Jim Henson’s shows and characters are renowned throughout the world. Creator of The Muppet Show, Labyrinth, and, of course, the beloved Sesame Street, Henson gained fame through his innovative puppetry, his unique characters, and his ability to tackle serious and educational subjects while still retaining the humor and sense of fun that characterized all of his work. By the late ‘60s, all of America was familiar with Henson and his creations. But the people of the D.C. area were the first to see his Muppets in action, and it was in D.C. that he got his first big break.
The call came in to the Arlington County Fire Department at 11:16am on July 2, 1959… The Pentagon was on fire.
ACFD units raced to the scene, soon to be joined by deployments from 34 other jurisdictions including Falls Church, Alexandria, Fort Myer, the District, Prince Georges County, Bethesda and the Inter-Agency Government Pool — over 300 firefighters in all.
When trucks reached the scene, black smoke hung over the building, so thick that they had to form a human chain in order to navigate. Firemen groped, clawed and cut their way to the blaze, which had erupted in the Air Force statistical services offices between rings C and D and corridors 1 and 10.
Since Congress established the National Cancer Institute in 1937, funding research to better understand — and hopefully find a cure — for the disease has been the major focus of the federal war on cancer. But on another front, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fought a long battle against unproven remedies offered to the desperately ill by practitioners and promoters outside the medical mainstream.
In particular, the agency fought a pitched battle in the 1950s and early 1960s against a Texas-based self-styled healer named Harry Hoxsey — even taking the unusual step in 1957 of putting up posters in 46,000 post offices throughout the nation, warning people that Hoxsey's anti-cancer treatment was worthless and fraudulent.
From the late 1940s until 1969, the U.S. Air Force kept a record of all of its investigations into supposed alien activity in a report called Project Blue Book. Until a few days ago, the project archive had been accessible only by visiting the National Archives in downtown D.C. But, now the records are online! So, you can see the reports on the many UFO sightings that occurred in the Washington area over the years.
Of course, UFO's have long been a source of fascination to Americans and images of alien invaders in the nation's capital have captured our imagination for decades. In honor of the new Project Blue Book release, we take a look at the 1956 Columbia film, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, which had a special connection to Washington -- not only in the plot of the movie itself, but in the real-life inspiration behind some of the scenes of terror.
Earl Lloyd was a rising basketball star at West Virginia State College, but little did he know how soon he would become an important part of sports history. Toward the end of Lloyd’s senior season he was heading to class with a classmate and she told him she heard his name on the radio that day. Unaware of what she was referring to, Lloyd simply asked what she heard. She told him some team in Washington called the Washington Capitols had drafted him.
“You’re going to Washington and they’re going to try you guys out, so show them your best,” said Lloyd’s college coach, Marquis Caldwell. Being from Alexandria, Virginia, it was almost a homecoming party for Earl Lloyd. Before he was at West Virginia State, he graduated from Parker-Gray High School in 1946, Alexandria’s only African-American high school.
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.”
There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.
The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.
Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.
J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th century, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other city in India, 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, further established him as a literary sensation.
So, imagine you are doing your Saturday afternoon grocery shopping at the local supermarket. All of a sudden a motorcade pulls up. Out pops the Queen of England and the royal prince. They walk into the store and begin to wander the aisles, indulging in the free samples and chatting with customers. After a few minutes they exit the store, get back in their limo and drive off.
Seems pretty far fetched, right? Well, maybe so, but that is exactly what patrons at the (aptly named) Queenstown Giant Food store in West Hyattsville experienced in October 1957.