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  • 11/06/12--13:04: D.C.'s Electoral Vote
  • All the Way with LBJ in 1964 button.Buttons like this could be seen around D.C. in 1964 as District residents voted in their first Presidential election. (Source: ebay) It’s Election Day, and hopefully most of you are braving the cold and the lines at your local polling place to make sure your voice is heard. If you cast your ballot for a presidential candidate in the District, you exercised a right that has only been around for 52 years; that’s how long DC residents have had the right to vote in presidential elections, a right granted by the 23rd Amendment.

    The “District Clause” of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, for those of you with pocket Constitutions handy) states:

    [The Congress shall have Power] To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States.

    This clause essentially gives Congress complete power to govern the capital city. (We’ll write more about how DC started electing its own mayor and city council in future posts.) 

    In 1801, Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act, which drew the boundaries of the new city around land ceded from Maryland and Virginia. Congress used its powers granted in the District Clause to establish full legal authority over the city. Residents of the new district lost their right to vote for President and Vice President because they no longer lived in a state.

    Washingtonians did not gain the right to vote in presidential elections again until 1961, when Congress and the required 38 states ratified the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment granted DC the same number of electors as the least populous state, which currently is Wyoming. (Even without this restriction, however, DC would still only have three electoral votes based on its population.)

    In 1964, DC voters came out to the polls to cast their ballots for President for the first time. Their three electoral votes have supported the Democratic candidate ever since.

    Sources

    U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 17 (repealed 1961).

    U.S. Const. amend. XXIII.

    District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, ch. 62, 1871 Stat. (1871). Accessed November 6, 2012.
    http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=016/llsl016.db....

    Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 (NST-EST2011-01)

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    The Who vs. Led Zeppelin

    The Who and Led Zeppelin Concert Poster, Merriweather Post Pavilion, May 25, 1969, Tina Silverman, artistThe Who and Led Zeppelin Concert Poster, Merriweather Post Pavilion, May 25, 1969, Tina Silverman, artist It's one of the eternal questions argued by classic rock aficionados — which of these virtuoso power trios could rock the hardest? Perhaps the only people qualified to make that call were those lucky enough to be at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. on the night of Sunday, May 25, 1969, when Led Zeppelin opened for The Who in one of the most epic double bills in rock history. It was a pairing of hall of fame live acts that would never be seen again on the same stage.

    Though undoubtedly Led Zeppelin were the newer band, having recently emerged out of the ashes of Jimmy Page's Yardbirds, The Who in May 1969 were also a band still just on the verge of breaking big in the U.S. Their masterwork, the rock opera Tommy, was released just a few weeks prior to the show, and its only successful single, Pinball Wizard, reached its highest chart position in April (Billboard #19). In fact, though The Who's live concert performances of Tommy would propel them to full-fledged rock stardom later that year (most notably their historic set at Woodstock in August), by May 25, Tommy had only been performed live in four other American cities

    So, on the evening of May 25, 1969, these two bands were — for the majority of the crowd — "up and comers" with good buzz. Led Zeppelin, as the newer band, was the opening act. They blazed though a setlist that included blues standards such as Train Kept a Rollin', I Can't Quit You Baby, cuts from their recently-released debut album Led Zeppelin (Dazed and Confused, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, How Many More Times), and a new song performed live for just the second time ever — Whole Lotta Love, later to appear on Led Zeppelin II in October, 1969.

    Ticket from the concert. Led Zeppelin was so new, their name was misspelled!Ticket from the concert. Led Zeppelin was so new, their name was misspelled! Zeppelin's thumping set was running long however, and an unlucky member of The Who's crew was tasked with moving things along. "I had the unenviable task of throwing Zeppelin off the stage," recalled Jeff Wolff. "They were playing over time, stringin' it out, and there was a curfew, so I was saying, 'I've got to get you off!' I had to pull the plug on them, otherwise we were never going to go on!" (from Anyway Anyhow Anywhere - The Complete Chronicle of The Who: 1958-1978, by Andy Neill and Mark Kent).

    By the time The Who took the stage, the throng of nearly 20,000 was getting increasingly raucous and reportedly wooden fences, golf carts and other property at the Pavilion were getting trashed and security was overwhelmed. The Who obliged by kicking into the legendary set that included the (mostly-complete) rock opera Tommy, along with hits such as Magic Bus, I Can't Explain, and My Generation, at the ear-splitting volume for which they had become notorious, and then proceeding to smash up their instruments (albeit cheap replacement equipment used for the last few songs).The Who, Ernst-Merck-Halle Hamburg, August 1972: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon (Source: By Heinrich Klaffs, via Wikimedia Commons)The Who, Ernst-Merck-Halle Hamburg, August 1972: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon (Source: By Heinrich Klaffs, via Wikimedia Commons)

    Of course, no one show could ever settle this debate, but for those fortunate enough to be in attendance, a small town north of Washington, D.C. had hosted one of the most mythical rock performances ever. In fact, the unique quality of this never-again-seen double bill has caused the value of memorabilia from this event to skyrocket.  An original concert poster recently sold at auction for over $9000!

    So — were you there?! Please tell us your story below. We promise not to drool (too much).

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  • 11/26/12--13:43: The Big Chair in Anacostia
  • The Big Chair in Anacostia. (Source: Flickr user stgermh)In one of D.C.'s more creative publicity stunts, this oversized chair in Anacostia served as a home for model Lynn Arnold in 1960. (Source: Flickr user stgermh) Creative advertising wasn’t just for Don Draper and the New York Mad Men.

    In 1959, Anacostia’s Curtis Bros. Furniture Company commissioned Bassett Furniture to construct a 19.5 foot tall Duncan Phyfe dining room chair to put on display outside their showroom at V St. and Nichols Ave. SE (now Martin Luther King, Jr Blvd. SE). Made from African mahogany and weighing some 4,600 pounds, "The Big Chair" was labeled the largest chair in the world. However, titles and records weren’t enough for the marketing folks at Curtis Bros. They had another idea in mind for their new toy.[1]

    The company hired a glassmaker to build a 10 x 10 foot glass house on the seat of the chair. The tiny cube had three transparent sides (the fourth was black) and its ceiling was a mirror.[2] Inside, it was equipped with curtains, a bed, shower, toilet, television, phone, heater, air conditioner and balcony – a comfy, if also cozy, arrangement for a tenant who could overlook the obvious fact that her entire life was on display, day and night.

    Curtis Bros. then set out to find a resident for the new apartment – someone who would live there in plain view, 24-7, and attract attention to the store. They found their girl when 21 year-old Rebecca Kirby, who went by the name of Lynn Arnold, walked in the store looking to buy some furniture. Arnold, a model and the reigning Washington Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “Miss Get Out the Vote 1960,” had just the look that store managers wanted for their new glass house and they approached her with the idea of living on the chair. After some consideration, Arnold agreed (over the objections of her husband), with the understanding that the scene was to be more wholesome than racy.[3]

    As she told the Washington Post later, “I didn't want to do anything like stand up there naked or in a bathing suit. They wanted a Cinderella figure; they didn't want Marilyn Monroe. I figured I could pull this off without being branded a slut.”[4]

    On August 13, 1960, a forklift delivered Arnold to her high abode. For the next 42 days she lived in the glass house, spending her days reading, watching television, talking on the phone (she had an unlisted number!) and greeting the crowds who came to see her. Her meals and changes of clothes were delivered by a crude dumbwaiter system, which occasionally tipped over and spilled onto the furniture store parking lot.[5] She had no regular visitors in the apartment except for her 14-month-old son, Richard, who was raised up to her.[6]

    After six weeks above, Arnold announced that she was “groundsick” and came down from the chair on September 23.[7] When it was all said and done, she earned almost $1500 for her trouble and the Curtis Bros. Furniture Company earned considerably more than that in publicity.

    For photos of Mrs. Arnold's time in the glass house atop the Big Chair, check out the Curtis Bros. website. Anyone remember seeing her in person?



    [1] Schwartzman, Paul, “You Better Sit Down. The Big Chair's Gone.; Anacostia Laments Loss of a Landmark,” Washington Post, 28 Aug 2005: C1.

    [2]“Living in the Open,” Washington Post, 14 Aug 1960: A14.

    [3] Schwartzman, Paul, “You Better Sit Down. The Big Chair's Gone.; Anacostia Laments Loss of a Landmark,” Washington Post, 28 Aug 2005: C1.

    [4] Schwartzman, Paul, “You Better Sit Down. The Big Chair's Gone.; Anacostia Laments Loss of a Landmark,” Washington Post, 28 Aug 2005: C1.

    [5]“Model Gets Out of Her Glass Home,” Washington Post, 24 Sep 1960: C2.

    [6]  Schwartzman, Paul, “You Better Sit Down. The Big Chair's Gone.; Anacostia Laments Loss of a Landmark,” Washington Post, 28 Aug 2005: C1.

    [7]“Model Gets Out of Her Glass Home,” Washington Post, 24 Sep 1960: C2.

     

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  • 11/28/12--12:27: Bob Dylan's Greatest Pic
  • The photo for the Grammy award-winning album cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits was taken at the Washington Coliseum on November 28, 1965. (Source: Wikipedia)The photo for the Grammy award-winning album cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits was taken at the Washington Coliseum on November 28, 1965. (Source: Wikipedia) Washington doesn't usually get mentioned in the pantheon of great American music cities but we've had our moments. One of them was Sunday, November 28, 1965 when Bob Dylan played the Washington Coliseum. Curiously, details about the concert itself are scarce the Washington Post didn't bother to write a review (kind of surprising since Dylan was very well known by 1965), and Dylan's own website doesn't have a setlist from the show. But the singer's visit to Washington was significant for one now-famous image the concert produced.

    Life magazine photographer Rowland Scherman lived just down the street from the Coliseum and decided to attend the show with his wife, Joan. He wasn't on assigment for the magazine but brought along a camera and used his press credentials to gain back stage access. Security guards tried to keep him away, but he brushed passed them shouting, "I'm from Life," and got very close to Dylan.

    As Scherman told Tracy Johnson in her book, Encounters With Bob Dylan the scene through his lens was a photographer's dream.

    Dylan was in that dirty blue spot, doing some song I can no longer remember. I put the 300 mill on him, and I could see the whole thing. His hair, his halo, his harp — the three H’s. So, I went bang, bang, bang, bang — six or seven frames. No motor or anything. Then, I said, “Thank you very much, I’ll be leaving now.” I didn’t hang around. I just kept thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” and went back to watch the rest of the concert.

