• 1874 Illustration of U.S. Botanic Garden
    National Mall
     
     
    The U.S. Botanic Garden dates to the earliest planning of the capital city. Many of the Founding Fathers believed that a living repository for plants would have countless benefits, from the production of food and medicine to the scientific study of international specimens to the enjoyment of aesthetic beauty.
  • The real life "Smokey the Bear," shown here frolicking in a pool at the National Zoo c.1950, was the embodiment of a fire safety public awareness campaign that started during World War II. (Photo credit: Francine Schroeder, Smithsonian Institution Archives. Used for educational purposes in accordance with the Smithsonian Archives terms of use.)
    Strange But True
     
     
    How did Smokey the Bear come to have his very own personal Washington, D.C. zipcode? Glad you asked.
  • David Bowie jams at a party thrown by publicist Rodney Bingenheimer at lawyer Paul Figen's house in January 1971, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
    David Bowie: 1947-2016
     
     
    In 1971 a largely unknown David Bowie landed at Dulles Airport and stayed in the Washington, D.C. area on his first visit to America.
  • Sam's Park and Shop
     
     
    In 1930, it shaped the modern American shopping experience and was the model for the type of shopping-center that is still standard today.
  • Women suffragists picketing in front of the White House in 1917. (Source Library of Congress via Wikipedia)
    Women's Suffrage
     
     
    While tame by today's standards, a century ago, Washington was the site of "the most militant move ever made by the suffragists of this country."

“Ground [the statues] into dust!” – The Downfall of Two District Memorials

The Discovery

With the recent protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and the continued unearthing of our nation’s racist history, conversation regarding what history we set in stone is back at the forefront. In the District, memorial removals are extremely rare occurrences, but that doesn’t mean they have never happened before. In the late 1950s, two of the Capitol building’s most significant monuments were removed, despite the fact that a future president himself advocated for their installment: Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue and Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America. Largely due to public pressure, the statues were taken down during the building’s remodeling in 1958 and never re-erected.

Washington Post Oct 15, 1976

The District’s Own Asian Gatsby: Koreagate & the “Tongsun Park Problem”

Depending on how you look at it, the 1976 Koreagate scandal didn’t really start with Tongsun Park. But when the media caught wind of “the most sweeping allegations of congressional corruption ever investigated by the foreign government,” Tongsun Park’s charm and personality made him an entertaining antagonist. Part of the intrigue was that Park’s story didn’t conform to the stereotypical immigrant narrative. Park, born in 1935, grew up with wealth. By the 1970s, Park’s opulence – “expensive homes, lavish Embassy Row parties, worldwide jet travel and purchase of his own downtown office building” – made him a Washington celebrity, the District’s “Asian Gatsby.”

"Belair at Bowie": Segregated Suburbia

Karl Gregory tries to buy a home in Belair at Bowie

By 1963, “Belair at Bowie” was thriving. Since its opening in 1961, over 2,000 houses were occupied. But its prosperity hid an uncomfortable truth. William Levitt’s vision of the perfect neighborhood included attractive homes, affordable prices, comfort, and community — but only one type of neighbor. From the moment Levitt arrived in Washington, local activists — and even the government — became aware of the developer’s racist policy: none of the homes in Belair could be sold to people of color.  

A General, a Queen, and the President

Tom Thumb, -1883, with wife in wedding costume., 1863. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005685454/.

February of 1863 saw one of the most anticipated celebrity weddings of its time—after all, what better to provide a momentary distraction from the realities of the Civil War than a little star gossip? The bride and groom were General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and the Queen of Beauty Lavinia Warren, of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum (which would later become Barnum’s Circus) in New York City. At 12:30 p.m. on February 10, 1863 in Manhattan’s Grace Episcopal Church, Tom and Lavinia wed in the presence of an enormous crowd, which spilled out onto Broadway and for many more miles into the City, thanks to Barnum’s extensive publicizing of the event. People across America were fascinated by Barnum’s Tom Thumb and the President of the United States was no exception. The Lincolns were so enthralled by Barnum’s acts that they invited the newlywed Strattons to the White House for a wedding reception just a few days later.

National Museum of the American Indian

Skeletons in the Closet: the Smithsonian’s Native American Remains and the NMAI

The Smithsonian museums attract millions of D.C. locals and tourists alike every year, but in the late 1980s, the Institution found its reputation at risk. As Smithsonian spokeswoman Madeline Jacobs described in October of 1989, “The calls and letters” during that period were “like a flood." "Even important topics like our divestment from South Africa didn't get this much attention,” Jacobs told The Washington Post.

What sparked the uproar? In 1989, the Smithsonian reportedly held 35,000 skeletal remains of Indigenous peoples, 18,500 of which were Native American remains.

Print shows a hen with three chicks in a farmyard.

Fowl Play in Washington: the City’s History of Chicken Thievery

Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.

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