Virginia

Honoring Alexandria's Two Lynching Victims

Memorial Corridor at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (Credit: Soniakapadia via Wikimedia Commons. Used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, is dedicated to all the victims of racial terror lynching in this country. The memorial is made of hundreds of steel monuments with the names of all known lynching victims inscribed on the front. A monument representing Alexandria, Virginia contains two names: Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas. This is their story, and our community's history. 

Lt. O.W. Larsen talks with his wife shortly after his release. (Photo Credit: Ken Heinen, Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.)

Christmas Escape at Lorton, 1974

It was Christmas night 1974 in Lorton Reformatory’s Maximum Security wing. Correctional Officer Lt. O.W. Larsen was keeping watch over the mess hall where around 100 inmates were finishing dinner and sitting down for a showing of “The Hong Kong Connection,” a Kung Fu movie. Suddenly Larsen felt the muzzle of a handgun pressed into his neck. Earl Coleman, serving 5 to 15 years for robbery and nicknamed “Killer”, had his finger on the trigger. As Coleman overpowered Larsen, other inmates did the same to the other guards in the hall. Within moments they had control of the room.

Convicted murderer Bernard Welch speaks with a reporter in Washington, March 29, 1981. Welch was convicted in the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam of Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

Running Down the Ghost Burglar

Dr. Michael Halberstam and his wife, Elliott, had planned to go to a movie after leaving their friends’ cocktail party, but they decided to make a quick stop back at home first. Michael parked the car and went inside the couple’s Palisades D.C. home to let out their two dogs, Iris and Jake. Elliot headed around back to meet the pups. It was about 8:45pm – well after dark in the late fall. Moments later, the doctor was staring down the barrel of snub-nosed revolver in his own kitchen.

The odd chain of events that came next would uncover one of the largest — and strangest — crime operations in Washington, D.C. area history.

Exterior view of Pope-Leighey House in the early evening, as warm light shines through the uniquely carved clerestory windows

All's Wright that Ends Well: The Pope-Leighey House of Northern Virginia

When Loren Pope learned of the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he spent months working up the courage to mail him a letter. "There are certain things a man wants during life, and, of life," Pope divulged in 1941. "Material things and things of the spirit. The writer has one fervent wish that includes both. It is for a house created by you." Wright penned in response, "Of course I'm ready to give you a house." Their earnest collaboration resulted in a humbly exquisite Falls Church home. Pope's wish had come true, but mere wishful thinking would not be enough to save the house from highway builders in the 1960s.

Map of proposed Three Sisters Bridge to connect Virginia and Washington D.C. via I-266

No Bridge for Three Sisters

As a centuries-old legend has it, three young women attempted to cross the Potomac River late one night. They drowned in a horrific storm, however, and marked the place of their deaths with a cluster of rocks: the Three Sisters Islands. Today's kayakers and canoe paddlers may not feel the dread of the three sisters' curse, but their final promise may explain D.C.'s failure to build a bridge over these islands. If we cannot cross the river here, then nobody else ever will. The unbuilt Three Sisters Bridge played a crucial role in mid-20th century politics, especially the subway vs. freeway debates that would determine the future of transit in the nation's capital.

Norman Morrison (Source: Wikipedia)

The Fire of Norman Morrison

Dusk was approaching when Norman Morrison pulled into the Pentagon parking lot on November 2, 1965. Parking his two-tone Cadillac in the lot, he walked toward the north entrance, carrying his 11-month old daughter, Emily, and a wicker picnic basket with a jug of kerosene inside. Reaching a retaining wall at the building’s perimeter, the 31-year-old Quaker from Baltimore climbed up and began pacing back and forth. Around 5:20 pm, he yelled to Defense Department workers who were leaving the building.

Then, the unthinkable.

The Phantoms of North Fairfax Street

Black and white photograph of the 100 Block of North Fairfax Street, taken 1861-1865. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.)

When the Alexandria Gazette published a report about a "Fatal and Melancholy Affair" on June 29, 1868, editors probably didn't anticipate that the article would become the basis for one of Alexandria, Virginia's most infamous ghost stories. Maybe you've heard of the Bride of Old Town, or perhaps the name "Laura Schafer" rings a bell, but what's the full story? What really happened to the woman who supposedly burned to death on the night before her wedding day? What about her groom? And what if she never left Old Town?

A King at Mount Vernon

“Close up of President Roosevelt and King George VI as they drive from Union Station to the White House. June 8, 1939.” (Photo Source: FDR Presidential Library & Museum Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdrlibrary/7366008204/in/album-72157630051202255/

On June 8, 1939, a royal train rolled into Track 20 at Union Station. The station had been cleaned and shined, the columns lining the track had a fresh coat of green and white paint, and a blue carpet was rolled out from the platform to the newly redecorated station reception room. The visitors arriving in Washington that day were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who made unprecedented history by becoming the first reigning British monarchs to ever set foot on American soil. Of the various activities that the King took part in during his stay, the irony of his visit to Mount Vernon was, quite possibly, the most intriguing.

Poster commemorating the life of Chuck Brown (Source: DC Library's Go-Go Archive)

Call to all D.C. Go-Go Fans: Let’s Keep the Memory of D.C.’s Homegrown Sound Go-Going

Go-go music is a signature Washington, D.C. sound and the D.C. Public Library has started an archive to preserve its history. Archivist Derek Gray is leading the charge and is seeking heirlooms related to the D.C. go-go scene: CDs and audio recordings of Chuck Brown and other go-go artists, flyers, posters, event advertisements, photographs, videos, DVDs, and other memorabilia. Help preserve the legacy of D.C.’s homegrown sound for future generations!

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