    Scherman had the pictures developed and showed them to John Berg, the art director at Columbia Records, who was dating Scherman's sister at the time. Berg offered $300 for the "three H's" image of Dylan and Scherman accepted. Berg and his colleague Bob Cato subsequently used the image for the cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits album, which won a Grammy award for best album cover in 1968. (Interestingly, Dylan had been opposed to using the photograph as the cover image.)

    In one of the unfortunate ironies of the story, Scherman's name was misspelled on the award and the album cover itself.

    The Grammy shows up, and my name’s misspelled, just like it is on the album. Not only that, but the gramophone part was broken. I packed it back up and said, “Thanks a lot, but spell my name right and send me another Grammy.” Never heard from them again. What knocks me out now is that he’s turned out to be one of the icons of the ’60s. That makes me proud, along with the fact that it’s in the Library of Congress. I later asked a lawyer to check into unlawful enrichment. I mean, they sold 40 million albums, and I got 300 bucks. I think maybe they should give me a gold star or $20,000. (Tracy Johnson, Encounters with Bob Dylan.)

    Getting $300 for a photo on an album that sold 40 million copies? That would be tough to swallow!

    Another notable fact about the D.C. show is that it was part of Dylan's first U.S. tour where he "plugged in" and went electric. Generally, these sets were half acoustic (just Dylan and guitar/harmonica); half electric (Dylan backed by "The Hawks" later to become "The Band", with electric guitars, bass, drums, etc.). Most of the traditionalist folky crowds were openly hostile to the electric set, even booing and jeering, which took a toll of some of Dylan's bandmates. Levon Helm (drummer of The Hawks/Band) left the tour after the 1965 Washington show supposedly because he couldn't handle the negativity of the crowds. He worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico before returning to The Band two years later.

    Sources

    Edgers, Geoff, "His Back Pages,"Boston Globe, 3 February 2008.
    http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2008/02/03/his_back_pages/

    Johnson, Tracy, Encounters with Bob Dylan (Humble Press, 2000)
    http://www.humblepress.com/Encounters/Pages/Scherman.html

    Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan Archive website
    http://www.prismnet.com/~superego/dylanlists.html

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  • 12/06/12--11:19: Before He Was Broadway Joe
  • Joe Namath talks with Jets coach Weeb Ewbank during Namath's professional debut, August 7, 1965. (Source: Alexandria Gazette)Joe Namath talks with Jets coach Weeb Ewbank during Namath's professional debut in Alexandria, Virginia, August 7, 1965. (Source: Alexandria Gazette) So where do you think Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath made his professional football debut? Shea Stadium in New York? Wrong. Fenway Park in Boston? Wrong again. D.C. Stadium in Washington? Nice try, but no.

    The correct answer is… George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Say what? Yes, it’s true.

    On August 7, 1965 Namath and the New York Jets played the Houston Oilers at GWHS in their first preseason game of the 1965 AFL season. (Namath had participated in the Jets' rookie game vs. the Boston Patriots a few days prior, but this was his first taste of the "varsity.") The game was a charity benefit sponsored by Kena Temple, the local Shriners organization, and was wrapped into the city’s annual “Alexandria Days” summer festival.

    As you might imagine, hosting a professional football game was a pretty big deal for Alexandria. Temporary bleachers were brought in and GW’s stadium, which was already pretty big for a high school stadium, was enlarged to seat 25,000 people. Tickets went for $6.00 and could be purchased at locations around the D.C. area including the Pentagon, the Willard Hotel and select businesses.[1]

    Prior to the game, Houston coach Hugh “Bones” Taylor (who had been a Redskin during his playing days) was presented with a key to the city and Oilers players – including future Hall of Famer George Blanda– took part in the a parade down King Street, tossing miniature footballs to kids along the way.[2] At GW, Shriners kept fans entertained with the “Kena Klowns,” a pep band of Temple members and a color guard.

    Ticket stubs from August 7, 1965 game between the New York Jets and Houston Oilers at George Washington High School. (Source: Doug Garthoff)Ticket stubs from August 7, 1965 game between the New York Jets and Houston Oilers at George Washington High School. (Source: Doug Garthoff) But clearly Namath, who had just signed the richest contract in pro football history, was the big attraction. As the Alexandria Gazette put it beforehand, “the eyes of the sports world will be focused on Alexandria to see just how he fares against the play-for-pay boys.”[3]

    So, how did Namath fare in Alexandria?

    Pretty well, actually. Playing only half the game (he split time with another quarterback) Namath led the Jets to 13 points and threw for 110 yards. The performance inspired Gazette reporter Lloyd Groves to write that Namath, “no doubt, made believers out of most of the fans who witnessed his pro football baptism.”[4] In the end, however, “Broadway” Joe (or maybe we should call him “King Street” Joe?) wasn’t enough to knock off the Oilers, who took home a 21-16 victory.

    Anyone remember the game? Comment below with your memories!

    Special thanks to Dave Beach (GWHS ’55) and Doug Garthoff (GWHS ’60) for their assistance with this article. To learn more about the history of George Washington High School check out the GWHS Alumni Association website.



    [1]“Kena Football Ducats On Sale at 9 Locations,” Alexandria Gazette, 7 July 1965, p. 7.

    [2] Williams, Warren, “’Alexandria Days’ Parade to Feature Football Pros,” Alexandria Gazette, 21 July 1965, p. 1.

    [3]“Taylor Hopes to Make Houston Title Threat,” Alexandria Gazette, 15 July 1965, p. 9.

    [4] Groves, Lloyd, “Trull Steals Thunder, But Joe Namath is Impressive,” Alexandria Gazette, 9 August 1965, p. 5.

     

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    Now a coffee shop, this brick duplex near the Arlington County courthouse was the headquarters of the American Nazi Party for almost 20 years. (Source: Author photo)Now a coffee shop, this brick duplex near the Arlington County courthouse was the headquarters of the American Nazi Party for almost 20 years. (Source: Author photo)Thanks to Boundary Stones reader, David, for tipping us off to this story!

    Today the small brick building at 2507 N. Franklin Rd. in Arlington is the home of the Javashack, a hip coffee shop with specialty brews, free wifi and – as one patron termed it – “left-leaning politics.”

    This is quite a departure from the building’s previous life. From 1968-1984, this duplex was the national headquarters of the American Nazi Party. A swastika hung over the doorway (visible from busy Wilson Blvd. half a block away) and khaki-clad “storm troopers” occupied the space, developing anti-Jewish propaganda, proclaiming White Power and periodically clashing with neighbors.

    In terms of numbers, the ANP was small – perhaps 30 hard core followers in Arlington (mostly young men with lower middle class backgrounds) and a few hundred others spread out across the country.[1] But the group got a fair amount of press coverage nationally and was certainly well known (if also notorious) locally thanks to its outspoken leader, George Rockwell.

    George Rockwell in 1951, a few years before he founded the American Nazi Party. (Source: Wikipedia) Rockwell founded the party in Arlington in 1959 on a platform of deporting blacks to Africa, sterilizing Jews and liquidating their property and executing “traitors” including President Eisenhower, President Truman and Chief Justice Earl Warren.[2] ANP members pledged allegiance to Hitler and organized counter-protests at Civil Rights demonstrations around the country. (Perhaps the most publicized was Rockwell’s “Hate Bus” trip in May 1961, when he and five underlings drove a swastika-covered Volkswagon van from Arlington to New Orleans, in response to the Congress of Racial Equality’s "Freedom Rides" bus trips, which had begun a few weeks prior.)

    The N. Franklin Rd. location was actually one of several buildings in Arlington used by the ANP over the years. The party had originally setup shop in a bungalow on Williamsburg Blvd. and then used a (since razed) building at 928 Randolph St.[3] for a few years. (The IRS padlocked that property in 1964 when the group failed to pay taxes.) Rockwell also maintained a “storm trooper barracks” in a hilltop farm house at 6150 Wilson Blvd., which he reportedly rented from an elderly sympathizer for $1 per year.[4] Local residents came to call the place “Hatemonger Hill.” It was later demolished and the land was annexed into Upton Hill Regional Park.

    Not surprisingly, most Arlingtonians were none-too excited about having fascists in their midst. (Neither was the F.B.I., for that matter, which monitored the group’s activities closely.) In 1961, after two party members were arrested for handcuffing a 13-year-old Jewish boy and interrogating him about his religion, the community formed a “Concerned Citizens,” task force and denounced the Rockwell group.

    “The fact that there are people in Arlington who believe and act as Nazis is difficult for us to accept. We cringe at their preaching of hate, and we are determined to prevent them by all legal means for the use of unlawful force on any and all Arlington citizens.”[5]

    As it turned out, the crippling blow to the organization would come from within. On August 25, 1967, Rockwell was assassinated by one of his former deputies in the parking lot of the Dominion Hills strip mall on Wilson Blvd. John Patler – who had left the group a few months earlier after a dispute – took a rifle up to the shopping center roof and shot Rockwell through the front windshield of his car, which was parked outside the Econowash laundromat.

    Following the assassination, the ANP – which had changed its name to the National Socialist White People’s Party just before Rockwell’s death – scaled back its activities considerably. The group did less public picketing and demonstrating, instead focusing on producing literature, recruiting members and – in 1969 – setting off stink bombs in local movie theaters. (The stink bomb attacks were in protest of the film Slaves, which the group called the latest in “a series of race-mixing spectaculars produced by ‘Hollywood Jews’” on a recorded message left on its headquarters phone answering machine.)[6]

    Building ranks proved difficult, however. In 1982, the group announced it would relocate to the Midwest, citing a lack of local support for its mission. According to then leader Martin Kerr, Arlington was filled with government workers and military personnel and “these are not people looking to join revolutionary organizations.”[7] (Or maybe Arlingtonians just aren’t Nazis… just a thought.) The group subsequently moved to New Berlin, Wisconsin in 1984 and took the name “New Order.”[8]



    [1] Powell, Lawrence J. “When Hate Came to Town: New Orleans' Jews and George Lincoln Rockwell,” American Jewish History. Volume 85, Issue 4 (1997): pp. 393-419. © 1997. American Jewish Historical Society. http://www.holocaustsurvivors.org/data.show.php?di=record&da=texts&ke=3 accessed December 20, 2012.

    [2]“An American Nazi: George Lincoln Rockwell,” New York Times, 8 August 1962, p. 2.

