Motley Washington: DC’s Beautiful Babies

It wasn’t uncommon in the early part of the 20th century for city newspapers to publish features showing their residents’ most beautiful offspring. On May 19, 1907, the Washington Times published “Washington’s Cute Babies,” a full-page of pictures of adorable local children.

The area's most beautiful babies in May 1907.

The area’s most beautiful babies in May 1907.

My personal favorite is Baby Auhere of 3563 11th St. NW, who seems very excited to be wearing overalls.

It’s fun to think that these children later became someone’s grandparents or great grandparents. Do you happen to know any of the babies in this Times feature?


DC Sports: Who Were the Climbers?

If you Google “Washington Climbers” nothing relating to baseball really comes up. Which is weird, because apparently “Climbers” used to be a common nickname for the Washington Senators*, DC’s baseball team before they left to become the modern-day Minnesota Twins in 1960.

In the Washington Times, the Senators were often referred to simply as the Climbers with few mentions of their actual name or even their city. This article from August 25, 1912, is a great example:

A Washington Times article refers to the Washington Senators as the Climbers.

A Washington Times article refers to the Washington Senators as the Climbers.

Note the description of Clyde Milan as the “Climbers’ Dashing Little Outfielder.”

The nickname was even endearingly used in a short DC-centric rhyme in the Times exactly 100 years ago today, poking fun at the rival between the Washington Senators and the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians):

A clever poem in the Washington Times's "This & That" feature, July 30, 1913.

A clever poem in the Washington Times’s “This & That” feature, July 30, 1913.

The first reference to the Senators as the Climbers in a newspaper seems to be June 19, 1912, where they are referred to as “Griff’s Climbers,” though earlier media mentions may exist. A 1947 book by Morris Allison Bealle, The Washington Senators: An 87-Year History of the World’s Oldest Baseball Club and Most Incurable Fandom, mentions that newspapers sometimes referred to the Senators as the Climbers (or the Griffmen). But almost no other publication or website currently has that information, making one wonder how many Washington baseball history sources have yet to be uncovered due to the wrong search terms.

So there you go, Washington baseball fans. The Senators were also the Climbers.

* The Washington Senators were officially the Nationals during much of their tenure in DC, but most fans referred to them as the Senators even before the official switch in 1956.

WWII in DC: Gas Rationing

On June 22, 1942, mandatory gas rationing went into effect in the District after voluntary rationing failed. A speed limit of 35 mph was also enforced in an effort to cut down on fuel and rubber consumption.

The day before, motorists lined up all day at gas stations around the city, attempting to get as much fuel into their cars as possible before being restricted to three gallons per week.

A gas station on Wisconsin Avenue NW, at 7 am on June 21, 1942 (the day before gas rationing took effect).

Crime & Punishment: An Interesting Theory Concerning Organized Crime in DC

In a May 21, 1931 article in the Washington Post, a reporter discussed a recent “crime wave” in the city and made an interesting observation about DC and organized crime:

“Washington will never tolerate the operations of criminal gangs here. There are no politicians at the head of the District government. Even the police could not guarantee immunity from prosecution if they were so disposed. Gangsters who attempt to operate in the Capital will find it the most unhealthful place they were ever in: for the Federal Government will swoop down upon them, if necessary. No other city in the United States can resist so effectively and so certainly the encroachment of organized criminal gangs. But if the police are vigilant no such drastic measures will be necessary.”

It turns out the article’s author was correct (though the theory as to why cannot be confirmed). The mafia never did make it into the District beyond a few failed attempts, leaving DC with just regular, unorganized crime and a few low-key gangsters.

Foods of Washington: The Great Popcorn Kerfuffle of ’87

In 1987, the District faced a minor crisis.

At this time, popcorn became a popular street food in Washington. Freshly popped popcorn stands set up downtown like their hot dog counterparts served bags of hot delicious salty goodness to workers and tourists alike and gained a major following from some popcorn lovers.District food inspectors, however, were not happy about the popcorn stands. Surely, the popcorn must be riddled with germs due to the location of the sale. Citing an obscure ordnance that stated that only “commercially prepackaged” pre-popped popcorn like you would buy in a store could be sold on the streets of DC, the food inspectors attempted to shut down all of the popcorn stands in the city.

There was a major backlash, however. Many popcorn stand owners refused to shut down and decided they would rather pay the fine than close up shop. The fine for selling popcorn after the ban was $50. The popcorn cart customers lamented the closure of their favorite locations, with many of them “resort[ing] to eating prepackaged popcorn since the downtown vendors were banished” and some even having to go to the movies just to get their fix.

Eventually, council member John Ray stepped in and asked the food inspectors to back down and change the ordnance. Overall, the issue took over seven months to resolve, with those advocating for popcorn even trying to throw hot dog vendors under the bus in the process by arguing the health risks associated with hot dog carts were much worse than popcorn and perhaps they should be shut down instead.

