his calm eloquence and forthrightness gave him influence in the White House — and also subjected him to peril. 

The Demise of DC's Streetcars

For those of us who are nostalgic or liked to play with model trains when we were kids, today marks a rather inauspicious anniversary. 52 years ago, on January 28, 1962, Washington's original streetcar system road the rails for the final time. That last run ended 99 and a half years of service to the nation's capital as buses replaced the trolleys as the primary means of mass transit in the District. So, how did we get to that point?

After going electric in the last decade of the 19th Century, the streetcars quickly became a crucial part of transportation in the nation's capital, just as they were in other cities across the country. But Washington's system--which gradually coalesced from a hodgepodge of small companies into a single entity, the sprawling Capital Transit Co. in 1933--faced special problems.

DC's Once Grand Streetcar System

Many U.S. cities--including Washington--are now looking again to a late 19th-century transportation technology, the electric streetcar, as a tool to help revitalize business and entertainment districts and attract young professionals and empty nesters to consider urban living. Here in DC, the District Department of Transportation says it is in the finishing stages of completing a new line along H Street and Benning Road NE, which eventually will form part of a new DC Streetcar system with eight lines and 37 miles of track, which will serve all of the District's eight wards.

That makes it a good time to look back at the history of Washington's once-grand system of electric streetcars.

Salinger and the Swami

J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th Century and the subject of tonight's American Masters documentary, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other Indian city, but to Washington, D.C.

It happened in the spring of 1955. It was four years after the publication of Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and two years after his anthology, Nine Stories, futher established him as a literary sensation.

The "Exorcist" stairs in Georgetown, which did not figure in the actual case that inspired the movie. (Credit: Sarah Stierch, Wikimedia Commons)

The Real Story Behind "The Exorcist"

One of the most famous movies set in Washington is The Exorcist, the 1973 tale of a Roman Catholic priest's struggle to save a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession, which transfixed theater-goers with its phantasmagoric gore. The William Friedkin-directed film not only was a box office smash, but also became the first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and four decades after its release,The Exorcist and its D.C. connection continue to resonate in the public imagination. Case in point: The film's shocking climax, in which the progagonist, Father Damien Karras (portrayed by Jason Miller) takes the demon Pazuzu into his own body and is hurled to his death, has turned the steep set of steps in Georgetown where it was filmed into a macabre local landmark.

But The Exorcist has another, even more unsettling connection to the Washington area. William Peter Blatty, who wrote both the screenplay and the bestselling 1971 novel from which it was derived, was inspired by an actual case in which a 14-year-old boy purportedly was possessed by the devil, which occurred in Prince George's County 65 years ago.

Statue of Nelson Mandela outside South African embassy in Washington, D.C. (Photo by flickr user taedc used via Creative Commons)

Nelson Mandela's First Visit to Washington

Nelson Mandela, who died last week, is being mourned worldwide as the leader who beat Apartheid and then worked to promote reconciliation and racial tolerance in South Africa. But 23 years ago, just months after he was freed from a South African prison, Mandela created a sensation--and some tense, discomforting moments--when he visited the U.S. and met with then-President George H. W. Bush at the White House.

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