    [3]“Nazi Group Plans Office in Arlington,” Washington Post, 13 January 1960, p. A14.

    [4] Burchard, Hank, “Racist Leader Could Be Nasty, Charming… Or Pitiful,” Washington Post,

    [5]“Two American Nazis Sentenced for Attack on Boy,” New York Times, 21 July 1961, p. 6.

    [6] Boldt, David R., “American Nazi is Held in Movie Stinkbombing,” Washington Post, 31 May 1969, p. A10.

    [7] Latimer, Leah Y. “Arlington Nazi Says Party Plans to Shift to Midwest,” Washington Post 25 December 1982, p. B1.

    [8] Clark, Charles S. “Death of an Arlington Nazi,” Northern Virginia Magazine, 12 December 2010. http://www.northernvirginiamag.com/entertainment/entertainment-features/2010/12/30/death-of-an-arlington-nazi/ accessed December 20, 2012.

     

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  • 02/11/13--14:17: Did Led Zeppelin Play Here?
  • Did Led Zeppelin play at the Wheaton Youth Center on January 20, 1969?Did Led Zeppelin play at the Wheaton Youth Center on January 20, 1969? (Photo: Jeff Krulik) A few months back we posted about the legendary double bill of The Who and Led Zeppelin at Merriweather Post on May 25, 1969. There's ample documentary evidence about that epic performance — posters, newspaper articles, photos, ticket stubs. But did you know Led Zeppelin's first live show in the DC area may have been at the Wheaton Youth Center— a nondescript multi-purpose room and gym in the Maryland suburb on January 20, 1969? It was also the night of Richard Nixon's Inauguration. And the weather was terrible. And 50 people were there, tops. But there are no photos, articles or a paper trail of any sort to prove it.

    Surely this must be an urban legend. Or is it?

    Local filmmaker Jeff Krulik, best known for his classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot, has spent 5 years on the trail trying to find out if this concert (which would have been the lowest-paying gig in the band's history) ever really happened. The result of this investigation is Krulik's new film, Led Zeppelin Played Here, which was recently screened for the first time to an appreciative packed house at the AFI Silver Theatre. We caught up with Jeff via email after the show to ask about this intriguing project.

    Nick Scalera: So how did you become interested in this topic?

    Jeff Krulik: I've been fascinated with the history of the rock concert industry for as long as I can remember. I've always been curious about the personalities and machinery behind the industry, and how the modern concert industry emerged from the amorphous blank slate of the 1960s. I grew up, and certainly came of age in the '70s arena rock era, and experienced the vibrant nightclub life as a young adult and college student attending the University of Maryland, where I helped arrange and promote concerts, as well as help manage the radio station. In particular, I've always been keen to know about the Washington DC area's place in music lore, and rock concert history. I became friends with fellow obsessives like Mark Opsasnick (Capitol Rock) and Bob Embrey (DC Monuments) and began recording this history through my documentary work.

    The "stage" at Wheaton Youth Center as it looks today. (Photo: Jeff Krulik)The "stage" at Wheaton Youth Center as it looks today. (Photo: Jeff Krulik)Led Zeppelin Played Here is my effort to prove that Led Zeppelin's first DC area concert was in a youth center gymnasium in front of 50 confused teenagers on a snowy Monday night in January 1969. And I'm not even a huge Led Zeppelin fan. This whole project came about as I was set to do a film called Maryland's Woodstock, about the Laurel Pop Festival which took place in July 1969, one month before the Woodstock. I wanted to highlight that there was this forgotten pop festival in our area, and basically tell the story of that two-day concert, featuring Led Zeppelin headlining one night.
     
    But I soon found a story arc as I connected the dots of Led Zeppelin's performances: in May, they shared a bill as opening band for The Who at Merriweather Post. And in February they were on an opening slot with Vanilla Fudge at the Baltimore Civic Center. But the real curiosity was their first local concert which was said to have taken place on January 20, 1969 at the Wheaton Youth Center.
     
    So this is part of my ongoing effort to chronicle the emerging cultural landscape of my hometown, which in many ways, could be anyone's hometown, anyone's coming of age experience.

    NS: In your film, Led Zeppelin's official staff (notably touring manager Richard Cole) deny any knowledge of the Wheaton show. Do you think there were any other motivations at work here? If this concert ever really happened, do you think they'd want to admit it?

    JK: I honestly think at this point in time they have no recollection as to whether this happened or not. They really cannot remember. And I get that now, having interviewed enough people about different facets from that time period. If I had a chance to grill tour manager Richard Cole, face to face, about Led Zeppelin's lowest paying gig he mentions in his book, I'm sure he'd recall it as somewhere other than Wheaton, MD. At this point in time, he seems pretty adamant that the Wheaton show didn't happen.

    NS: In the film you track down an archivist at Montgomery College who finds the earliest printed reference to the Wheaton show in a 1971 college newspaper article.  In your opinion, is this the "smoking gun" that proves the veracity of the other eyewitness accounts of the concert?

    JK:Ron Fritts had been compiling research about the Wheaton concert for many years, hoping to crack the mystery. As far as I'm concerned, his find is as much a smoking gun as I've been able to uncover during my five year quest. We really hit it off because we speak the same lingo. He's a jazz authority and involved in several music and culture research projects; I'm very grateful that he reached out to me with his find.

    NS: One of the most fascinating "characters" in the film is legendary DC concert promoter Barry Richards — who states unequivocally that he booked the Wheaton show and recalls several other details (including an argument with Zep's long dead manager). His credibility as a witness is called into question by other interviewees in the film. What do you think about Richards'"testimony"?

    JK: I think Barry's credible, but then you start hearing him embellish facts and re-imagine history and you start to wonder. I hardly think Barry is the only fast-talking radio DJ icon who is guilty of the same thing. I think it goes with the territory, the patter, the rap, the jive. The danger is when the 'facts' are being taken as gospel, without being cross-referenced or verified, and the internet and our social networking universe is strewn with false information, often times regurgitated over and over.

    I think Barry has candidly provided all he's capable of remembering. And understandably, while some of us make a big deal out of something like this, it's very trivial to many others, including the members of Led Zeppelin.

    NS: At one point you ask local rock god Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) to contact Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones about the Wheaton show. Have you heard back from Grohl yet?

    JK: No, but I'm hopeful I'll have a chance to continue the dialogue with him. You can tell he's genuinely interested in this story, but he also has a lot of other things on his plate. He's now a documentary director in addition to being a rock star. I figure if anyone can pick up the phone and get John Paul Jones on the line, it's him. Maybe one day I'll follow up.

    NS: The audience reaction to the film at the packed AFI Silver screening was really warm and enthusiastic. What are your plans for getting the film some sort of distribution and/or a wider viewing audience going forward?

    Jeff Krulik leads a discussion about "Led Zeppelin Played Here" after the screening at AFI Silver on January 20, 2013. (Photo: Rick Koplowitz)Jeff Krulik leads a discussion about "Led Zeppelin Played Here" after the screening at AFI Silver on January 20, 2013. (Photo: Rick Koplowitz)JK: I was so thrilled at the response at AFI. I'm currently reworking it with editor Brad Dismukes and we are aiming for a 90-minute running time. I'm also planning some more local screenings and possible film festivals, maybe television. Eventually, I'm going to blast it out on the internet. Nobody buys DVDs anymore and I don't feel like manufacturing another one so it can sit in boxes in my closet like Heavy Metal Picnic.

    I'm still curious how the film will play outside of this area. On the surface, it's a very partisan, local subject. But deeper down, I believe there's a universality since this could have been Anywhere USA in 1969. It's essentially about the emerging rock and roll culture and the rise of the concert industry we now take for granted. Stay tuned for the next step.

    NS: We recently did an article about another local Led Zeppelin show — the legendary double bill with The Who at Merriweather Post in May, 1969. This concert was also referenced in your film. Did you discover any new tidbits about this performance that you can share?

    JK: I think that particular double bill is remarkable, and there's no shortage of stories and anecdotes about that once-in-a-lifetime concert. The co-promoters were Mike Schreibman who is still very active in this area, running WAMA. The other promoter was Lester Grossman, who promoted several big rock concerts in the late '60s while in his early 20s, before getting out of the concert business. He writes a chapter about that concert as he remembers it in his own self-published autobiography.

    There was a comedian on the bill who opened the show named Uncle Dirty. Barry Richards was the emcee. Many people were wandering around backstage, including Jean Aker from Empire Records (featured in my film) who says he played guitar with Pete Townshend backstage. I included an 8mm film of both bands hanging out in the dressing room backstage, which is really interesting to see. Apparently Route 29 was jammed for miles, and every person who has ever mentioned this show says it was one of the most memorable concerts they had ever seen. I can only imagine!

    NS: Are there any other projects related to DC's rock history that you are working on currently?

    JK: At the moment, I really want to see how much I can expand Led Zeppelin Played Here and still keep it a watchable documentary. After the film runs its course, I then plan to post all of my lengthy interviews on our dedicated website. There's a wealth of material that can't get included in the 90-minute documentary, so I'd like to eventually feature it on the internet, at least that's my hope.

    I'm a great believer in oral history, and recording it properly. When I did a phone interview with Nils Lofgren while researching the Ambassador Theater Psychedelic Dance Hall which operated in 1967 at 18th and Columbia Road, he was emphatic that his interview be taped because he wanted to make sure he was quoted accurately. I was not only happy to oblige, I actually videotaped the phone interview, and it's available here.

    I'm also always collaborating with author Mark Opsasnick, whose must truly be cited for his exhaustive detail and attention to accuracy. We're likely to repeat an event we hosted last year on PG County rock and roll history, since so many people were turned away and could't get in. Look for that in a bigger location later this year, possibly the Greenbelt American Legion.

    NS: One last question — on your most famous work Heavy Metal Parking Lot— have you ever heard from any of the Judas Priest fans who appeared in the film?  Do you have any plans to follow up with them in any way, or revisit the topic somehow in the future?

    JK:Heavy Metal Parking Lot will always be a crowd favorite, and John Heyn (co-producer) and I are always grateful for the interest, especially now 27 years later. I have no immediate plans to revisit the topic, except in comic book form believe it or not. I love people's early concert memories, and I'd like to create a comic where artists and authors can share their stories. We'll see, since that'll have to be a self-published venture (aka money losing proposition). Sounds just like documentary filmmaking!

    Over the years we've heard from many of the folks who were on camera in HMPL; we have an extended alumni group even, and several of them are featured in a "Where are they now?" video that's included on our DVD, and also streamed on Snag Films.