Once the issue was laid to rest in October 1987, one popcorn seller told Washington Post reporter Malcolm Gladwell, “I’m still bitter. I was unemployed for months. The city should be glad I didn’t sue them.”

Soon, popcorn showed up on the streets again, but apparently decreased in popularity over time, since popcorn vendors are not common today. Perhaps sidewalk popcorn will find a revival soon, considering the success of Popped! Republic’s popcorn food truck. Our tastebuds can surely dream.

Motley Washington: Street Lights in DC

Proposed street lamps near the Capitol, circa first half of the 20th century.

Proposed street lamps near the Capitol, circa first half of the 20th century.

From a November 20, 1932 article in the Washington Post:

Lo! the poor lamplighter.

Remember when you usetd [sic] to look forward to the time near dark every evening when the friendly visitor usually accompanied by a raft of his proud progeny hippy-de-hopped into your street with his broomstick and lighted the gas lamps by means of the bent nail on the stick’s end? Today there are only five or ten of the old boys left, where once the gas light company hired more than 200.

There are 1,900 gas street lamps left in Washington, most of them in the alleys. In 1925 there were 12,000, but the relentless march of electricity, with its handsome streamline lamps, is sweeping into limbo a public utility which 50 years ago caused people to stand around in cluster to gaze at as one of the wonders of the world.

What comparatively few gas lamps are left are now almost exclusively operated by clocks, which turn on the lights at a set hour, and turn them off in the morning. Lamplighters have turned clock winders.

The history of street-lighting in Washington matches strides with the march of local history itself. The first street lighting was tried on Pennsylvania avenue in 1817, and the fuel was oil. The cost seemed very prohibitive to a government trying to rebuild itself after the British had burned the Capitol, and so they were discontinued — and the poles used as horse posts — for a year. They made a comeback in 1819 and for a ten-year stretch Washington had a lighted street at night (except on moonlight nights where lamplighters extinguished the oil wicks in interests of economy).

However, from 1831 to 1842 they went out again, and there was not a street in town lighted at night. Ten years later the Pennsylvania avenue oil lamps were supplanted with gas lights, and Congress ordered both sides of the avenue, from the Capitol to the White House, to be illuminated. Lighting was by open gas flame.

The first electric lights were placed on F street between Ninth and Fourteenth in 1886, and they emitted a garish purple sputtering glow that the good burghers immediately decided was no good. Gas made a great comeback in 1906 when the Welshbach mantle was perfected, and continued until 1925, when it staged its own little stock market crash.

Wicked Weather: The Flood of ’42

Civilian Defense workers help rescue Washingtonians from flood waters in 1942.

In October 1942, excessive rainfall in the “Shenandoah Valley and upstream portions of the Potomac system” created a massive flood in Washington, DC. An article in the Washington Post explained, “In its wake, the flood left death and destruction, stories of narrow escapes and rescues, but on the whole it appeared that the ’42 overflow would cause considerably less damage than the one in ’36.”

The Post went on to relay more information concerning the “death and destruction,” revealing that two men died in the immediate metropolitan area, and five total died in the entire flood area. One of the local casualties had fallen off a pier at the Municipal Fish Market, while the other, in Bethesda, drowned in an attempt to move a car off the road. The flood temporarily closed down Rock Creek Park and the 14th Street Bridge. Maine Ave. in southwest and Bladensburg Road, where “hundreds of families had to be moved to high ground,” were some of the hardest hit areas of the city. And of course, much like our modern floods, K Street in Georgetown suffered greatly; the Post cheekily claimed that the Georgetown waterfront had a “Venetian atmosphere” after the flooding.

At 34th and K St. NW near Georgetown University, three men became trapped in a cement warehouse. Instead of escaping when they had the chance, they decided to remain inside to keep a pump going. The Red Cross provided them with food and coffee as they performed their duties.

Civilian Defense, along with the Red Cross, provided much assistance during the flood. Along with helping the men in the Georgetown warehouse, the Post wrote, “The Red Cross estimated that it provided food and shelter for 3310 persons throughout the flood area. One hundred men, women and children were cared for in Government House in Palisades Park, just below Chain Bridge.”

Washingtonians displaced by flood waters receive coffee from a Civilian Defense worker.

While there was much destruction to property and a couple casualties, the general attitude towards the flood was that it could have been much worse. Compared to the flood in ’36, according to the article, ’42 was not that bad. In true DC fashion, people who worked in the city lamented the traffic created by the infrastructural damage, and the Post made a point to say that “thousands of persons were late to work” for this reason.


(Also check out the 2011 City Paper article about the 1972 Hurricane Agnes floods.)

