On the evening of July 14, 1935, just behind the Lincoln Memorial, on the steps of the Watergate Amphitheatre, 10,000 Washingtonians, dressed in flannel and gingham, sat on blankets and newspapers. Out on the water, hundreds of others dressed in bathing suits floated in canoes, eager to experience Washington’s newest summertime tradition: floating concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO was taking to the water, inaugurating a new “Sunset Symphony” series, wherein the orchestra would offer summertime performances on a 75 foot concert barge bobbing in the Potomac River.
It's been over 50 years since the release of the Beatles' groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, lauded as the first "concept" album and perennially on critics' lists of the best of all time. There has also been a good deal of recent reflection on the Watergate scandal and the role of Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who broke the story that brought down an American president in 1974. But did you know there is a local connection between these seemingly disparate yet historically-significant events?
The first National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony took place in 1923. The ceremony was intended to foster a sense of national unity around the Holiday season, but 1973 was different. President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal and dealing with an energy crisis, used the ceremony as a platform for political theater. As the President talked up his administration's achievements and legislative agenda for the coming year, an impromptu political rally in support of the President broke out.
Not only were the President's remarks different in nature, the tree was as well. As Americans across the country had to tighten their belts with regards to energy, the energy crisis prompted organizers to significantly reduce the number of lights upon the tree itself as well as begin a new tradition of using a living, rather than cut, National Christmas Tree.
The film version of the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein book All the President’s Men had blockbuster written all over it when it was released on April 9, 1976. The book was already an international bestseller and had won its authors the Pulitzer Prize. And the filmmakers assembled to bring the book to the screen read like a who’s who of top Hollywood talent. Throughout the hubbub, editors at The Washington Post were in an awkward position.
May 17, 1973 began an enthralling summer of reality television in Washington. That morning Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin banged his gavel and launched hearings to investigate the details of the Watergate scandal, which had rocked the nation the previous June. Americans from coast to coast watched with great interest, trying to determine “what the President knew and when he knew it.” (Short answer: He knew a lot and he had known it for a long time.)