    We've love to do a bona fide reunion one day, wouldn't that be fun. Too bad Judas Priest broke up; they could have performed, in the parking lot!

     

     

     

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    As of now, the hands on Georgetown University's Healy Hall clock tower are securely in place. But how long will it be before the hands disappear again? (Photo source: Author photo)As of now, the hands on Georgetown University's Healy Hall clock tower are securely in place. But how long will it be before the hands disappear again? (Photo source: Author photo) Georgetown University holds true to traditions of academic excellence, religious customs and…clock tower mischief?

    Healy Hall, perhaps the university’s most iconic building, was built in 1877 by the same architects who designed the Library of Congress. The structure boasts a 200 foot tall clock tower which overlooks the campus and is visible from many locations across the city. In other words, the tower is a prime target for creative student pranksters.

    The University attempts to discourage would-be clock hand thieves with warning signs and a 24/7 alarm system. (Photo source: Author photo)The University attempts to discourage would-be clock hand thieves with warning signs and a 24/7 alarm system. (Photo source: Author photo)

    Per Georgetown tradition, every few years a group of students devise a sneaky plan to break into the top floor of the building and remove the hands of the clock. It’s a risky mission, frowned upon by the administration, which has taken steps to prevent assaults on the clock, including installing 24/7 alarm security. Still, this doesn’t stop innovative undergrads from giving it a shot.

    One of the more notable heists took place in the fall of 1967 when a group of nine students, which called itself HOCK, or the “Holders of the Clock Klub” executed a perfect thievery. As the Georgetown Hoya student newspaper put it, “The story read like a script from the television series Mission: Impossible”… with even better nicknames. [1]

    “At four p.m. Saturday, K.C. entered the attic of Healy through the library’s ceiling on the fourth floor. Then K.C. proceeded to open the Gaston Hall door from the inside to let in Scoop. Both HOCK members then spent four hours removing floorboards from the story above the attic. They were forced to use a hand drill for a saw would have brought unwanted attention with its distinctive noise.”

    The two finally reached the door that led to the face of the clock at 8 p.m. but found it secured with two padlocks. They sent their cohorts, which included the likes of “Ace,” “Slip,” “Slick,” “Bozuf,” “Spider,” “Wild Man” and “Moon” for additional supplies, and passed the time playing cards. As “K.C.” and “Scoop” told the Hoya, their playing partners included “a number of bats and rodents and a dead pigeon they named Fred.” [2] (Um, gross.)

    When the others returned with the supplies, “K.C.” and “Scoop” went back to work on the padlocks while the others kept a lookout for “security guards, wandering Jesuits, or curious onlookers” and signaled with flashlights. At 3:35 a.m., “Scoop” popped open the door on the face of the clock and removed the clock hands. In their place “Ace” and “Wild Man” hung a sign banner, which read “Tick Tock HOCK has the Clock.” The group then hustled their treasure across campus to a secret hiding place.

    Mission accomplished! And just in the nick of time, too, as it seems another group of students had plans to steal the clock hands on the same night. While they were working, “Scoop” and “K.C.” heard a several folks enter the tower discussing their own heist.

    Under pressure from the administration, HOCK returned the treasure a few weeks later but not before engraving their nicknames and class years engraved on the back of the five foot long minute hand. As “Slip” told the Hoya, “If the recreation rooms were open more often, we wouldn’t have to resort to this.”[3]

    No word on whether the rec room hours were amended but in the 70s, the hands were stolen again and supposedly sent to the Vatican to be blessed by the Pope. In 1989, another group sent them to the White House with a special request for President Reagan to return them, personally. (This didn’t happen, of course – the secret service brought them back). In 2005, the hands went missing again and the culprits earned a fine, community service, and other disciplinary action.[4] But such punishments have trouble measuring up to the strength of tradition.

    In 2011, the Hoya practically begged the student body to renew the custom: “This year, we ought to replant some of our campus’s cultural roots and see if our enterprising peers can pull off the heist of a lifetime.”[5] A few months later, three students known as Goliath, Juliet, and Reaper accepted the challenge and nabbed Healy’s hands.

    The school replaced them with a new set. But how long will it be until the new hands are stolen? The clock is ticking…for now.

    For more odd and bizarre Georgetown stories, check out Canden Schwantes’ new book Wicked Georgetown: Scoundrels, Sinners, and Spies, recently published by The History Press.


    [1] Pisinski, Steve. "Theft of Clock Hands Traced to Frosh Plot, HOCK Maintains Tradition Through Intricate Larceny."The Hoya [Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.] 02 Nov 1967, P2-11. Print.

    [2] Pisinski, Steve. "Theft of Clock Hands Traced to Frosh Plot, HOCK Maintains Tradition Through Intricate Larceny."The Hoya [Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.] 02 Nov 1967, P2-11. Print.

    [3] Pisinski, Steve. "Theft of Clock Hands Traced to Frosh Plot, HOCK Maintains Tradition Through Intricate Larceny."The Hoya [Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.] 02 Nov 1967, P2-11. Print.

    [4] Canden Schwantes, Wicked Georgetown: Scoundrels, Sinners, and Spies, (Charleston: The History Press, 2013), 85-89.

    [5] Editorial Staff. “Taking Back Tradition.” The Hoya [Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.] 18 Oct 2011, http://www.thehoya.com/opinion/taking-back-tradition-1.2652549?MMode=true.

     

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    WPGC deejay Jack Alix clenches a copy of GO Magazine between his teeth as he poses with "The Doors," "The Blades of Grass" and the Jackettes Go-Go Girls at his "Flower Power" show in Alexandria, Virginia on August 18, 1967. The show was the only time that The Doors front man Jim Morrison is known to have returned to Alexandria, where he lived on and off during his childhood. (Photo source: Clinton, Maryland Star-Leader)WPGC deejay Jack Alix clenches a copy of GO Magazine between his teeth as he poses with "The Doors," "The Blades of Grass" and the Jackettes Go-Go Girls at his "Flower Power" show in Alexandria, Virginia on August 18, 1967. The show was the only time that The Doors front man Jim Morrison is known to have returned to Alexandria, where he lived on and off during his childhood. (Photo source: Clinton, Maryland Star Leader)

    It was the summer of 1967 and The Doors’ single “Light My Fire” was racing up the Billboard music charts. The band found itself headlining large venues and even made an appearance on American Bandstand. But one date on the tour schedule might have stood out to front man Jim Morrison more than any other. (Not that he would’ve told anyone.)

    Poster advertising August 18, 1967 concert by The Doors in Annapolis and Alexandria. (Photo source: Ebay)Poster advertising August 18, 1967 double header concert by The Doors in Annapolis and Alexandria. According to concert attendees, things got a little crazy that night. (Photo source: Ebay) On August 18, 1967, the band played an odd D.C. area double-header: a 7:30pm show at the National Guard Armory in Annapolis, Maryland, and a late night show at the Alexandria Roller Rink Arena in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the only time The Doors played two separate concerts at different venues in the same evening. And, for Morrison, it was a homecoming of sorts.

    The enigmatic singer had spent much of his childhood in this area while his father, a Rear Admiral in the Navy, was stationed at the Pentagon. The family lived in Arlington during the early 1950s and later lived on Woodland Terrace in Alexandria where Jim attended George Washington High School.

    In Alexandria, Jim lived in a basement room, which high school friends remember as being filled with books, original poetry and artwork. By all accounts he was an avid reader, writer and painter but not yet a musician or singer. He did, however, frequent bars and coffee houses in the District to listen to bands and once gave a poetry recital at a beatnik joint known as Coffee ‘n’ Confusion (925 K St. NW). It was apparently his first public performance.

    Sadly, none of his teenage manuscripts seem to have survived. Given the great popularity of The Doors and mystery surrounding Morrison’s death can you imagine what collectors would give for an original Jim Morrison poem nowadays?!

    Jim Morrison's high school yearbook picture from his senior year. Morrison graduated from George Washington High School in Alexandria in 1961 and left the area shortly thereafter. (Photo source: George Washington High School yearbook)Jim Morrison's high school yearbook picture from his senior year. Morrison graduated from George Washington High School in Alexandria in 1961 and left the area shortly thereafter. (Photo source: George Washington High School yearbook) After graduating from GWHS in 1961, Morrison distanced himself from his family and friends in Alexandria. He left for school in Florida and later moved to California where he met keyboardist Ray Manzarek (recently deceased), drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. Together they formed The Doors.

    By the time the band came to town for the Annapolis-Alexandria double header in 1967, “Light My Fire,” was enjoying its third week atop the Billboard 100 music chart. Both shows sold out as local radio stations WYRE and WPGC teamed up to promote the “rare double booking.”

    In Alexandria, popular WPGC deejay Jack Alix used The Doors as a draw for his “Flower Power Hour,” a competition between twelve local teen bands, which effectively served as an extended opening act for Morrison and company. The winner was promised an audition with Columbia Records in New York City.

    The Clinton, Maryland Star-Leader described the scene at the Alexandria show in vivid detail:

    A pschydelic [sic] panorama of sight and sound, as 4,000 teenagers watched and walked around… most stood and listened, few were dancing… the scene resembled DuPont Circle, transplanted… as the “flower children” made the scene… bright with flowered dresses, feather boas, floppy hats, peacock feather earrings, mini-dressed girls with straight, shining hair, looking as if they were ready for bed, wearing baby-doll gowns….

    Feminine costumes paled in contrast to those worn by their brothers who wore necklaces of sea shells and Indians beads….

    Many carried their shoes… their feet becoming blacker and blacker, as the evening wore on… whether it is better to see, or to be seen, that is the question.[1]

    Even beyond the attire, it proved to be an odd night.

    At the Annapolis show, Morrison got into some sort of argument with his bandmates and they refused to travel with him to the Alexandria gig. Promoters had to send a separate car for the singer and when Morrison finally arrived at the Roller Rink he was staggering drunk and, by multiple accounts, in a very foul mood.

    But, despite his bottle-induced condition, Morrison apparently put on a grand performance when the band went onstage around 10pm. As long time D.C. radio personality Tom Grooms remembered, “He came out on the stage and he was in black and I’d never seen anything like that. Morrison was doing his thing, he was very theatrical, he’d fall down or lay down and I thought it was all a part of their act, but I’d never seen anyone gyrate like that before…. I remember they did a real long, incredible version of ‘Light My Fire’ and finished with ‘The End.’”[2]

    Apparently that’s when things got a little crazy. Details are sketchy, but according to several people who attended the concert, Morrison picked up a cymbal stand and threw it out into the crowd as the band played “The End,” gashing a young female fan across the forehead. Then after Jack Alix wrestled the microphone away from him to close the show, Morrison supposedly yelled, “Hey Alexandria!” and gave the crowd a one finger salute on his way off stage.

