Josiah Henson is not a well-known name in American history—or even in the Washington area, where he was enslaved for many years. Born into bondage in Maryland, he lived in Montgomery County before eventually escaping to Canada—there, he served in the army, became a preacher, and established a prosperous settlement for escaped slaves. He was immortalized in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, serving as the inspiration for the titular character. But though the novel made him a well-known and popular figure in the nineteenth century, Henson was determined to tell his own story. As he says, the truth is stranger than fiction.
It takes a lot of talent to design a city, especially one with such sweeping vistas and wide, radial streets as our Nation’s Capital. It’s hard not to admire the vision of Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the engineer behind Washington, D.C. But everybody makes mistakes—even visionaries— and L’Enfant was certainly no exception.
His biggest blunder was probably tearing down the house of his boss’s nephew.
In the summer of 1970, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were driving down Clopper Road to a family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Montgomery County was a much more rural place in those days, and the scenery inspired Danoff to repetitively sing “country roads, country roads, country roads.”
Under normal circumstances, this burst of creativity might have gone nowhere, but the couple happened to be a duo of professional musicians. So, with the help of John Denver, they soon turned the phrase into the earworm we know today.
When Neil Armstrong announced that man had successfully landed on the moon’s surface July 20, 1969, he addressed his message to mission control, based at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. While Armstrong’s first word may have been “Houston,” those at mission control in Texas were not actually the first ones to hear this historic message from space. Rather, the first people to hear of man landing on the moon, were NASA personnel at the Goddard Space Center, just 12 miles from D.C. in Greenbelt, Maryland. Goddard served as the main control center for receiving and directing signals and information between the manned Apollo 11 spacecraft and mission control in Houston. In fact, much of the technical success and amazement surrounding the Apollo 11 moon landing was thanks to the hard work of the scientists and engineers in Greenbelt.
On April 28, 1909, a funeral procession nearly a mile long paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street, complete with fine carriages and a military escort. Throughout Washington, D.C., flags were displayed at half mast, spectators lined the streets, and school children were allowed a break from their studies to glimpse out the window and see it pass by. The man they were there to honor was Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant… who died in 1825.
By mid 1944, Washingtonians had known for some time that a major invasion of Europe was in store. But when news of D-Day came on June 6, 1944, it was still a sobering event. The city reacted with a combination of pause and activity.
In 1987, a convicted murderer from Massachusetts was apprehended in Prince George's County after a short police chase. His arrest would set off a chain of events that would become the hot button issue of the 1988 presidential campaign.
Back in 1887, the Baltimore Sun was looking for a bold way to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to declare itself one of the nation's premiere newspapers. What better way to do that than with the first skyscraper in the nation's capital?
For one season the American Basketball Association set up shop in the Nation's Capital, as the defending league champion — and star player Rick Barry — moved from Oakland to D.C. But almost as soon as the Washington Caps arrived in 1969, they were gone. So why didn't D.C.'s team last?