WWII in DC: Intro to Washington’s World War II Experience

While researching various topics so far, many of the most interesting pictures and articles I’ve discovered relate to World War II in Washington. I would love to write one huge blog post about the things I’ve found, but I think it’d prove incredibly long and ridiculously time consuming. So it’s going to be a regular category here at District State of Mind instead, so that I can devote proper attention and time to Washington’s World War II experiences.

DC was of both governmental and military importance during WWII, and the war affected the city deeply. Through articles in the Washington Post about soldiers from DC who had been killed in action and images of gas rationing and scrap metal collections, it is easy to see how much the war permeated daily life.

To kick off the series on WWII, here is a poster created by the Works Progress Administration, asking Americans to send their good quality binoculars to the Navy via the Naval Observatory in DC. The poster says “lend,” but I wonder if anyone’s binoculars ever made it back to them!

WPA-produced WWII-era poster

Foods of Washington: DC’s Pizza Renaissance

A lot of people were talking about DC’s pizza today because of some comments in the New York Times. In the Washington Post‘s Going Out Guide response, author Maura Judkis mentions that DC restaurants have really picked up since 2003. That got me thinking, though. When exactly did DC become a pizza city?

Washington is definitely a pizza city. There are so many options these days, from the cheap and greasy jumbo slice to D.O.C. sanctioned Neapolitan pizza and New Haven style apizza. While no one is going to say that DC somehow has better pizza than any other city in the world, nor did we invent pizza (except the jumbo slice), we have quite a lot of options, many of which are highly delicious. Most Washingtonians have their favorite place to get pizza in DC, and will usually defend their pizzeria of choice with great passion. So yes, Washington is definitely a pizza city.

But there was a time when the pizza choices were somewhat slim and a lot of today’s fancier options were missing from the city. So when did it become so easy to find good pizza in DC?

In the early 2000s.

A generic pizza place at 11th and E NW in the 1980s.

The history of pizza in DC is somewhat disputed, but most agree that it was first advertised in 1938 by Luigi Calvi. From then on, pizza was present in DC (and in large quantity, especially being a city that is home to several colleges) but it was nothing too special.

The famous jumbo slice was invented in 1997 in Adams Morgan, originating at Pizza Mart and quickly spreading throughout the city’s neighborhoods. However, though this was a much bigger and more iconic slice than DC had previously enjoyed, it wasn’t anything new style-wise. Pizza in DC hadn’t truly changed yet, it was just larger.

While Pizzeria Paradiso’s first location, a small space in Dupont Circle, opened in 1991, the real rebirth of pizza in DC came in 2001 with the opening of 2 Amy’s on Macomb St. NW, which specialized in Neapolitan style pizzas. Soon after, in 2002, Pizzeria Paradiso opened its second location in Georgetown, which was much larger than the first restaurant and attracted a wider cliental (the first Paradiso would move to a bigger space in Dupont in 2009). In 2003, Chinatown welcomed Matchbox. These three popular pizzerias inspired Washington’s residents and visitors to see pizza differently — as something that could be dressed up in the evening as well as down at 3 am — and set the scene for Comet Ping Pong in 2006 and Pete’s New Haven Apizza in 2008.

Looking at the opening dates of some of these popular pizza places, it’s not hard to see that the pizza boom occurred primarily between 2000 and 2010. Which DC pizza institution is your favorite?

City of Firsts: The First Urban Airplane Escapade

On October 14, 1910, the first airplane flew over Washington, DC.

A Harper’s Weekly article from January 14, 1911, titled “An Army of the Air,” discussed the newly formed United States Aeronautical Reserve, and described the flight over Washington several months prior, which had been intended as a promotional stunt to convince naysayers of flight’s promise in aerial scouting:

[…]The United States Aeronautical Reserve had the first test of the kind made at Washington, and in commemoration of this the Historic Sites Committee of the District of Columbia has ordered a tablet made, the inscription to read as follows:

“Claude Grahame-White, an English aviator, alighted in a Farman biplane on this spot, October 14, 1910, after a cross-country flight from Bennings racetrack, to pay his respects to General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the Army. This is the first time that an aviator flew over the national capital, and the first time that a heavier-than-air flying-machine ever alighted in the streets of any city in the world.”

White's biplane becomes the first to fly over DC on October 14, 1910.

White’s biplane becomes the first to fly over DC on October 14, 1910.

The article continues, explaining how the original intention was that White would carry a passenger, and the two would drop their calling cards at the White House and the State, War, and Navy Departments. However, due to the “stiff wind blowing,” White flew solo and did not leave his card for anyone. Instead, he took off from Executive Avenue NW (a small road between the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the White House that is now off-limits to the public), circled the Washington Monument, and then landed “easily” in front of the State, War, and Navy Departments (then housed in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building).

The article also notes that Executive Avenue was 40 feet and 2 inches wide, while the biplane was 38 feet and 6 inches wide, making the flight an even more impressive feat.