Nelson Mandela, who died December 5, 2013, was mourned worldwide as the leader who beat Apartheid and then worked to promote reconciliation and racial tolerance in South Africa. But 23 years ago, just months after he was freed from a South African prison, Mandela created a sensation--and some tense, discomforting moments--when he visited the U.S. and met with then-President George H. W. Bush at the White House.
December 6, 1877 was a big day in local journalism as D.C.'s longest running local rag, The Washington Post, published its first issue. For three pennies readers got four pages of news. Sounds like a pretty good deal.
On Oct. 5, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson joined a visiting head of state, Philippines President Diosdad Macapagal, in a 25-minute noontime parade through downtown Washington. In the annals of Presidential events, it was unremarkable, save for one odd and unsettling detail. LBJ and Macapagal rode thorugh the capital's streets in the same customized black 1961 Lincoln limousine in which, not quite a year before, President John F. Kennedy had been killed by a sniper as he rolled in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas.
In a previous post, we looked at how Abraham Lincoln utilized the telegraph during the Civil War to supervise his generals in the field and gather intelligence — sometimes by scanning telegrams intended for other Washington recipients. But in addition to working closely with Lincoln, the War Department's team of telegraph operators — who were based at the present-day location of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House — also were pressed into service to perform another critical function in the war effort. They also worked as cryptographers, encoding sensitive communications for the Union side, and as codebreakers, deciphering intercepted letters sent by Confederate officials and spies.
In an age when the federal government and the national security establishment was vastly smaller than it is today, David Homer Bates and three other operators — Thomas T. Eckert, Charles A. Tinker, and Albert B. Chandler — functioned as the 19th Century equivalent of the Fort Meade, Md.-based National Security Agency, which has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 employees and an arsenal of supercomputers and other gadgetry at its disposal.
Today, Washingtonians rely upon Twitter, smart phones, and 24-hour cable news channels to continually fill our craving for information. But a century and a half ago, during the Civil War, the only source of instantaneous news from far away was the telegraph, and in Washington, there was only one place to get it: The Department of War's headquarters building, which stood at the present site of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
Before the war, amazingly, the government didn't even have its own telegraph operation, instead relying upon the same commercial telegraph offices that civilians used.
When we think of President John F. Kennedy, we picture him living in the White House with Jackie, Caroline and John Jr. But for most of the time he spent in Washington — the years from 1946 through 1960 — he was a resident of the city’s Georgetown neighborhood.
When the Massachusetts native moved to Washington after being elected to Congress in 1946, he was just 29 years old and still single, and he followed the same pattern as so many other young people who've arrived here over the years in a quest for greatness. He settled into a group house, where after a long day at work he could hang out with his friends, leave his dirty laundry strewn all over the place and lead the carefree existence of a party-loving bachelor.
The American Masters documentary "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin," includes never-before-aired film footage of a live Hendrix performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, as well as a poignant clip of his final performance in Germany in September 1970, just 12 days before his death at age 27.
Unlike the Miami show, rock music archivists have yet to discover any film record of the legendary guitarist's three performances in the Washington, D.C. area in 1967 and 1968, but those shows have become the stuff of local legend.
Rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Lou Reed, who died on October 27, 2013 at age 71, is best known as a lyrical chronicler of New York City's debached avant garde subculture of the 1960s, a time when his band, the Velvet Underground, provided the soundtrack for artist Andy Warhol's druggy, gender-bending milieu.
But Reed also could claim an intriguing distinction in the musical history of the nation's capital. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee once was called upon to provide musical entertainment at the White House, at the request of a visiting foreign head of state.
In 1938, Welles caused mass panic as many listeners to his The Mercury Theater Over the Air drama program on CBS radio thought that he was reporting on a real alien invasion.
Locally, Washingtonians heard the show on WJSV, the precursor to today's WTOP and the broadcast got quite a reaction. Phone switchboards were overwhelmed as frightened listeners called their loved ones and contacted the radio station for the latest news. Even some law enforcement personnel were duped. Afterwards, area residents blamed a variety of factors for the hysteria.
A previous post detailed the eclectic history of the Uline Arena, also known as Washington Coliseum, the barrel-roofed hall that from the 1940s through the 1980s hosted everything from hockey and basketball to a rodeo featuring Roy Rogers and Trigger. But the arena, located at the corner of M and 2nd Street NE with an entrance on 3rd Street, also has a rich musical history. Jazz great Charlie Parker played there in April 1951, on a bill that also included June Christie and Johnny Hodges. A decade later, Duke Ellington and his orchestra played to a packed house as part of the First International Jazz Festival in Washington. Country star — and Winchester, Virginia native! — Patsy Cline was scheduled to play there 10 days after her death in March 1963. (Dottie West took her place.) Of all the acts to play the old Coliseum, the Beatles show on February 11, 1964 probably takes the cake.