With historic photos, archival footage, and animation, Boundary Stones Video Shorts spotlight some of our favorite stories from the Boundary Stones website -- the strange-but-true stories, larger-than-life-characters, and myths and legends from the history of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Watch here and to subscribe to the WETA PBS YouTube channel to see new videos as soon as they are released!
In 1915, a young German-American doctor named Anton Dilger rented a house on 33rd Street, NW, just inside the District line. He proudly listed himself as a physician in the Washington City Directory, but he had no intention of seeing patients. He would be too busy waging a germ warfare attack on the United States.
Did you know that The Exorcist, one of the most famous horror movies of all time, was based on a real D.C.-area exorcism? The 1949 exorcism allegedly took place in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and inspired The Exorcist author and producer William Peter Blatty while he was a student at Georgetown University. But some of the details in this famous case of demonic possession don't add up. Discover the not-so-true story of the 'real' supernatural event that inspired the 1973 movie The Exorcist.
The biggest political scandal you've never heard of! Tongsun Park was a Korean-born socialite and lobbyist who operated one of the most exclusive Washington, DC social clubs of the 1960s and 70s — the George Town Club. He rubbed shoulders with the biggest names in D.C. — generals, members of Congress, even US Presidents — and was known for his generous gifts to prominent people. However, in 1976, it came out that Tongsun Park was on the payroll of the South Korean spy agency. The post-Watergate scandal became known as Koreagate and seemed seismic: cash envelopes of what seemed like bribes, handed out to members of Congress. Park was charged with multiple felonies, the House of Representatives opened up a massive investigation and then... nothing. So why did Koreagate flop, and Tongsun Park get off scot free?
In the fall of 1975, a mysterious Italian crime family put word on the streets of Washington DC that they would pay top dollar for stolen goods at a warehouse in Northeast DC. Thieves flocked to Pasquale’s Finest Fencing with all manner of contraband. Office equipment, guns, jewelry... even an EKG machine from Prince George’s Hospital Center. With mobster personas and names like Angelo Lasagna and Rico Rigotone, the crew at the warehouse seemed like real mafiosos. But they were actually cops, part of Operation Sting -- a joint effort between the FBI and DC Police. But did these new tactics fight crime — or had the Sting actually encouraged it?
If you lived in Washington, DC on New Years Day of 1802, you may have seen, or more likely smelled, a giant wheel of cheese which was arriving at the White House — a gift to President Thomas Jefferson from Baptist minister John Leland and his Cheshire, Massachusetts church. But this was no ordinary dairy — this mammoth cheese had a message. This cheese and its makers had something to say about the separation of church and state. Discover the remarkable story of the John Leland's Mammoth Cheese, a 1235-lb. cheese intended to celebrate Thomas Jefferson and make a statement about religious liberty.
Way back in the 1870s, the short lived Territorial Government of Washington D.C. passed two anti-discrimination laws that made it a crime for restaurants to refuse service based on race. As Jim Crow tightened its grip, the laws were omitted from the city code by 1901 and faded from memory. But they were never actually repealed. And when Civil Rights researchers uncovered the old statutes in the ‘40s, legal scholars thought the so-called "Lost Laws" might still be enforceable. Mary Church Terrell led the effort to find out.
George Cassiday, an unemployed army veteran from Southeast Washington, D.C. known as "The Man in the Green Hat," kept spirits flowing on Capitol Hill for 10 years. Despite the 18th amendment, he filled 25 orders per day for hard-drinking representatives and even had an office in the House Office building. But after he got in trouble with the D.C. police, Cassiday decided to expose his customers in the Washington Post. His writing was one of many factors that led to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
After Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was executed by Italian partisans in 1945, rumors began circulating in the medical community that he had suffered from some neuropsychiatric condition. American psychiatrist Dr. Winfred Overholser had samples of Mussolini's brain sent to Washington, D.C., so that he and scientists from the U.S. military could examine them. But years later the brain sample had disappeared and to this day, its whereabouts remain a mystery.
In the late 1950s, Washington's Curtis Brothers Furniture Store partnered with Bassett Furniture, which built the World's Largest Chair –- a 19.5 foot tall, 4600 pound Duncan Phyfe -- and installed it in Anacostia. But that was just the beginning... In the summer of 1960, Curtis Bros. built a glass apartment atop the chair and convinced 19-year-old Lynn Arnold to live there in plain view, 24-7.
In the winter of 1979, thousands of farmers drove their tractors to Washington to lobby for agriculture policy reform. The visit snarled traffic and sparked tensions, but when a blizzard buried the city in snow, the farmers got to work.
In 1913, thousands of women from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C. to parade for the right to vote. But when belligerent, drunken men crashed the route, the march through the capital became a street fight.
When a bomb ripped through the U.S. Capitol on July 2, 1915, it shocked Washington and the nation. Police soon discovered the explosion was just one part of a crime spree with international implications, and the man at the center of it was an Ivy League professor with a mysterious past.
In the 1930s, Jimmy “The Gentleman Gambler” Lafontaine made millions running one of the largest casinos on the Eastern Seaboard from the DC/Maryland line. Gambling was completely illegal, but Lafontaine charmed the city, paid the cops and kept the money flowing. Until the the mob wanted in on the action and kidnapped the Gentleman Gambler.
In the 1960s, DC civil rights activist Julius Hobson threatened to release live rats in Georgetown to protest the lack of rat patrols in Black neighborhoods. Did it work?
In 1951, a Washington DC electronics dealer sponsored a contest to create an official anthem for the District of Columbia. Congress and the Washington Post leant their support and the contest attracted thousands of entries. With great fanfare, a tune written by Hollywood actor Jimmie Dodd was crowned the winner of the contest and the song was widely celebrated when it debuted. So why haven't most Washingtonians ever heard it?
In the 1870s, American fisheries were in decline. Under the direction of Spencer Baird, the newly created U.S. Fish Commission decided one answer to the problem was to build a fish farm on the National Mall in Washington DC, and raise imported carp to restock waterways across the country. What could go wrong?