1970s

The Congressional Cemetery: Forgotten and Found

View of the Congressional Cemetery in the 1930s

In the 1970s, the Congressional Cemetery was in trouble. After years of neglect, it looked abandoned: broken headstones littered the ground, family vaults caved in, and the grass was waist high. Fifty years later, the cemetery has undergone a stunning transformation. As well as being an active burial ground, it serves as a community garden, urban wildlife sanctuary, place of remembrance, and historic site. Volunteers, many from the local Capitol Hill neighborhoods, work tirelessly to keep up the grounds and reverse the damage of decades past. Because, as it turns out, the Congressional Cemetery has always been a people’s effort. Despite its official-sounding name, and despite its importance to national history, its story is much more local.

William Porter and Helen Leavitt sit on the back of a stagecoach, showing a banner that reads, "Taxation Without Representation."

In Washington, "Taxation Without Representation" is History

Most Americans are familiar with the phrase, of course. It brings to mind images of the Revolutionary War—colonists protesting a series of taxes imposed on them by the British Parliament, despite their lack of involvement in its affairs. According to tradition, the battle cry of “taxation without representation is tyranny” originated in Boston, where it featured in such famous displays as the Boston Tea Party.  In the popular imagination, the phrase defined the conflict that lead to the creation of our own, more just government. So how did the phrase come to be associated with Washington, D.C., the center of that government?

"Skyrockets in Flight:" Starland Vocal Band Launched from D.C.

The Starland Vocal Band in 1977, the same year they won 2 grammys for their 1976 debut album, which included the song "Afternoon Delight." (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The soundtrack of the summer of 1976 was a special one. Just after the USA celebrated its Bicentennial, one unlikely song, with its folksy style and airtight harmonization, soared past the countless disco tunes to the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts. No matter how you feel about it, “Afternoon Delight” was perhaps the perfect way to celebrate our independence. With lyrics referencing “skyrockets in flight,” the song (and the band behind it) has a very strong connection to the Nation’s Capital.  

It all started in 1974, when musicians Bill Danoff and Margot Chapman stopped at Clyde’s in Georgetown for a meal...  

The Birchmere Gets Its Start

Exterior of the original Birchmere location

Gary Oelze purchased a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere became a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre. 

An Evening at the White House with Johnny Cash

The Nixons and the Cashes pose for a photo on the evening that Cash performed at the White House. Image Source: National Archives.

April 17, 1970 was a big day for the United States—President Richard Nixon even described it as the “proudest day of [his] life and in the life of the country.” That afternoon, the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and made it to safety. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the day wasn’t over yet. That evening, President Nixon would sit in the East Room of the White House for another cultural milestone: a legendary performance by country music star Johnny Cash.

Maryland was almost "Almost Heaven"

In the summer of 1970, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were driving down Clopper Road to a family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Montgomery County was a much more rural place in those days, and the scenery inspired Danoff to repetitively sing “country roads, country roads, country roads.” 

Under normal circumstances, this burst of creativity might have gone nowhere, but the couple happened to be a duo of professional musicians. So, with the help of John Denver, they soon turned the phrase into the earworm we know today. 

How I.M. Pei Brought Modern Architecture to the National Mall

Exterior view of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art (Credit: Difference Engine on Wikipedia, licensed via Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license)

When I.M. Pei, the celebrated Chinese-American architect from New York, was selected to design a new addition for D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Washington Post’s architecture critic remarked it was “no doubt one of the toughest [assignments] since Michelangelo was asked to put a dome on St. Peter’s.” Pei knew it would be a difficult task to build the new gallery, but that did not deter him. This is the story of how one of Washington's most unique buildings came to be.   

Lt. O.W. Larsen talks with his wife shortly after his release. (Photo Credit: Ken Heinen, Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post.)

Christmas Escape at Lorton, 1974

It was Christmas night 1974 in Lorton Reformatory’s Maximum Security wing. Correctional Officer Lt. O.W. Larsen was keeping watch over the mess hall where around 100 inmates were finishing dinner and sitting down for a showing of “The Hong Kong Connection,” a Kung Fu movie. Suddenly Larsen felt the muzzle of a handgun pressed into his neck. Earl Coleman, serving 5 to 15 years for robbery and nicknamed “Killer”, had his finger on the trigger. As Coleman overpowered Larsen, other inmates did the same to the other guards in the hall. Within moments they had control of the room.

Convicted murderer Bernard Welch speaks with a reporter in Washington, March 29, 1981. Welch was convicted in the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam of Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

Running Down the Ghost Burglar

Dr. Michael Halberstam and his wife, Elliott, had planned to go to a movie after leaving their friends’ cocktail party, but they decided to make a quick stop back at home first. Michael parked the car and went inside the couple’s Palisades D.C. home to let out their two dogs, Iris and Jake. Elliot headed around back to meet the pups. It was about 8:45pm – well after dark in the late fall. Moments later, the doctor was staring down the barrel of snub-nosed revolver in his own kitchen.

The odd chain of events that came next would uncover one of the largest — and strangest — crime operations in Washington, D.C. area history.

Ted Williams in 1949. (Source: Wikipedia)

"The Splendid Splinter" Comes to Washington

In the winter of 1969, the Washington Senators baseball club was in transition. After a flirtation with comedian Bob Hope, the team had just been sold to transportation magnate Bob Short. Short, who looked across town and saw the Washington Redskins hire legendary coach Vince Lombardi, was looking for his own splashy hire – “a storybook manager, the kind people dream about” who could be the savior he felt the franchise needed. The answer? Ted Williams.

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