1950s

Attempted Rembrandt Heist at the Corcoran

The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, recently announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the  National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.

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.

Queen Elizabeth II at University of Maryland football game, October 19, 1957. (Source: Library of Congress)

Queen Up in Aisle 4

So, imagine you are doing your Saturday afternoon grocery shopping at the local supermarket. All of a sudden a motorcade pulls up. Out pops the Queen of England and the royal prince. They walk into the store and begin to wander the aisles, indulging in the free samples and chatting with customers. After a few minutes they exit the store, get back in their limo and drive off.

Seems pretty far fetched, right? Well, maybe so, but that is exactly what patrons at the (aptly named) Queenstown Giant Food store in West Hyattsville experienced in October 1957.

On February 2, 1959 (l-r) Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins and Lance Newman became the first black students to break the color line in Virginia's public schools. (Source: Washington Post website)

It Happened Here First: Arlington Students Integrate Virginia Schools

On February 2, 1959, Stratford Junior High School (now H-B Woodlawn High School) in Arlington was the first public school in Virginia to be integrated. That morning, four African American seventh graders – Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson – started classes at the school with over 100 Arlington County police officers in riot gear standing guard. To the great relief of the community, there was no violence or disorder (though two students were sent home for setting off a firecracker in a school bathroom)

The day had been a long time coming.

John Phillip Sousa Junior High School. (Source: Wikipedia user Dmadeo)

D.C.'s Own "Brown vs Board"

Ask most people what Supreme Court case ended public school segregation and (perhaps after checking their smartphone) they will say, “Brown vs. Board of Education.” That is would be correct… for most of the country. But, for citizens in the federally-controlled District of Columbia another case was more important.

On December 10, 1952 the Supreme Court heard the first arguments in Bolling vs. Sharpe, a case filed on behalf of eleven African American parents whose children had been denied enrollment at D.C.'s John Phillip Sousa Junior High School on the basis of race. The court would issue its decision two years later alongside the more famous Brown decision.

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