1890s

Before the Bonus Marchers There was Coxey’s Army

Jacob Coxey (Source: Library of Congress via Encycolopeia Britannica Kids)

You might be familiar with the story of the Bonus Marchers of 1932, the large group of World War I veterans who gathered from around the country in Washington, D.C., demanding their long promised benefits. For many veterans, the bonus money for military service was the difference between keeping a roof over their families’ heads or keeping the bank from repossessing their property. But this was not the first time disgruntled citizens descended on Washington seeking economic redress.

In the midst of an economic crisis that shook the nation in the mid 1890s, Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey, and his eccentric colleague Carl Browne organized a collection of unemployed men and women to march to Washington to present their plan. They left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, arriving in Washington, D.C. at the end of April. Along the way, they were joined by dozens of similarly affected men and women eager to find a solution to their economic plight.

The welcome they received was far from warm.

An Organ Grinder similar to one you might have seen on the streets of Washington in the late 19th century. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Organ Grinders and Their Monkeys Once Entertained on DC Sidewalks

If you're a Peter Sellers fan, you're probably familiar with this scene in the 1975 film Return of the Pink Panther, in which Inspector Clouseau fails to notice a bank robbery because he is questioning a street accordion player and his chimpanzee companion about whether or not they have the required permit. ("I am a musician and the monkey is a businessman," the accordionist explains. "He doesn't tell me what to play, and I don't tell him what to do with his money.")

You may not realize that there's a grain of truth in the comedy.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there actually were street musicians who performed with dancing simians in the streets of the nation's capital, and they actually sometimes got into similar beefs with District police.

The Slasher in his mug shot. (Photo Source: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

"Jack the Slasher" Terrorizes Washington

In the winter months of 1893-1894, D.C. area folks were plagued with the fear of a mysterious man dubbed “Jack the Slasher.” Nicknamed after London’s infamous “Jack the Ripper” of 1888, this Jack silently entered homes at night and left just as stealthily as he came, leaving a violent mess behind him.  Police were perplexed, women and children terrified, and men poured money into the protection of their houses. But before you start thinking the worst, know that he wasn’t that kind of slasher. Rather than human flesh, the target of his knife was textiles. He cut up furniture, clothing, carpets, and anything he could get his hands on, while taking little for himself. Why? Even after he was caught, no one was able to ascertain a real motive.

Jack’s robberies started in October 1893 at the home of Nick Young, President of the National Baseball League, in Mount Pleasant. He entered by cutting the slats of the shutters and sliding through a back window while the house was sleeping. Young woke to his residence in chaos: “the bric-a-brac and furniture therein [were] almost completely destroyed… The walls and pictures were besmeared with mud, while chairs and carpets were cut with a keen knife.” When police were called to the scene of the crime, they were mystified, remarking they had never seen anything like it. And Jack was just beginning.

The Oldest Profession in Washington

Hookers Division, located in the area around the White House, was one of Washington's major Red Light Districts in the 19th century. (Source: Library of Congress)

Not to cast any doubt on the virtue of our historical statesman, but for the latter half of the 1800s, at least two major red light districts were right in the center of D.C., even “within sight of the White House.”

One of the most notorious of these was Hooker’s Division, on the west end of the federal triangle and right on the National Mall. With the White House to the north, the Capital to the east, and the business district within walking distance, it was pretty perfectly positioned.  The area got its name during the Civil War, when Union General Hooker moved everything seedy in the capital to a choice few spots. The name also at least partially arose from how often Hooker’s men visited the district (hint: a lot). The Evening Star had this to say of Hooker’s Division in 1863:

There are at present, more houses of this character [ill-repute], by ten times, in the city than have ever existed here before, and loose characters can now be counted by the thousands.

Washingtonians with outdoor jobs, like this snow-removal crew, suffered mightily during Washington's record-setting cold snap of 1899. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Washington's Record Low

It’s cold outside — by D.C. standards, REALLY cold. And, if you believe the area weather-folk, it’s going to be even colder overnight. Temperatures may reach zero and possibly a little bit below. (Thanks, polar vortex.)

But, even if your nose and extremities might suggest otherwise, we are still a fair ways off from the all-time record low temperature in Washington. That distinction goes to February 11, 1899. Around 7 a.m. that morning, the Weather Bureau at 24th and M St., NW recorded its lowest reading ever, a frigid 15 degrees below zero.

An 1898 portrait of the Infanta by Giovanni Boldini. What, did you think we were going to post a picture of the scandlous dress? This is a family blog! Also, we couldn't find ANY. (Source: Wikicommons)

An Infanta goes to Washington

Scandals have plagued Washington D.C. pretty much since when it was built. The society pages of the1890s, however, dished some of the juciest gossip- easily done when royalty were still common and the bicycle had just been invented.

One particularly sensational event, taking place in 1893, was the visit of a Spanish Princess to the US. Her manner and dress shocked the D.C. elites and left them talking for a long time.

A Roma Americae stone. (Source: National Park Service)

The Mystery of the Pope's Stone

On the evening of March 5, 1854, nine men associated with the Know-Nothing party snuck up to the base of the Washington Monument and made off with a rather hefty hunk of stone. The men carried the stone to a boat waiting on the tidal basin, smashed it into pieces and dumped it in the middle of the Potomac.

You may be curious as to why they (or we!) were interested in an old — and probably really heavy — rock. Where exactly did this stone come from and why was it such a big deal when it was stolen and destroyed? Maybe it was the fact that it came from the Pope... Just a guess.

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