    So much for a happy homecoming.

    To learn more about Jim Morrison’s life in Alexandria, check out Mark Opsasnick’s informative book, The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia (Xlibrus, 2006), which was the basis for this post.



    [1] Owens, Heather, “Teen Tempo,” Clinton Star-Leader, 23 August 1967: 6.

    [2] Opsasnick, Mark, The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia, Xlibrus, 2006: 235.

     

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    To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, WETA Television has created three short video pieces highlighting Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). Both played a role in organizing the March and Lewis gave one of the keynote speeches.

    Video: Rep. John Lewis Remembers the March on Washington

    Lewis remembers that the speech he planned to give included a warning that, "If we do not see meaningful progress here today, the day may come when we will not confine our marching on Washington. We may be forced to march through the south the way Sherman did." March organizers A. Phillip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. felt that this ran counter to the non-violent spirit of the event and asked him to tone down. Lewis ducked behind the Lincoln Memorial statue and made edits to the speech moments before taking the podium.

    Video: Rep. John Lewis Recalls His Speech

    At the time of the March, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton was working with the organizing committee in New York. As she recalls, "There was great excitement but no sense as to whether the March would really happen. Excitement grew and people began to call in and people like me went around and spoke to groups encouraging them to come. People would call and say, 'How can I get a bus? How can I get a train?'"

    Norton volunteered to remain at the Harlem office until the morning of the March to take care of last minute arrangements. She then caught a plane to Washington and had a unique vantage point to see the masses assemble on the National Mall. She was one of the first to realize the immensity of the turnout. "I stayed all night in that brownstone by myself so that I could go to LaGuardia and fly in. And fly I did, looking out of the window to see if I could see any evidence of gatherings. And boy did I see evidence of gatherings!"

    Video: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton Reflects on the March

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    On the days leading up to the March on Washington, buses from every direction poured into the District of Columbia. Culie Vick Kilimanjaro and her husband John Marshall Kilimanjaro came from Greensboro, North Carolina. As she recalled:

    My husband and I were members of the NAACP and we thought that we needed to do something about the race situations. From week to week, we didn’t know what was going to happen. People were being killed because they were trying to do what was right.

    All of the details from the March we got through word of mouth. I told my husband that I would like to go to the March. The NAACP and the churches were sponsoring three buses. You had to pay your own way, but that was fine with us.

    After finding a babysitter for their three children, the couple hopped on one of the buses leaving from their church. No one knew exactly what lay ahead in Washington. John Marshall, described the atmosphere:

    Contrary to the mythology, the early moments of the March- getting there- was no picnic. People were afraid. We didn’t know what we would meet. There was no precedent…Every now and then, people on the bus sang ‘Oh Freedom’ and ‘We Shall Overcome,’ but for the most part, there wasn’t a whole bunch of singing. We were secretly praying that nothing violent happened.

    We stopped in Virginia to get some gas. There was no one at the rest stop. We walked around a bit to stretch and saw this big mound of earth- it seemed as if there was some construction or building going on. Several of us decided to climb to the top of this mound…As we got to the top of the mound, the sun was slowly rising, and as we looked out, all we saw were buses, coming from the north, east, west and south. And we knew it was our people. We burst into applause. The thing that we were most afraid of was the March would be a bust.

    Upon arriving, the experience was one they would never forget. Over a quarter million people came together on the National Mall. As Culie Vick recalled:

    I’ve never seen so many people in one place before in my life. We we’re able to sit down by the Reflecting Pool. It was hot but we were dressed for the occasion. It was great seeing Marian Anderson. When Dr. King spoke, it was like The Lord had spoken. He was really fantastic. I could’ve listened to him speak all day. People were on tree limbs, just enraptured by his words. After he finished speaking, we felt rejuvenated. We felt like we were going to accomplish something.

    And accomplish something they did!

    Source:

    Bass, Patrik Henry Like a Mighty Storm: The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002.

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    Though he was the grandson of a Klansman, Bob Zellner realized at a young age that he didn’t agree with segregation. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and became the first white southerner to be a SNCC Field Secretary. In a time of high tensions, particularly in the Deep South, Zellner and his wife Dorothy held their ground as supporters of black freedom and desegregation. They traveled from Danville, Virginia for the March on Washington. Years later, Zellner remembered the experience.

    I heard about the March during the planning stage, as a field secretary of SNCC. I was working in the summer of ’63 in bloody Danville, Virginia. I decided to attend because I thought it would be a good way to sum up all the suffering and brave work SNCC and the other organizations and individuals had been doing since the pace of civil rights agitation picked up following the February 1, 1960, lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.

    My expectations were that the March would be a militant challenge to a foot-dragging government – an angry, yet jubilant wake-up alarm to the nation that black America and its allies were demanding jobs, justice, and freedom from a backward, vicious South and a genteel racist North that continued to allow the Civil War to remain unfinished.

    My fondest memory was not of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, though that was memorable, but the image of the SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and NAACP kids, mostly SNCC, joining hands in a huge circle just below the speakers’ stand, and singing out hearts to the heights.

    The impact the March had on me was that it provided dramatic proof that the sometimes quiet and always dangerous work we did in the Deep South had had a profound national impact. The spectacle of a quarter of million supporters and activists gave me an assurance that the work I was in the process of dedicating my life to was worth doing.

    Zellner is the author of the book The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, which details his life and contributions to SNCC and the black freedom movement.

    Source:

    Bass, Patrik Henry Like a Mighty Storm: The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002.

     

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  • 11/04/13--07:34: Jimi Hendrix in DC
  • Jimi Hendrix performs at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. (Photo Courtesy of © Ken Davidoff/Authentic Hendrix LLC)Jimi Hendrix performs at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. (Photo Courtesy of © Ken Davidoff/Authentic Hendrix LLC) The PBS American Masters series documentary "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin," includes never-before-aired film footage of a live Hendrix performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, as well as a poignant clip of his final performance in Germany in September 1970, just 12 days before his death at age 27.

    Unfortunately, rock music archivists have yet to discover any film record of the legendary guitarist's three performances in the Washington, DC area in 1967 and 1968, which have become the stuff of local legend.

    Hendrix's DC debut was on August 9-13 1967, at the long-defunct Ambassador Theater at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW in Adams Morgan (where local rock historian Linda Cokinos recalls that her mother and grandfather saw the Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer 40 years before).  The guitarist and his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience,  had just endured a brief stint as the opening act for the Monkees, and were scrambling to find gigs. They played five shows at the Ambassador, including an August 10 appearance at a free afternoon youth festival put on the Adams Morgan Community Council and the D.C. Federation of Musicians, which also featured performances by jazz pianists Les McCann and Earl "Fatha" Hines. The Washington Post's story on that event barely mentioned Hendrix, focusing instead on the audience's odd, incongruous mix of children--some as young as five--and hippies who'd come to groove to the club's pulsating psychedelic light show. "I think it's dynamite," one teenager told the newspaper. "They ought to give the hippies more of  a chance to do this sort of thing. They're all right."

    One of the fans at Hendrix's August 13 performance was a then-teenaged Nils Lofgren, a future guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, who rushed over to the Ambassador after attending a Who concert at Constitution Hall.  In a 1995 interview with a Hendrix fanzine, Lofgren recalled that he also spotted the Who's Pete Townsend in the audience.  "Hendrix came out, and none of us really knew anything about him apart from he was supposed to be this magical guitarist," Lofgren said. When Hendrix announced that his first number would be a cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Lofgren and his friends were puzzled--they couldn't figure out how he could play the song without the horns, strings, and other layers of sound that the Beatles had created in the studio. But they soon discovered Hendrix's almost preternatural ability to elicit an aural onslaught from his instrument:

    And he had these huge stacks of Marshall amps and, you know, you didn't really know how loud it was going to be and at the end of the count he literally just disappeared, you know. He fell on his, you know, like dropped back with his ass on his heels, guitar between his legs and just kinda went out of vision and the whole audience just leapt up to their feet and he's down there, you know, bumping and grinding doing `Sgt Pepper's [Lonely] Heart's Club Band'ˆ la `Purple Haze' - you know, that kind of rhythm, a little bit slowed down. And it was just completely mesmerising and overwhelming and inspiring. And I've been just hooked ever since.

    On March 10, 1968, Hendrix and the Experience returned to DC, to play two shows at the Washington Hilton's International Ballroom. A surprisingly good audio recording of that show survives, in which Hendrix's guitar work is resplendent in all of its intricate, transcendent glory.

    The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, who reviewed the show, noted that the standing-room-onlycrowd of 4,000 seemed a bit disappointed that Hendrix didn't pour lighter fluid on his  guitar and burn it, a signature gesture he had performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Even so, Hoagland wrote, Hendrix put on a highly charged performance, exciting the audience with "his wildly sexual gyrations" and technique of "erotically stroking his guitar and grinding it against himself." Hoagland opined that although Hendrix, in his view, was a "fine guitarist," his real appeal was as an "anti-suburb, anti-establishment" figure. "He is bad, and teenagers love him for it," he wrote. "He is more evil than Elvis ever dreamed of being, and the teenagers know that it infuriates their parents."

    Hendrix made one last appearance in the area on August 16, 1968. After appearing on a TV program in Baltimore, the Experience performed at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, Md.  By one account, after a storm erupted during the performance, Hendrix invited the crowd on the lawn to come under the covered pavillion, and did his best to drown out the thunder with feedback and distortion from his playing.  Here's his rendition of "Hey Joe." 

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    Refurbished Presidential limosine outside the White House in 1965. (Source: flickr user That Hartford Guy via Creative Commons license.)You may have assumed that the Presidential limosine that carried President Kennedy through Dallas on November 22, 1963 was taken out of service after the assassination... But that would be incorrect. Four more presidents used it afterwards. The photo above is from LBJ's term. (Photo source: Flickr user That Hartford Guy via Creative Commons license.) On Oct. 5, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson joined a visiting head of state, Philippines President Diosdad Macapagal, in a 25-minute noontime parade through downtown Washington. In the annals of Presidential events, it was unremarkable, save for one odd and unsettling detail. LBJ and Macapagal rode thorugh the capital's streets in the same customized black 1961 Lincoln limousine in which, not quite a year before, President John F. Kennedy had been killed by a sniper as he rolled in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. 

