DC

Workers repair streetcar tracks at 14th and G Streets NW in 1941. Source: Library of Congress

DC's Once Grand Streetcar System

Many U.S. cities — including Washington — are now looking again to a late 19th-century transportation technology, the electric streetcar, as a tool to help revitalize business and entertainment districts and attract young professionals and empty-nesters to consider urban living. Here in DC, the District Department of Transportation says it is in the finishing stages of completing a new line along H Street and Benning Road NE, which eventually will form part of a new DC Streetcar system with eight lines and 37 miles of track, which will serve all of the District's eight wards.

That makes it a good time to look back at the history of Washington's once-grand system of electric streetcars.

The recently renovated ballroom of the Willard Hotel

Save the Suitcases! The Willard Hotel Fire of 1922

There have certainly been worse fires, but the Willard Hotel blaze of 1922 caused quite a stir. It resulted in $400,000 — about $5,400,000 today — in damages to the grand hotel and sent some of the District's most distinguished citizens and guests out into the street in their pajamas. Some just moved a little more quickly than others. Apparently, emergency procedures were a little different back then.

Salinger and the Swami

J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th century, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other city in India, but to Washington, D.C.

It happened in the spring of 1955. It was four years after the publication of Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and two years after his anthology, Nine Stories, further established him as a literary sensation.

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.

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