It’s a transient town that also has communities with deep roots. It’s a center of extreme wealth, but also lives with the legacy of segregation and extreme poverty.
John F. Kennedy summed up D.C.’s dual nature nicely, declaring that it had all the charm of the North and the efficiency of the South. This oft-repeated quote is a dependable cheap laugh on a tour, but there is a ring of truth in it. Visitors and residents alike are constantly complaining about what this artificially created city does or doesn’t have.What the District does have in abundance is history.
What other city can you visit where you’re constantly treading the same ground as almost all of the nation’s great history makers? From Thomas Jefferson to Frederick Douglass, from Abraham Lincoln to Duke Ellington, from Teddy Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. – they’ve all visited or lived here at one time or another.
The meticulously laid-out streets, avenues, and neighborhoods also hold personal history for the generations of regular people who have called this city home. Without a doubt, Washington is America’s pre-eminent historic district.
But history can be a hard thing to convey in such a transient kind of place. True Washingtonians are an increasingly rare breed. Millions more come and go each year, drawn by work or politics, to protest or to rally, or for museums and memorials on vacations or obligatory school trips.
Even for those of us who stay, we’re often oblivious to the history beneath our feet. Much of it has disappeared as the city has rebuilt and reinvented itself over the years. But much of it is still there if you know where to look, and we add our own layers each and every day.
I hope this blog conveys a little bit of that history for visitors and residents alike.
We’ll rummage through old photographs of familiar and vanished places, explore the city’s countless memorials and statues, and traipse through neighborhoods in all four of its quadrants.
We’ll learn about the people who’ve lived and died here, their triumphs and their scandals, and we’ll sort through fiction and often-stranger fact.
It should be a fun ride.
And just like on my tours, I welcome your question, comments, and (hopefully rare) corrections.