You’ve heard of DUELING, now get ready for ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE. In the 1800s, more than a few disputes of personal honor were solved by shooting each other to death. But that’s what the gentry of the area did, so what did the common people do? Plain old hand-to-hand fighting and eye-gouging.
On Aug. 24, 1814, for the first and only time in our country's history, Washington, D.C. was overrun by an invading army. The British army had easily defeated inexperienced American defenders, and set the city ablaze. The President fled to Brookeville, MD, and many of the citizens had fled along with the army. Those few residents of the capital who hadn't already fled may well have prayed for anything that could stop the flames. What they got, however, was something far more than they were hoping for: a "tornado" more powerful than any storm in living memory.
If you lived in DC in August 1964, you might have seen Julius Hobson driving through downtown with a cage full of enormous rats strapped to the roof of his station wagon. Frustrated by the city government’s refusal to do anything about the rat problem in Northeast and Southeast DC, and about the District’s more affluent citizens’ apathy about the issue, he said that if Southeast was having this problem, then Georgetown should share it too. Hobson caught “possum-sized rats” in Shaw and Northeast, and transported them up to Georgetown, promising to release the cage full of rats in the middle of the wealthy district unless the city government acted to curb the epidemic. Since he was, as a piece in The Washingtonian put it, “[a]ware that a DC problem usually is not a problem until it is a white problem,” he decided to go ahead and make it a white problem.
Georgetown University has some pretty prestigious professors. But did you know the school once had an imperial prince on their staff? Don Agustin de Iturbide y Green, with a name as weighty as the Infanta, taught Spanish and French at Georgetown near the end of the 19th century. How did Don Agustin, the heir to two emperors, end up in elbow pads? It’s sort of a long story, which takes us from Georgetown to Mexico to France and back.
The Rosedale estate in Georgetown was the grand home of Alice Green, granddaughter of Revolutionary War General Uriah Forrest and great-granddaughter of Maryland Governor George Plater. This belle was basically American royalty, which was great for when she married Don Angel Maria de Iturbide y Huarte, the exiled prince of the Mexican imperial line and a student at Georgetown University. By the time the lovebirds met and wed, Angel’s father, Agustin the First, had been deposed and executed. Although Alice’s husband and their son, Agustin, had a technical claim to the throne, few suspected that Agustin I’s nine-month rule would bring his descendants anything.
When Abigail Adams came to Washington, D.C. on November 16, 1800, she arrived at an infant city, sparse and not fully formed. Having just left the comforts of old Philadelphia, this must have been quite a shock. To make matters worse, her trip south had seen been rough. So, it’s safe to assume that she was in an irritable mood when she finally made it to D.C.
We should probably keep that in mind while reading her appraisal of the city because she was pretty harsh. The First Lady called the capital ‘a city only in name,’ and pulled no punches in her description of Georgetown.
If American Hustle had won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards, it may well have created a new tourist attraction in the nation's capital, even though the story takes place elsewhere. We're talking about the six-bedroom house at 4407 W Street NW that the FBI rented to use as a base for the Abscam sting operation that inspired the film, in which a U.S. Senator, six members of the U.S. House, and assorted other local and state-level politicians in New Jersey were convicted of accepting bribes from a fictitious favor-seeking Middle Eastern sheik. (Here's a surveillance video clip showing the inside of the house, which features the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who was offered a bribe but turned it down, later insisting to FBI agents that he was seeking investment in his district. He ultimately was not charged with a crime.)
In a strange twist, the FBI leased the house in 1978 from an unwitting journalist, then-Washington Post foreign editor Lee Lescaze, who was heading to New York to work for the Post there.
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.
When we think of President John F. Kennedy, we picture him living in the White House with Jackie, Caroline and John Jr. But for most of the time he spent in Washington — the years from 1946 through 1960 — he was a resident of the city’s Georgetown neighborhood.
When the Massachusetts native moved to Washington after being elected to Congress in 1946, he was just 29 years old and still single, and he followed the same pattern as so many other young people who've arrived here over the years in a quest for greatness. He settled into a group house, where after a long day at work he could hang out with his friends, leave his dirty laundry strewn all over the place and lead the carefree existence of a party-loving bachelor.
Known by some as the founder of Georgetown, Colonel Ninian Beall was quite an interesting fellow. With fierce red hair he stood 6 feet 7 inches tall and he lived almost 3 times longer than he should have. (The average life expectancy was 35 and he lived to be 92). What a champ.
Born in 1625 in Scotland, Beall spent the first 27 years of his life living out scenes from an adventure film. While fighting in the Scottish Army, Beall was taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar and landed in a London prison. Shortly after, he and 149 others were shipped to the island of Barbados in the West Indies to live as indentured servants. Doesn’t sound much like the Caribbean vacations we think of nowadays.
With the Fourth of July festivities just around the corner, area residents are preparing for the merriment in all sorts of ways.
What is your pleasure? Grilling out at Gravelly Point? A backyard gathering with family and friends? Braving the crowds on the National Mall to watch the fireworks? Or maybe you are more of the stay-at-home type. If so, we recommend watching the A Capitol Fourth concert on WETA Television. We hear it’s really good.
Well, 150 years ago, there weren’t so many options but Washingtonians still put on quite a celebration for the nation’s birthday.