DC

Anne Royall and the President's Clothes

Peter Waddell painting of the Tiber Creek outside the White House, painted in 2009

When the stresses of life in Washington became too much, John Quincy Adams calmed his nerves by taking early-morning swims in the Potomac River. In a move that might be considered questionable by today’s standards, he especially liked to soak in the brisk, cold water wearing nothing but his own skin. According to local lore, it once got him into a bit of trouble: Anne Royall, a trailblazing journalist, caught him in a very awkward situation. But is there any truth in the tale?

“Porn Practically Overnight:” Adult Bookstores Make Washington Home

14th St. NW, 1972

Much like any city, Washington’s landscape is ever evolving, and the rise of gentrification has transformed many of the city’s neighborhoods. Take downtown 14th street, for example. Today, 14th street offers all the hangout spots a D.C. millennial yuppie might desire: hip bars, coffee shops, sleek gyms equipped with spin bikes... In the 1970s and 1980s, though, a less-conventional business threatened to displace the street’s small neighborhood shops: adult bookstores.

“Ground [the statues] into dust!” – The Downfall of Two District Memorials

The Discovery

With the recent protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and the continued unearthing of our nation’s racist history, conversation regarding what history we set in stone is back at the forefront. In the District, memorial removals are extremely rare occurrences, but that doesn’t mean they have never happened before. In the late 1950s, two of the Capitol building’s most significant monuments were removed, despite the fact that a future president himself advocated for their installment: Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue and Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America. Largely due to public pressure, the statues were taken down during the building’s remodeling in 1958 and never re-erected.

Washington Post Oct 15, 1976

The District’s Own Asian Gatsby: Koreagate & the “Tongsun Park Problem”

Depending on how you look at it, the 1976 Koreagate scandal didn’t really start with Tongsun Park. But when the media caught wind of “the most sweeping allegations of congressional corruption ever investigated by the foreign government,” Tongsun Park’s charm and personality made him an entertaining antagonist. Part of the intrigue was that Park’s story didn’t conform to the stereotypical immigrant narrative. Park, born in 1935, grew up with wealth. By the 1970s, Park’s opulence – “expensive homes, lavish Embassy Row parties, worldwide jet travel and purchase of his own downtown office building” – made him a Washington celebrity, the District’s “Asian Gatsby.”

A General, a Queen, and the President

Tom Thumb, -1883, with wife in wedding costume., 1863. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005685454/.

February of 1863 saw one of the most anticipated celebrity weddings of its time—after all, what better to provide a momentary distraction from the realities of the Civil War than a little star gossip? The bride and groom were General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and the Queen of Beauty Lavinia Warren, of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum (which would later become Barnum’s Circus) in New York City. At 12:30 p.m. on February 10, 1863 in Manhattan’s Grace Episcopal Church, Tom and Lavinia wed in the presence of an enormous crowd, which spilled out onto Broadway and for many more miles into the City, thanks to Barnum’s extensive publicizing of the event. People across America were fascinated by Barnum’s Tom Thumb and the President of the United States was no exception. The Lincolns were so enthralled by Barnum’s acts that they invited the newlywed Strattons to the White House for a wedding reception just a few days later.

National Museum of the American Indian

Skeletons in the Closet: the Smithsonian’s Native American Remains and the Founding of the National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian museums attract millions of D.C. locals and tourists alike every year, but in the late 1980s, the Institution found its reputation at risk. As Smithsonian spokeswoman Madeline Jacobs described in October of 1989, “The calls and letters” during that period were “like a flood.""Even important topics like our divestment from South Africa didn't get this much attention,” Jacobs told The Washington Post.

What sparked the uproar? In 1989, the Smithsonian reportedly held 35,000 skeletal remains of Indigenous peoples, 18,500 of which were Native American remains.

Print shows a hen with three chicks in a farmyard.

Fowl Play in Washington: the City’s History of Chicken Thievery

Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.

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