DC

Lincoln's Secret Weapon: The Telegraph

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.

John F. Kennedy in his Senate office in 1959. (Photo source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Young JFK in Georgetown

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.

Jimi Hendrix performs at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. (Photo Courtesy of © Ken Davidoff/Authentic Hendrix LLC)

Jimi Hendrix in DC

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.

Lou Reed's Appearance at the White House

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. 

Orson Welles

Washingtonians React to the "War of the Worlds"

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.

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