Virginia

A General, a Queen, and the President

Tom Thumb, -1883, with wife in wedding costume., 1863. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005685454/.

February of 1863 saw one of the most anticipated celebrity weddings of its time—after all, what better to provide a momentary distraction from the realities of the Civil War than a little star gossip? The bride and groom were General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and the Queen of Beauty Lavinia Warren, of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum (which would later become Barnum’s Circus) in New York City. At 12:30 p.m. on February 10, 1863 in Manhattan’s Grace Episcopal Church, Tom and Lavinia wed in the presence of an enormous crowd, which spilled out onto Broadway and for many more miles into the City, thanks to Barnum’s extensive publicizing of the event. People across America were fascinated by Barnum’s Tom Thumb and the President of the United States was no exception. The Lincolns were so enthralled by Barnum’s acts that they invited the newlywed Strattons to the White House for a wedding reception just a few days later.

When the Klan Descended on Washington

Klan members outside the U.S. Capitol in August 1925. (Source: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

“Phantom-like hosts of the Ku Klux Klan spread their white robe over the most historic thoroughfare yesterday in one of the greatest demonstrations the city has ever seen.” So read The Washington Post on the morning of August 9th , 1925. On the previous afternoon, the nation’s capital bore witness to the largest Klan march in the city’s history as tens of thousands of robed Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Washington monument, most of them feeling no need to wear a mask.

George Mason's Impressive Ride to the Final Four

The 2006 George Mason basketball team poses for a group photo

There are some teams you expect to see excel each year in college basketball. Schools like the University of North Carolina or UCLA, which holds the record for most NCAA championship wins at 11. In 2006, George Mason was not one of those teams. The Fairfax school had only advanced to the NCAA tournament three times, and it had never won a single tournament game. Mason, largely a commuter school at the time, had only been playing in Division I since 1978.

But that year, the Patriots, who one columnist remarked "put the 'mid' in 'mid-major'" school,  went a wild, impressive journey to the NCAA Final Four. 

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. 

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. 

L'Enfant's Funeral: An Honor 84 Years Overdue

On April 28, 1909, a funeral procession nearly a mile long paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street, complete with fine carriages and a military escort. Throughout Washington, D.C., flags were displayed at half mast, spectators lined the streets, and school children were allowed a break from their studies to glimpse out the window and see it pass by. The man they were there to honor was Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant… who died in 1825.

How Les Misérables Became Lee's Miserables

Cover page from West & Johnston translation of Les Miserables, which was distributed to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. (Source: Hathi Trust)

When Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables was published in the spring of 1862, it took the world by storm. Within weeks, American audiences began devouring a five-volume translation by renowned classicist Charles E. Wilbour. As the Civil War raged, soldiers on both sides of the lines gobbled up copies and carried them into battle. But here's the thing: Confederate soldiers weren't actually reading the same book as their Northern adversaries, and that was by design.

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