    It may seem puzzlingly strange, even macabre, that LBJ--who had been riding two cars behind JFK in Dallas--would reuse the same car in which his predecessor had been slain. But apparently, the Secret Service decided that it was faster and more economical to recycle JFK's old Lincoln than it was to order the building of a new Presidential parade limousine.  Those who'd seen JFK in the limousine in Dallas might not have recognized it. The navy blue Lincoln no longer was a convertible, having been equipped with a bulletproof metal-and-glass hardtop roof. There were numerous other security modifications as well, which bystanders couldn't see.

    The strange saga of JFK's recycled death car began a few years before, when the Secret Service decided to add a new car to the fleet of 10 1950 Lincolns that Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower had used, whose roofs had been modified to provide with extra headroom to accommodate the tophats that once were the fashion for chiefs of state.

    The President's new car started out as a stock 1961 Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible, manufactured at Ford's plant in Wixom, Mich. in January 1961.  The auto maker then sent it to another company, Hess & Eisenhardt, in Cincinnati, Oh., which customized it to serve as a parade limousine. That involved fairly radical alternations, including cutting the car in half and adding a 3-and-a-half-foot section to the middle. According to Popular Mechanics, the vehicle--code-named X-100 by the Secret Service--was the most sophisticated presidential limousine that had ever been built. Its equipment included a pair of radio telephones, interior floodlights, spotlight-illuminated flagstaffs on the fenders, and a rear seat equipped with a hydraulic lift capable of raising it 11 inches off the floor. But the car's crowning feature was its set of three removable roofs--a standard cloth convertible roof, another of lightweight metal, and a third of transparent plastic. The roofs were composed of multiple removable panels that could be used separately or in different combinations, depending upon the weather and the President's wishes.  

    The designers' intention was to make the President more visible to spectators--a decision that would seem ill-considered after Nov. 22, 1963. For all its sophisticated features, the car was woefully short on protection against attack. It wasn't armored, and even if the plastic bubbletop hadn't been removed that day because of the clearing skies over Dallas, the Warren Commission report would note that it "was neither bulletproof nor bullet-resistant."

    After the assassination, the limousine was scoured by investigators for evidence. The windshield, which had been hit by the third bullet fired by assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, was removed by the FBI and Secret Service, and became Exhibit (CE) 350 of the Warren Commission.

    You might suspect that after that, the car would have been set aside as an historical artifact. Instead, oddly, the fateful Lincoln was shipped back to Ohio, where Hess & Eisenhardt rebuilt it for further use, and then to Ford's experimental garage in Dearborn, Mich., where final touches were made. Reportedly, the $500,000 overhaul replaced 80 percent of the vehicle. According to a 1964 Associated Press dispatch, the customizers added 1,600 pounds of metal and other materials to the car, reinforcing the body with armor plate and replacing its glass with special panes that reportedly were capable of withstanding a direct hit from a 30-caliber rifle round.  The interchangeable roofs were replaced with a bulletproof hardtop and a 1,500-pound rear window that, at the time, was the largest piece of curved bullet-resistant glass ever fabricated, according to Popular Mechanics. Additionally, large metal handgrips were installed on each side of the back trunk so that, if needed, Secret Service agents could jump onto the vehicle while it rolled down the street.  Special puncture-proof tires were mounted on the wheels. Finally, the rear compartment was refurbished, to eliminate any damage from JFK's killing.

    In 1967, the car got a second overhaul, which included another paint job--LBJ reportedly disliked the navy blue, so it was changed to black--an upgraded air conditioning system, and conversion of the fixed right-rear door window into one that could be rolled down. According to Popular Mechanics, the car also received structural reinforcments, a modification necessitated after a playful leap by LBJ caused the original rear deck behind the seat to collapse. 

    After LBJ left office, his successor, Richard Nixon, who apparently was less security-conscious than LBJ, added yet another modification--a new glass roof with a hinged panel, so that the President could stand during parades. 

    X-100 continued to be used by Presidents until it was retired in 1977. It is now part of the collection at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. 

     

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  • 12/18/13--13:03: A Synagogue on Wheels
  • Adas Israel Synagogue on moving day, December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia)It wasn't easy, but the then 93-year-old Adas Israel Synagogue building was relocated to make room for Metro on December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia) As many realtors will tell you, the first three rules of real estate are, “location, location, location.” Well, in the late 1960s, location presented a very serious problem for transit planners and the congregation of the Adas Israel synagogue. Construction of Metro’s Red Line was getting underway and WMATA had acquired the block bounded by 5th,  6th,  F and G Streets, NW to serve as a staging area and, eventually, the home of Metro’s headquarters.

    There was only one problem. The block was also the home of Washington’s first synagogue building, which had been standing on the site since 1876. While the Adas Israel congregation had moved out of the building in the early 1900s, it still held historical significance and preservationists did not want to see it demolished.

    In response to the concerns, the National Capital Planning Commission recommended that the building be moved… But where? And how? And, even if a solution could be worked out, who would pay for it? After all, it’s not exactly easy or cheap to pick up an almost century-old church and plop it down somewhere else.

    As then president of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington Henry Brylawski put it, “You need miracles.”[1] In D.C., a miracle is synonymous with disparate organizations, interests and governments working together efficiently. But, it actually happened in this case! As preservationists turned up the heat and got the synagogue added to the National Register of Historic Places, officials worked out a deal.

    Leaders from the JHSGW worked with D.C. government and Federal officials to identify an alternative plot of land at 3rd and G Streets, NW. WMATA then sold the synagogue building to the city for $10 and the D.C. government leased it to the JHSGW for 99 years at $1 per year. In order to pay for the move and restoration of the building, which was expected to total $150,000, JHSGW leaders appealed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD agreed to cover part of the cost and the Society raised the rest.[2]

    With the deal set, the Society contracted with William B. Patram and Company to execute the move. Patram spent two months studying and bracing the building. The first floor was deemed too weak to survive a move. So, the top floor, which had been the original sanctuary, was lifted off the structure and loaded on to a 28 wheel dollie.

    On December 18, 1969, the old synagogue took to the streets. It took nearly three hours to move the 270 ton structure three blocks, and the process was complicated by a ruptured gas line. Once at 3rd and G St., the building was loaded onto a temporary “crib” while a new foundation was constructed. Success!

    Today the relocated building is the home of the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum.

    Read the JHSGW's interview with engineer William B. Patram who oversaw the move. →



    [1] Martin, Judith, “Committee Struggles to Save City’s Landmarks: Power of Persuasion,” Washington Post, 29 December 1969: C2.

    [2] Hebald, Anne, “Old Synagogue Building to Roll on Wheels to Site 3 Blocks Away,” Washington Post, 21 November 1969: C1.

     

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    A streetcar in front of the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Theodor Horydczak, Library of CongressA streetcar in front of the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress In a previous blog post, we told you about the history of the District's original streetcar system, which dated back to the 1860s when the coaches were pulled by horses. After going electric in the last decade of the 19th Century, the streetcars quickly became a crucial part of transportation in the nation's capital, just as they were in other cities across the country.

    But Washington's system--which gradually coalesced from a hodgepodge of small companies into a single entity, the sprawling Capital Transit Co. in 1933--faced special problems. One dilemma was  Congress' insistence that the power source be buried underground between the tracks. That made the system especially vulnerable to snow, ice and summertime heat expansion of the metal slots into which the cars' plows were plugged in, which sometimes prevented them from drawing power and led to congestion-causing breakdowns. "The Demands of routine maintenance were relentless," transportation historian Robert C. Post writes."Jammed plows were an everyday occurrence, and renewing trackwork was a truly formidable undertaking," because laborers had to make repairs beneath street level.

    Another, even more difficult dilemma was financial. For years, Capital Transit was run by a board of local directors who built up a cash reserve and paid only small dividends to investors, which kept the company in strong financial shape but depressed the value of its shares. After federal antitrust regulators forced another big utility company to divest its stake in Capital Transit, the company turned into a tempting takeover target for a group of investors led by shipbuilding and movie business entrepreneur Louis Wolfson. They snapped up a controlling interest the company for a mere $20 a share in 1949, and then proceeded to tap into the case to pay investors--including themselves--big dividends that exceeded the company's profits. By 1955, they'd burned through a $6.7 million treasury, reducing it to $2.7 million, and realized a 170 percent return on their investment.

    Unfortunately, the owners pursued this strategy at a time when the system's ridership starting to decline, due to the rising popularity of cars in the Washington suburbs.  Transportation historian Zachary M. Schrag notes that in 1948, just before Wolfson took over, Washington area residetns owned 203,000 automobiles. By 1955, the number was up to 418,000.  During that same period, the number of mass transit commuter trips declined by 39,000 a day. In addition, the composition of the customers began to shift, with well-to-do suburbanites staying away and the seats increasingly filled by schoolchildren and the poor. 

    As much as the resulting revenue shortfall hurt Capital Transit, it was endangered even more by worsening labor relations.  Local 689 of the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway & Motor Coach Employees of America, which represented the streetcar workforce, had long bristled over the company's big cash surplus. Workers felt that they'd been shortchanged when gasoline rationing had packed the streetcars during World War II, and wage freezes had kept them from sharing in the profits. In 1945, the workers had gone on strike for three days, eventually prompting then-President Truman to seize control of the company, ostensibly for reasons of national security.

    The new owners had an even rougher relationship with the union, in part because they took a hard line in negotiations and refused to include an arbitration clause in their contract, according to Schrag. In 1951, 3,400 workers again abruptly walked out on strike over seniority rules, wages, pensions and working conditions, plunging the nation's capital into what the Associated Press called "the biggest traffic jam in its history." The wire service reported that the streets descended into chaos, with motorists, desperate to find parking places, left their cars parked in the middle of the streets where the streetcars normally ran. Additionally, "they parked in no-parking zones, headed their cars the wrong way, (and) blithely ignored fire plugs," the article noted. Since the company also provided city bus service, there wasn't any other public transit option.

