DC

The Tight Laced Ladies of Washington

Women’s fashion is a complicated subject, but one doesn’t usually think of it as deadly. However, the fatal dance between health and beauty was a reality for Washington women in the 19th century.

The “corset problem,” or the “corset question” as it was called in the press, was the phenomenon of tightly lacing corsets to constrict the waistline to about 16 inches and sometimes even as small as 13 inches; basically, the smaller the better. These miniscule waists, also called “wasp waists,” were in style in the first half of the 1800s, reaching their peak in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Starting in the latter half of the century, the style began its descent and area newspapers began to debate the practice.

Houdini Escapes Newest and Strongest D.C. Jail in 1906

 

This past Saturday, as part of the Urban Photography Series, I went on a tour of the neighborhood of Park View, hosted by The Historical Society of Washington. As we meandered down Georgia Avenue, I snuck off to the right down Park Road NW to indulge my curiosity on something I had read.

I came to the Tenth Precinct Police Station just a little way down the street and pondered again the story of a crafty escape artist who managed to break out of a jail cell in less than 20 minutes. Got any guesses on who the trickster was?

Even Washington D.C. couldn’t hold Harry Houdini, the original handcuff king. On New Years Day in 1906, the infamous Houdini broke out of what was said to be the strongest and toughest jail in the city.

Sketch of Daniel Sickles shooting Philip Barton Key

Cold-Blooded Murder in Lafayette Square: The Sickles Tragedy of 1859

On the morning of February 27, 1859, Philip Barton Key was shot multiple times by the deranged Daniel E. Sickles in the middle of Lafayette Square. Sickles’ motive? ... The discovery of an intimate affair between his wife and good friend.

Now Washington, D.C., has had its fair share of scandals, political pandemonium, and secret trysts over the years. But the Sickles tragedy provided a particularly scandalous dance between sex and politics even by Washington standards. After all, it’s not every day that a Congressman commits cold-blooded murder in broad daylight on a city street.

U.S. Grant (Source: Library of Congress0

The Feather Duster Affair of 1874

Understanding the history of local government in the District of Columbia is tricky business. The governance structure has changed several times since the city was founded in 1791 and, sometimes, these changes were quite dramatic... which brings us to the 1870s.

The territorial government prescribed by the Organic Act of 1871 gave D.C. a measure of home rule but the experiment would be short-lived. After Governor Alexander “Boss” Shepherd racked up big bills in an effort to modernize the city, President Grant felt compelled to make a change. What resulted was one of the more bizarre episodes in city history.

Portrait images of Joseph Pulitzer, left, and Kate Davis, right.

A Wedding Announcement: Joseph Pulitzer and Kate Davis

Here’s a fun piece of trivia. America’s most famous newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, than man who is often credited for rise of modern journalism, was married here in Washington 135 years ago today, June 19, 1878.

His bride was Miss Kate Davis of Georgetown, a cousin of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. (I wonder if cousin Jefferson knew that Pulitzer had fought for the Union army during the Civil War. In fact, his immigration expenses from Hungary to the United States in 1864 were paid by Massachusetts military recruiters!)

Louis Armstrong (New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

It's Raining Bottles at Griffith Stadium: The Music Battle of 1942

On July 23, 1942, Washingtonians packed Griffith Stadium to the gills for a special “Battle of Music” between African American jazz legend Louis Armstrong and white saxophonist Charlie Barnet. In segregated Washington of the 1940s, such an organized interracial competition was a big event and few people — especially in the black community that surrounded the stadium — wanted to miss the “musical fisticuffs.”

Healy Hall clock tower. (Photo credit: Ariel Veroske)

Georgetown’s Mischievous Tradition of Clock Hand Thievery

Georgetown University holds true to traditions of academic excellence, religious customs and…clock tower mischief?

Healy Hall, perhaps the university’s most iconic building, was built in 1877 by the same architects who designed the Library of Congress. The structure boasts a 200 foot tall clock tower which overlooks the campus and is visible from many locations across the city. In other words, the tower is a prime target for creative student pranksters.

As the Thunder Rolls into DC

You've probably seen the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day commemoration before. And if by some miracle you haven't seen it, you've almost assuredly heard it. But do you know the history behind it? (Photo by Cristiano Del Riccio. Used via CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)

You can hear the rumble from miles away, a deep roar of engines joined together for a cause. This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of motorcyclists will ride in unison across Memorial Bridge, a moving force of memory and action for POW's and soldiers listed as Missing in Action. Rolling Thunder, as the demonstration is called, has been a Washington Memorial Day tradition since 1988. But do you know the history behind it?

Horatio Greenough's classical George Washington sculpture. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Horatio Greenough’s Near Naked Washington

The nation’s capital is chock full of statues, memorials, monuments, historic markers, and museums. As the seat of the United States government, Washington has a unique niche as both a repository of history and as a tourist spot. Some monuments are world-famous, some now reside in hidden corners, some are the centers of conspiracy theories (as Dan Brown and National Treasure fans will know), and some have been forgotten altogether. One statue in particular has been all of these things – and more – since it was first created: Horatio Greenough’s George Washington.

40 Years Ago, TVs Tuned to Watergate Hearings

Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin (center) and other committee members listen to testimony. (Photo source: WETA Archives)

May 17, 1973 began an enthralling summer of reality television in Washington. That morning Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin banged his gavel and launched hearings to investigate the details of the Watergate scandal, which had rocked the nation the previous June. Americans from coast to coast watched with great interest, trying to determine “what the President knew and when he knew it.” (Short answer: He knew a lot and he had known it for a long time.)

Pages