Throughout the centuries, the presidential mansion has hosted crops and sheep and all manner of landscaping. But by World War II, the White House lawns were considered purely decorative. A First Lady would have had to fight hard to install a garden by the White House. Luckily Eleanor Roosevelt was up to the task.
At approximately the same time the Redskins took the field at Griffith Stadium on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich put it, “With America at war and lives already lost, a football game had lost its importance.” That was undoubtedly true... for everyone outside of the stadium. But on the inside, most fans didn’t know anything about the attack – at least for a while – as the team declined to make an official announcement. 75 years later, it remains one of the most peculiar scenes in local history.
Sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the building houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of World War II, workers produced something very different in the space — the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.
When people think of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret American mission to build the first atomic bomb, they often think of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the world’s first atomic device was actually assembled and detonated. But in reality, the project was assigned to 26 locations across the country, from research labs in Chicago and New York to uranium mines in Colorado to production and design facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico.
And it was all run from a small two-room office in Washington, D.C.
On the morning of August 29, 1940, while the Battle of Britain raged in the skies overhead, a small group of men boarded an ocean liner and left the country with the nation’s most sensitive military secrets.
These men were not spies or Nazi sympathizers. They were among the United Kingdom’s foremost civilian and military scientists, and they were headed for Washington, D.C. in an attempt to turn the tide of the war, which at that point was going very heavily in favor of Nazi Germany.
St. Elizabeths Hospital has had its fair share of infamous patients. Would-be Presidential assassins Richard Lawrence and John Hinckley, silent film actress Mary Fuller, and “The Shotgun Stalker” James Swann have all called the psychiatric hospital home. But the building has also had some lesser-known, but equally significant, guests – or at least parts of them. St. Elizabeths quite literally got a piece of Benito Mussolini’s mind when sections of his brain were sent there for research in 1945.That’s right: as literary great Ezra Pound spent time in the Chestnut Ward, a portion of his fascist idol was just next door. And while Pound left after twelve years, the brain remained, shrouded in obscurity, until its eventual disappearance more than twenty years later.
Let’s go back to April of 1945. It was the final year of World War II, and things weren’t going well for Il Duce. Allied forces were invading Italy, and as he attempted to flee, Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans near Lake Como. There, he was executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan.
On June 13, 1942, four Nazi spies disembarked their U-Boat on a beach near Long Island, New York. Four days later, a similar group landed on Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. Their goal: to harm American economic targets in the hope of turning the war back in favor of Germany. The men had been extensively trained at a sabotage school near Berlin and carried enough explosives, primers, and incendiaries to support two years worth of destruction. They carried plans with them that outlined attacks of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, aluminum plants in Philadelphia, the canal lock systems in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and other targets.
Ah, Major League Baseball Spring Training, the annual spring rite when ball clubs escape the cold of the north and go to Florida or Arizona to shake off the winter rust. Teams have been doing it for over one hundred years.
In fact, our hometown Washington Nationals began the trend – sort of – in 1888 when they became the first club to hold camp in Florida, setting up shop in Jacksonville. The experiment was a little before its time. When the Nats finished the 1888 season with a 46-86 record (a mere 37 and a half games out of first place), they and other teams decided traveling South to train was not a recipe for success.
It took a few years, but teams eventually reconsidered and – thanks largely to a sunshine state building boom – Florida’s Grapefruit League was well established by the 1930s. The Washington Senators camped in Orlando in 1936 and stayed there until 1960, except for a memorable three-year stretch during World War II.
During World War II, the job market in D.C. exploded; between 1940 and 1945, the number of civilians employed by the government almost quadrupled. The Defense Housing Registry, created by the DC government to help these new employees find housing, processed around 10,000 newcomers every month.
The housing market in D.C. was not at all equipped to deal with this influx; construction in the city had slowed during the Great Depression, and halted completely when materials and labor were diverted to the war effort. So what resulted from the overcrowding of Washington?
WETA's local documentary, Arlington National Cemeterygives 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.