    In the spring and summer of 1955, things got even worse. The District's Public Utilities Commission rejected Capital Transit's request for a fare increase, so that when executives began negotiating a new contract with the union in May, they had no new cash to put into pay raises. On July 1, the union, which wanted a relatively paltry wage hike of 25 cents an hour, responded by walking out. This time, though, the strike lasted for seven brutal weeks, during which commuters struggled to find a way to their jobs, while Congress and the District's commissioners tried to pressure the intransigent Wolfson into giving some ground. After he defiantly dared the Senate's District Committee to revoke his franchise, Congress had enough. Sen. Wayne Morse, D-Oregon, who denounced Wolfson as an"economic carpetbagger," introduced a bill to repeal Capital Transit's federally-approved charter, which was then passed by Congress. The District then set about finding a new owner. (Washington commuters eventually got their vengeance when Wolfson was convicted in 1967 of unrelated federal securities law violations and sentenced to a year in prison.)

    The problem was that nobody wanted to take over Capital Transit, since there didn't seem to be a future in streetcar lines. After months of searching, the District's commissioners finally found the oddly-named O. Roy Chalk, a New York-based investor-entrepreneur whose eclectic interests over the years included Trans Caribbean Airways, a rail line that hauled bananas in Central America, and the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario-La Prensa. To buy Capital Transit, Chalk only had to put up $500,000 in his own money, borrowing the remaining $13 million from banks and the previous owners. Chalk worked out the deal with the assistance of Col. Gordon Moore, a retired Army officer who happened to be the brother-in-law of President Eisenhower (a connection that was brought to light by muckraking columnist Drew Pearson). 

    But the District commisioners imposed one condition upon Chalk. They wanted him to get rid of the streetcars, and convert the transit system entirely to buses, according to Schrag. Chalk, who around that time also unsuccessfully made a bid to take over New York City's subway system, tried to sway them. But buses seemed more modern, and more compatible with an increasingly automobile-centric region. 

    As a farewell gesture to the city, children were allowed to ride free on Saturday, January 27, 1962 if accompanied by a paying adult. So many residents brought their kids to see a vanishing piece of local history that the company had to put 27 additional cars into service to accommodate them all. In the end, the operators also brought out a relic, an old-fashioned wooden trolley that dated back to 1919. As the AP observed, "black crepe was draped across the front and a funeral wreath was hung over the headlight."

    Shortly after 2am on Sunday, January 28, the last Capital Transit streetcar finished its run and was taken off the tracks. It was the end of an era in Washington.

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  • 02/10/14--08:40: Beatlemania Begins in DC
  • Paul McCartney and John Lennon are ushered through the crowd at Union Station on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)Paul McCartney and John Lennon are ushered through the crowd at Union Station on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)It's hard to imagine that anyone would think the Beatles might not be a big enough concert draw. But when Harry G. Lynn, owner of the old Washington Coliseum at 3rd and M streets NE, was approached by local radio station WWDC in late 1963 about the possibility of booking the then-nascent British pop music sensations for their debut U.S. concert on Feb. 11, 1964,  he wasn't convinced that he would be able to sell the 8,000-plus tickets that it would take to fill his arena. That's why Lynn reportedly insisted upon hedging his bet by booking several other acts — the Caravelles, Tommy Roe and the Chiffons.

    Lynn's worries, of course, were unnecessary. After Lynn — who was notoriously tight with a buck — placed a small ad in the Washington Post about a month before performance, it sold out in about a week. The priciest tickets were just $4, about $30 in today's dollars.

    On the morning of February 11, the Beatles — who were coming off a sensational nationally-televised performance on The Ed Sullivan Show two days before — boarded a train in New York and rode south to Washington. (A snowstorm led them to change their original plan to fly in to National Airport.) As Washington Post journalist Jerry Doolittle reported at the time, the group traveled in style, in an old Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac sleeper car named the King George. They were accompanied by filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, whose employer, British independent TV production company Granada, had convinced Beatles manager Brian Epstein to let them make an intimate documentary of the group's U.S. visit.  Some of the footage shot by the Maysles shows John Lennon roaming the train's hallway, and Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney good-naturedly chatting with the children of the train's other passengers.

    At 3:09 p.m., about 20 minutes behind schedule, the King George rolled to a stop inside Union Station.  District police inspector John S. Hughes stepped inside to usher the Beatles off the train. "It's great being here in New York!" Ringo quipped, feigning confusion as he emerged.  Undoubtedly to the Beatles' surprise, the platform contained only a cadre of reporters and a quartet of teens recruited by WWDC to hold a welcome banner. Police, wary of the sort of creaming mob that the Beatles attracted at New York's LaGuardia airport, had cordoned off the gate. They'd ignored the pleas of 2,000 or so fans who'd been waiting for the group, and herded them out to the concourse. ("You can't throw her out," one girl reportedly moaned to police as they pushed back her friend. "She's the president of the Beatles Fan Club.") Nevertheless, when the Beatles' youthful devotees spotted the train, they led out what Doolittle described as "the gold-plated, all-wool, guaranteed shriek of the adolater." The crowd pressed in, and teenagers formed "a twisting, hopping frieze of adulation" around the group as promoter Lynn guided them into limousines that ferried them to the Coliseum, about three blocks away, to do the setup and sound check for the evening show.

    The Beatles give a brief press conference before their show at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)The Beatles give a brief press conference before their show at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell) After the sound check, the group posed for this picture with the U.S. Capitol in the background, and then went to the Shoreham Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW, where the entire seventh floor had been booked to give them some privacy. Lennon reportedly scribbled the evening's song list on hotel stationery. Then it was back to the Coliseum, for a press conference with the local news media and radio DJs. Doolittle wrote that the Beatles "conducted themselves with an aplomb that bordered on total relaxation." When asked if any of the group's members had formal musical training, for example, Lennon playfully reposted, "You're joking!" They also had a brief conversation with Marsha Albert, a teenage girl from Silver Spring who had written to WWDC DJ Carroll James and urged him to play "She Loves You" in December 1963, after she heard a snippet of it in an Walter Cronkite segment on Beatlemania in Great Britain.

    WWDC radio DJ Carroll James with the Beatles in Washington. (Photo credit: George McCloskey)WWDC radio DJ Carroll James with the Beatles in Washington. (Photo credit: George McCloskey) In addition to the scheduled opening acts, Jay and the Americans and the Righteous Brothers were added to the bill. But each act was limited to just two numbers. As Roe recalled in a 2010 Washington Post article: "The marquee didn’t say anything about the other acts. It just said 'The Beatles.' It was all about them. But I wasn’t offended. That’s just the way it worked. I was there to do my two songs and then get off the stage."

    At a little past 8:30 p.m., the Beatles took the stage. We'll give you more on their performance in an upcoming post.

     

     

     

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  • 02/11/14--09:02: The Beatles Storm Washington
  • The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell) In a previous post, we looked at the prelude to the Beatles' first-ever concert in the U.S. on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum.  Here's more of what happened on that historic evening.

    The Fab Four took the stage at a little past 8:30 p.m., clad "in tight gray suits with black Chesterfield collars," as an Associated Press account detailed. The crowd of around 8,000 fans was the biggest audience that they'd ever faced. "We'd only been used to 2,000 at home," as Ringo Starr later recalled to biographer Hunter Davies.

    Oddly, the Washington news media doesn't seem to have paid much attention to the actual concert, covering only the Beatles' arrival and what they did afterward. But according to a 2004 retrospective by Washington Post music writer Richard Harrington, Beatle fans' reputation for raucous, frenzied enthusiasm apparently had made an impression upon the District police. Just as they'd cordoned off the Union Station platform where the Beatles' train had arrived that afternoon, they formed a phalanx that escorted the band onstage. During the show, 30 officers ringed the stage itself. "At least one stuck a pair of .38 caliber bullets in his ears for plugs," Harrington recounted.

    And that ear protection came in handy. As Washington DJ Carroll James introduced the quarter that he hailed as "the world's most exciting group," the audience erupted into a deafening, high-pitched cacophony. 

    The Beatles at the Washington Coliseum, 1964

    • Ringo's drum set on the unique rotating platform designed to accommodate the ring-style seating plan. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      Ringo's drum set on the unique rotating platform designed to accommodate the ring-style seating plan. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • George Harrison opened the show with a Chuck Berry cover, "Roll Over Beethoven." Harrison was forced to switch mike stands as he sang the lead vocal, due to an apparent glitch in the sound system. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      George Harrison opened the show with a Chuck Berry cover, "Roll Over Beethoven." Harrison was forced to switch mike stands as he sang the lead vocal, due to an apparent glitch in the sound system. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • Ringo Starr sings "I Wanna Be Your Man" at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      Ringo Starr sings "I Wanna Be Your Man" at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • Composite image of Paul McCartney and John Lennon at the Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      Composite image of Paul McCartney and John Lennon at the Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • John Lennon at The Beatles' first U.S. concert, Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      John Lennon at The Beatles' first U.S. concert, Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • Paul and John shared lead vocals on several of the songs at the Washington Coliseum concert (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      Paul and John shared lead vocals on several of the songs at the Washington Coliseum concert (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
    • John Lennon and Ringo Starr underneath the lights at the Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)
      John Lennon and Ringo Starr underneath the lights at the Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)

    "I have no idea what they sounded like," one of the attendees, local high-school student Lee McGavin, recalled in this memoir." From the moment they stepped on stage, the shrieks from the audience drowned out rational thought, let alone the sound system. I may have heard three or four bars of their performance when the throbbing audience was in danger of passing into unconsciousness from hyperventilating and those convinced me that it really was the Beatles."

    In the film footage of the performance, the Beatles and stagehands tinker with their gear for a few minutes before launching into "Roll Over Beethoven," a Chuck Berry cover, with George Harrison switching mike stands as he sang the lead vocal, due to an apparent glitch in the sound system.

    As Harrington's account details, the Beatles were hampered throughout by their underpowered sound system — three tiny Vox amplifiers and two microphones — and by the stage, which was set up like a boxing ring in the center of the Coliseum. "That was the first time we’d ever played in the round," as Paul McCartney recalled in a 2010 Washington Post article. "We said: 'Do we have to do it?''Yeah. We’ve sold tickets everywhere. You’ll have to turn around.''How the hell are we doing to do that?''Well, just do a few numbers east then shuffle around north. Then do a few numbers north and shuffle around west.' We said: 'What’s Ringo doing to do?'" Starr's drum kit was mounted on a shaky riser, which the stage crew had to rotate by hand.

    The changing positions presented another hazard to the Beatles. Their fans, who'd apparently read newspaper stories in which Lennon had joked that Harrison had eaten all of Lennon's jelly beans, pelted Harrison with the candies from every angle. As Harrison later recalled to Davies: "It was terrible. They hurt. They don't have soft jelly babies in America, but hard jellybeans like bullets." In addition, according the the AP, the audience threw "peanuts, combs and anything else that readily came to hand."

