DC

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 NMAI

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.

D.C. Museums from Home

Interior of the Phillips Collection gallery

For the time being, Washingtonians have been cut off from our favorite museums. Luckily, brilliant museum professionals have come up with lots of ways to bring some light to our lockdowns. In honor of Museum Week, we've rounded up some of the coolest online resources that D.C. museums have to offer.

Chinese American soldiers

"Together, Together:" D.C.'s Chinese March in Mass for the First Time

As the new PBS documentary Asian-Americans notes, many Asian-American immigrants maintained strong bonds to their home countries and were deeply affected by World War II conflicts that occurred in the Pacific theater. In fact, even before U.S. involvement and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Asian-Americans from the D.C. area closely followed the brewing conflict between China and Japan. Many still had close relatives in China, and Japanese imperialist expansion into China and the resulting Second Sino-Japanese War moved Chinese-Americans at home to organize. On July 7, 1938, in recognition of the one year anniversary of the war’s outbreak, D.C. Chinatown's shops and restaurants closed as the Chinese community gathered in the streets.

Triple Murder in D.C.: Ziang Sung Wan & the Unsolved Mystery that Shocked the Nation

Wan in courtroom

As far as Chinese immigrants go, Dr. Theodore Ting Wong, Chang Hsi Hsie, and Ben Sen Wu were doing alright for themselves. All three were well educated, hailed from affluent Chinese families, spoke nearly fluent English, and served as diplomats for the Chinese Legation. Ushering in the Chinese New Year on the evening of January 29, 1919, the three men had much to celebrate and even more work to get to the next day. But by morning, the mission house was eerily quiet. The postman rang the doorbell in vain; the milk delivery was left sweating on the stoop; the laundry package sat unattended by the door. Concerned, a neighbor entered the house through an open window. What he found sparked a case that would headline papers for years, reach the Supreme Court, and even pave the way for our “right to remain silent.” It was January 31, 1919, and the three residents of the mission had been dead two days.

Portrait of Alexander Gardner with a camera, taken around 1860

A Tale of Two Photographers: Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner

If you lived in nineteenth-century D.C. and wanted your picture taken, you couldn’t just whip out your own camera — you’d visit Pennsylvania Avenue NW, known locally as “photographer’s row.” This stretch of the avenue, between the White House and the nearly-finished Capitol building, was home to a cluster of photography studios and galleries. Between 1858 and 1881, the most fashionable and famous was Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery. It was run by Mathew Brady and his manager, Alexander Gardner, whose partnership endured its own civil war. 

The History & Survival of Washington D.C.’s Chinatown

Friendship archway

When walking the streets of downtown D.C. near Penn Quarter, Washington’s Chinatown is difficult to miss.  The vibrant Friendship Archway marks the entrance of the neighborhood, and if you look closely, you’ll even be able to spot markers of the Chinese zodiac on the crosswalks. But despite the area’s seemingly thriving shops and restaurants, Chinatown’s Chinese population today is estimated to be as low as 300. Things weren’t always this way, though. In fact, Chinatown was first located in a different D.C. neighborhood altogether. So how did Washington’s Chinese community first develop? What was Chinatown like before, and how and why did that change?

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