DC

Orson Welles (Source: Library of Congress)

Washingtonians React to the "War of the Worlds"

Tonight on WETA TV 26 and WETA HD, American Experience celebrates the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast with a new documentary. Back 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.

The Beatles and More! The Musical History of Uline Arena

The Beatles were greeted by thousands of screaming teenagers when they arrived at Kennedy airport in New York on February 7, 1964. When they played their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum four days later, they were pelted with jellybeans while on stage. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

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.

The Washington Coliseum, seen from the Red Line. Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Wikimedia Commons

Uline Arena, AKA Washington Coliseum: DC’s forgotten venue

If you ride the Red Line Metro, you've probably seen it out the window at the New York Avenue stop: A massive, rust-colored structure with a curvilinear-trussed roof. It looks like an abandoned warehouse or factory, or a repair shop for ancient locomotives. You’d probably never suspect that 50 years ago in February, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert there.   It also was the home of Washington’s first NBA team, and hosted events ranging from figure skating and midget auto racing to Dwight Eisenhower’s 1957 inaugural festival and a 1959 speech by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.

J. P. Morgan photo from Images of American Political History (Source: Wikipedia)

J.P. Morgan REALLY wanted to leave D.C.

J.P. Morgan was a New York banker but he had plenty of occasions to visit Washington. When you control as much money as he did, you tend to keep a close eye on the government – and vice versa. And so, it’s no surprise that Morgan came to the nation’s capital from time to time for discussions with the powers that be.

Given that he was a pretty important fellow with a busy schedule, it’s also no surprise that Morgan didn’t want to waste a lot of time in transit between D.C. and the Big Apple. After all, he had deals to strike, businesses to reorganize and railroads to consolidate amongst other items on his “to-do” list.

And so, on January 23, 1911, Morgan took it upon himself to set a new world record for rail travel between Washington and New York.

Emergency Quarters for Congress

August of 1814 was a pretty hot month, thanks to Mother Nature… Oh, and the British. After trouncing local militia troops at the Battle of Bladensburg, the redcoats burned the majority of important government buildings in D.C. and chased President Madison out of town. In addition to the White House, the fires destroyed the Senate’s wing of the Capitol and turned much of the Library of Congress’ books and manuscripts into smoldering ash. The intense heat melted the marble chamber into limestone, transforming the room into “a most magnificent ruin.”

Beyond cleaning up the damage, there was the obvious problem of getting the government back up and running. Sound familiar?

National Hotel c. 1920 (Source: Library of Congress)

A Five Star Malady

What better treat for a president-elect waiting to move into the White House than to stay in one of the swankiest hotels in the capital? Well, as it turns out, James Buchanan would have done better to have found less plush accomodations in the spring of 1857. He and hundreds of others fell victim to a mysterious ailment after staying at the luxurious National Hotel.

This sickness, because it came at the end of a harsh campaign against the victorious Buchanan, was thought by many to arise from a poison. Fingers were pointed at various political opponents; even the Spanish government in Cuba was blamed.

"Wake-up alarm to the nation"

Though he was the grandson of a Klansman, Bob Zellner realized at a young age that he didn’t agree with segregation. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and became the first white southerner to be a SNCC Field Secretary. In a time of high tensions, particularly in the Deep South, Zellner and his wife Dorothy held their ground as supporters of black freedom and desegregation. They traveled from Danville, Virginia for the March on Washington. Years later, Zellner remembered the experience.

"The thing that we were most afraid of was the March would be a bust."

On the days leading up to the March on Washington, buses from every direction poured into the District of Columbia. Culie Vick Kilimanjaro and her husband John Marshall Kilimanjaro came from Greensboro, North Carolina. No one knew exactly what to expect prior to the March. Many feared violence. Many feared that no one would show up and the March would be a bust. Thankfully neither of those things came to pass. The March was a great success thanks to the bravery of people like the Kilimanjaros. Read their recollections after the jump.

March on Washington Anniversary Events

Next Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the watershed moments in American History and the Civil Rights struggle. On August 28, 1963 over 250,000 marchers peacefully demonstrated in the nation's capital under the mantra of "jobs and freedom" for all Americans regardless of skin color. The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

To commemorate the 1963 March, there will be two different marches through the streets of Washington in the coming days. On Saturday, August 24 at 8am, the National Action Network is organizing a rally with Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III at the Lincoln Memorial. Following the rally, participants will walk en-masse to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. On Wednesday, August 28 at 8am, the Center For the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws is organizing a procession from 600 New Jersey Ave. NW to the Lincoln Memorial.

In addition to these marches, there will be many other celebrations happening around town to mark the anniversary. We've listed a few of the larger ones after the jump. For more, check out The Root's Guide to March on Washington Celebrations and the 50th Anniversary Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom website. Hope that you can take part in one or more of the events!

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