DC

An announcement in The Evening Star about the Wawaset disaster (Source: Library of Congress)

The Wawaset Disaster of 1873

Few remember it today, but in 1873 “the Waswaset horror” broke the hearts of many in D.C. and the surrounding area.

On August 8, 1873, the Wawaset was heading towards Cone River from Washington. Around 11:30 a.m., near Chatterson’s Landing, the fireman of the steamer raised the alarm that a fire had broken out on board. The boat was very dry, “almost like timber,” and it spread quickly on the oiled machinery of the steamer. Captain Woods immediately steered the boat towards shore. He stayed in the pilot’s house in order to keep the steering ropes from catching on fire; if those were lost, there would be no way to direct the steamer. If the steamer could make it to shore before the fire became too much for those on board, any loss of life could be avoided. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way.

Few remember it today, but in 1873 “the Waswaset horror” broke the hearts of many in D.C. and the surrounding area.

On August 8, 1873, the Wawaset was heading towards Cone River from Washington. Around 11:30 a.m., near Chatterson’s Landing, the fireman of the steamer raised the alarm that a fire had broken out on board. The boat was very dry, “almost like timber,” and it spread quickly on the oiled machinery of the steamer. Captain Woods immediately steered the boat towards shore. He stayed in the pilot’s house in order to keep the steering ropes from catching on fire; if those were lost, there would be no way to direct the steamer. If the steamer could make it to shore before the fire became too much for those on board, any loss of life could be avoided. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way

The "Exorcist" stairs in Georgetown, which did not figure in the actual case that inspired the movie.

The Real Story Behind "The Exorcist"

One of the most famous movies set in Washington is The Exorcist, the 1973 tale of a Roman Catholic priest's struggle to save a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession, which transfixed theater-goers with its phantasmagoric gore. The William Friedkin-directed film not only was a box office smash, but also became the first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and four decades after its release,The Exorcist and its D.C. connection continue to resonate in the public imagination.

Case in point: The film's shocking climax, in which the protagonist, Father Damien Karras (portrayed by Jason Miller) takes the demon Pazuzu into his own body and is hurled to his death, has turned the steep set of steps in Georgetown where it was filmed into a macabre local landmark.

But The Exorcist has another, even more unsettling connection to the Washington area. William Peter Blatty, who wrote both the screenplay and the bestselling 1971 novel from which it was derived, was inspired by an actual case in which a 14-year-old boy purportedly was possessed by the devil, which occurred in Prince George's County 65 years ago.

10 Years Later: Remembering Elizabeth Campbell

January 9, 2004 was a very sad day for us here at WETA. It was the day that we lost Elizabeth Campbell, our founder and a pillar in the Washington, D.C. area community. Now, we can look back and celebrate her life and vision.

Thank you for everything you did to serve WETA and the Washington community, Mrs. Campbell. We still feel your impact today. May you continue to rest in peace.

Marion and Effi Barry on January 2, 1979, after Mr. Barry was sworn in as mayor. (Photo credit: Star Collection, DC Public Library; © Washington Post)

The Mayor for Life Takes Office

Nowadays they call him the "Mayor for Life," but 35 years ago Marion Barry was just getting started. In 1978, he narrowly defeated incumbent mayor Walter E. Washington and D.C. Council Chairman Stanley Tucker in the Democratic primary, and then coasted to victory over Republican Arthur Fletcher in the general election.

On January 2, 1979, Barry was sworn in as the mayor of Washington, D.C. A new era of D.C. politics had begun.

Adas Israel Synagogue building on moving truck, December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

A Synagogue on Wheels

As many realtors will tell you, the first three rules of real estate are, “location, location, location.” Well, in the late 1960s, location presented a very serious problem for transit planners and the congregation of the Adas Israel synagogue. Construction of Metro’s Red Line was getting underway and WMATA had acquired the block bounded by 5th,  6th,  F and G Streets, NW to serve as a staging area and, eventually, the home of Metro’s headquarters.

There was only one problem. The block was also the home of Washington’s first synagogue building, which had been standing on the site since 1876.

Statue of Nelson Mandela outside South African embassy in Washington, D.C. (Photo by flickr user taedc used via Creative Commons)

Nelson Mandela's First Visit to Washington

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.

The Strange Saga of the JFK Assassination Car

You may have assumed that the Presidential limosine that carried President Kennedy through Dallas on November 22, 1963 was taken out of service after the assassination... But that would be incorrect. Four more presidents used it afterwards. The photo above is from LBJ's term. (Photo source: Flickr user That Hartford Guy via Creative Commons license.)

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. 

Lincoln's Codebreakers

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.

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