    After "From Me to You," Paul McCartney invited the audience to "clap your hands, you know, and stamp your feet" to the next number, "I Saw Her Standing There." 

    The rest of the set consisted of  "This Boy,""All My Loving,""I Wanna Be Your Man,""Please Please Me,""'Till There Was You,""She Loves You,""I Want to Hold Your Hand,""Twist and Shout," and a cover of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." 

    As McCartney later recalled: "I don’t remember thinking we played particularly well. But looking back, time has been very kind to us. It was a cool gig."

    After the show, the group headed to an event at the British Embassy, where things proceeded to get, well, a little bizarre. More on that in an upcoming post.

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    The cold weather wasn't the only thing that was uncomfortable when the Beatles visited the British Embassy on February 11, 1964. (Photo by Flickr user UKinUSA. Used under Creative Commons attribution license.)The cold weather wasn't the only thing that was uncomfortable when the Beatles visited the British Embassy on February 11, 1964. (Photo by Flickr user UKinUSA. Used under Creative Commons attribution license.) In previous posts, we described the arrival of the Beatles in Washington on the afternoon of February 11, 1964--two days after their famous nationwide TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York--and their performance that evening at the Washington Coliseum, which was the first live public concert by the group in the U.S.  

    But even after the Beatles finished their 12-song set to the screaming approval of a teenaged crowd that included future U.S. Senator and Vice-President Al Gore, the evening was still young.  In those days, Washington, not known for its nightlife, didn't have an equivalent to New York's swinging Peppermint Lounge, where the Beatles had spent a wild evening prior to their Ed Sullivan appearance.  And since President Johnson didn't invite them to the dance he was hosting that night in the White House's East Ballroom,  the group had to accept the next best offer. They rushed off in limousines to the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW, for a charity ball. 

    As George Harrison later told biographer Hunter Davies, it was not an event that they cared to attend. While in Paris, for example, they had turned down a previous diplomatic dinner invitation from Lady Dixon, wife of the British ambassador to France. "We always tried to get out of those crap things," Harrison said. "But that time [in Washington] we got caught. They are always full of snobby people who really loathe our type, but want to see us because we're rich and famous. It's all hypocrisy. They were just trying to get publicity for the embassy."

    The event was a dance to raise money for something called Junior Village and also for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a pet cause of the British ambassador's wife, Lady Ormsby Gore. Washington Post reporter Judith Martin-who eventually would become better known as syndicated advice columnist Miss Manners--was on hand. Her dispatch described how police ringed the embassy to keep out hordes of teenaged Beatles fans, as the embassy's party-goers crowded expectantly around the stairway. Finally, embassy press secretary Frank Mitchell announced: "Attention, the Beatles are now approaching the area."

    When the Beatles came into the embassy, followed by Lady Ormsby Gore, the diplomats and their elegant guests abruptly abandoned their usual decorum. Instead, as Martin reported, they "shrieked, squealed, pushed and kicked each other to get a look at what one stately diplomatic wife termed 'those darling little baby boys.'"

    The Fab Four were taken aback, but one of them--Martin, who apparently at the time couldn't tell them apart, doesn't specify, but we're guessing it may have been John Lennon--quickly bounced back with a quip. "Please don't throw jelly beans," the unidentified Beatle said. "Throw peppermint creams. They're softer when they hit." The group proceeded to make silly faces at the assemblange. 

    According to Beatles biographer Davies, the ambassador, Sir David Ormsby-Gore, greeted Lennon with "Hello, John."

    Lennon, apparently feeling his oats, decided to pull a prank on the ambassador. "I'm not John," he explained. "I'm Charlie. That's John." He directed the ambassador toward Harrison.

    "Hello, John," the ambassador said to Harrison.

    "I'm not John," Harrison replied, joining in on the gag. "I'm Frank."

    "Oh dear," the ambassador said.

    From there, however, things started to go downhill. According to Davies, several elderly female guests, drinks in hand, accosted the Beatles and demanded autographs, and junior officials started ordering them around, insisting that they oblige. "Sign this," one said to Lennon, who declined. "You'll sign this and like it."

    Then, a young woman guest snuck up on Ringo Starr, removed a pair of nail scissors from her purse, and to his shock, started snipping locks of his hair.

    Lennon left early, according to Davies, but Harrison, Starr and Paul McCartney bravely stuck it out a little longer. The ambassador and his wife, who'd been embarrassed by the crowd's behavior, told the group how sorry they were. It didn't do much good. "The Beatles loathed that reception," manager Brian Epstein said afterward. From then on, they refused all invitations to such events. 

    The next day, the Beatles returned to New York to prepare for their concert at Carnegie Hall.  They would return to Washington on August 15, 1966, for a concert at District of Columbia Stadium, which several years later would be renamed to honor the slain U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. 

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    Texas Western's NCAA Championship victory over all-white Kentucky at Cole Field House in 1966 went way beyond sports. (Photo source: El Paso Times)Texas Western's NCAA Championship victory over all-white Kentucky at Cole Field House in 1966 went way beyond sports. (Photo source: El Paso Times) Nowadays the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four is played in huge football stadiums that can seat 50,000 or more fans. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the games took place in much smaller, on-campus arenas and the media coverage was paltry compared to what we see now. Such was the case in 1966, when the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House hosted college basketball’s final weekend.

    The event was a tough ticket, with some enterprising Maryland students selling ticket books with admission to all the games for as much as (!) $50.[1] For hard core basketball fans, that was a good deal since the Final Four was not carried on a major television network, though the championship game was shown locally on WMAL-TV, Channel 7. Not quite the March Madness multimedia blitz that we are used to seeing today.

    (A quick aside: The tournament didn’t have a catchy monkiker back then. In fact, the phrase “March Madness” wouldn’t come into the popular lexicon until the 1980s, when CBS Sports and the NCAA started using it, much to the chagrin of the Illinois High School Association.)

    The 1966 championship game matchup was intriguing. On one side were the University of Kentucky Wildcats, coached by legendary Adolph Rupp, rich with basketball tradition – a true college basketball blueblood. On the other were the Texas Western College Miners, a relatively unknown team from El Paso with a young upstart coach named Don Haskins, and a campus better known for its remote location than the trophies in its trophy case.

    Most sportswriters predicted that Kentucky would win. (The Washington Post even suggested that the game would be anti-climatic in comparison to Kentucky's semifinal matchup against Duke, since many saw them as the two best teams in college basketball.)[2] The Wildcats, after all, held a #1 ranking and boasted a high scoring, fast breaking, offense. Texas Western was a bigger team with a much more methodical style of play.

    But the differing styles and traditions of the two teams were not the most significant contrasts on display. Something else separated the two schools even more.

    Race.

    Kentucky’s squad (like many teams from the South during that era) was entirely white. Seven out of twelve Texas Western players – including all five starters – were black. It was the first time a team had started five African American players in a championship game. In fact, Texas Western had become the first team to start five blacks in any game, when Coach Haskins began doing so earlier in the season.

    For the times, that fact was significant. As Frank Fitzpatrick wrote in a retrospective article for ESPN, “In 1966, American cultural and sporting mythology insisted at least one white starter was necessary for success. Black athletes, prevailing wisdom implied, needed the steadying hand of a white teammate. Otherwise, games would dissolve into chaos.”[3] Divergence from this recipe often garnered a stiff response from fans and university officials.

    The 1966 championship game at Cole would go a long way toward changing this conventional “wisdom.” As some in the nearly all white crowd waived confederate flags and the Kentucky band played Dixie, Texas Western shut down the Wildcats’ highly touted offense. The Miners held Kentucky to 38% shooting and won the game 72-65.

    For African Americans, Texas Western’s championship was followed with dual joy and uncertainty—a recognition that a significant achievement had been made but the fear that the white response would undermine it. Perry Wallace, who became the first black scholarship athlete in the Southeastern Conference the following year, put it this way: “Texas Western broke open the old safe rules that teams had always worked under, these self imposed restrictions about how many blacks you could have on your team…. After the game, we all knew something had happened. It was clearly a watershed. But, while we were all so excited, we were still a little unsure of what it meant. What was going to happen? Would they [whites] let it continue?”[4]

    As it turned out, yes. The game demonstrated to white coaches and administrators that they could not continue to exclude talented black players and expect to win. Sport Illustrated’s Frank Deford had prophesized as much in 1965: “The pressure on those that are holding out for sporting segregation is likely to become irresistible as soon as they are regularly whupped by their integrated neighbors.”[5]

    The next year every conference in the South was integrated, including Kentucky’s own SEC and the number of black athletes increased dramatically in subsequent years.[6] (Kentucky’s basketball team would remain all white until 1970 as Adolph Rupp was notoriously slow to embrace integration.) By 1976, ten years after Texas Western’s championship season, over half of the basketball players in the SEC were African American.[7]

    It’s probably short sighted to say that one game did all that – obviously there were larger forces at work during the Civil Rights movement. However, that March evening at Cole Field House played a significant role in the transformation of college athletics. Former NBA player and coach Pat Riley, who played on the 1966 Kentucky team, even called the game "The Emancipation Proclamation of College Basketball."

    For more on the game and its impacts on the Civil Rights movement, check out this wonderful video some local students put together for the Maryland State History Day competition. And, be sure to watch (or re-watch!) the Hollywood film, Glory Road.



    [1] Minot, George, “Kentucky Pick Over Duke Tonight. Utah, Texas Western Clash in the Other Semifinal Here,” Washington Post, 18 Mar 1966: C1.

    [2] Minot, C1.

    [3] Frank Fitzpatrick, “Texas Western’s 1966 title left lasting legacy,” Special to ESPN Classic. 19 Nov 2003. Accessed 19 March 2014.

    [4] Fitzpatrick, Frank. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Kentucky, Texas Western and the Game that Changed American Sports. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. 22.

    [5] Deford, Frank. “The Negro Athlete is Invited Home,” Sports Illustrated, 14 Jun 1965, 26.

    [6] Fitzpatrick, Frank. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Kentucky, Texas Western and the Game that Changed American Sports. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. 28.

    [7] Joan Paul, Richard V. McGhee and Helen Fant, “The Arrival and Ascendence of Black Athletes in the Southeastern Conference, 1966-1980,” Phylon 45 (1984): 289.

     

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