Another White Winter in Washington

Today, D.C. is digging out from its first snowfall of the year. We got about 4”- a bit more than expected- and it’s created havoc for schools, roads, and airports. Yes, yes, Washingtonians are called wimpy when it comes to dealing with snow. I personally think cancelling everything to stay home with hot chocolate and Netflix is a perfect way to deal with it, but that only adds fuel to the reputation.

I figure this was a good time to share some terrific photos of Washington during the snowstorm of January 1922. The city registered 28” of snow between January 27th &28th. These great pictures showing a heartier generation ice skating by the Lincoln Memorial, commuting through snowdrifts, and slogging down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the Old Post Office are from the Harris & Ewing collection at the Library of Congress.

 

This was also called the Knickerbocker Storm. On Saturday evening, January 28th, just after 9pm, over 400 people were gathered to watch the silent film Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford at the Knickerbocker Theater in Adams Morgan. During intermission, the roof split in the middle, crashing through the balcony, and flattening portions of the brick walls onto the audience and musicians working in the orchestra (including Joseph Beal, the first violinist- and WWI veteran- who had been married just 3 days earlier). Ninety-eight people died in the collapse and 133 were injured. Rescue efforts were hampered by snow drifts up to 16 feet high.

 

web snow collpase jpg

 

Documentary filmmaker Jeff Krulik included this newsreel footage of the disaster in his film Twenty-Five Cents Before Noon:

 

For more info on the Knickerbocker:

A 2008 Washington Post article on the collapse: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang/2008/01/the_great_knickerbocker_snowst_1.html

 

Lyman v. Knickerbocker Theatre Co., a case brought against the theater by the estate of one of the victims:

https://casetext.com/case/lyman-v-knickerbocker-theatre-co

 

 

History of New Year’s Eve In Times Square

Manhattan’s Times Square is now packed with people almost every day of the year. The pedestrian plaza, created in 2009 but permanently and officially opened in 2013, has become one of New York City’s biggest tourist attractions. It draws an estimated 39 million people a year. If you’re trying to maneuver your way through the area, it often feels like it draws over 39 million people a DAY.

website Times sq plzawebsite ny eve times sq

I’m not a fan. But I’ll save that diatribe for another post.

As New Year’s Eve approaches and more than one million semi-sober partiers flock to watch the ball drop in Times Square, it’s more fun to take a quick look at how the tradition got its start. In 1904, about 110 years before questionably legitimate cartoon characters started aggressively charging families for a photo, Longacre Square was renamed for the opening of the New York Times distinctive new headquarters. That same year a New Year’s Eve tradition was born.

website ny times bldg front

 

This great video shows how the celebrations evolved over the years:

 

 

For some interesting additional info, check out:

A Curbed NY article on how NYC has become more pedestrian friendly over the last 25 years:

http://ny.curbed.com/tags/pedestrian-plazas

 

A NY Times piece on “The Lives Behind Times Square Cartoon Characters”:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/nyregion/the-lives-behind-times-square-cartoon-characters.html?_r=0

 

A longer history of Times Square as the entertainment center of NYC via the New York Architecture site:

http://www.nyc-architecture.com/MID/MID-TimesSquare3.htm

Scandalous Washington

Here’s my first video in the Scandalous Washington series. They’re based on talks I created and give in D.C.

The nation’s capital is almost as famous for its scandals as it is for its politics. Using some of Washington’s most notorious public scandals- including suicide, murder, slavery, spies, and riots- I’ll explore over 200 years of the city’s rich and colorful history.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Shakespeare on the Potomac

Considering that the Folger Shakespeare Theatre combines two of my favorite things- history and theater- I can’t believe  that it took me this long to make my way to this brilliant time warp on Capitol Hill. Outside of the Globe in London (which is a giddy pleasure to any theater nerd- check it out at http://www.shakespearesglobe.com ), the Theatre’s intimate half-timbered stage with dark wood paneling and tiered balconies is probably the closest I’m going to get to feeling transported back to an Elizabethan playhouse.

The Elizabethan Theatre

The Theatre opened in 1932 as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Yes, really, the largest in the world- over 275,000 books. There’s a great new biography about Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, who spent their lives and money carefully collecting manuscripts and founding the library (you can read a review of Collecting Shakespeare here: http://goo.gl/P65Dyn). It’s a mecca for Elizabethan and Renaissance scholars, but just sitting in the gorgeous theatre brings the history of the period alive in a much more visceral experience.

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Joseph Marcell as King Lear

In a perfect confluence of theatrical form following function, I saw King Lear starring Joseph Marcell (the butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air- yup, he always seemed more talented than his sitcom material). It’s a traveling production that originated at the Globe. It’s a fantastic and energetic performance, and I’m certainly not an expert on Shakespeare in general or King Lear in particular, but I found a few of the character and interpretative choices questionable.

Some of the actors came out before curtain to interact with the audience. I guess it’s supposed to be inclusive and make us feel like we’re getting a behind-the-scenes peak into the magic of performing or something. But I always find that awkward. I don’t want to make small talk with a bubbly, cheerful working actress. I want to enjoy a ruthless, cold-hearted Reagan. On stage. Not leaning over my lap.

Using a small number of actors in double, triple or even quadruple roles also made it momentarily distracting as I tried to recall which character was supposed to be speaking. And one scene in which the actor playing both Edmund and Oswald runs back and forth across the stage putting on and removing a hat emphasized the gimmick over the content.

However, the most jarring creative choice of the show was the addition of music between scenes or as interludes. Since the play is over 400 years old, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it ends badly for Lear and his family. Most of the main characters lay dead on the stage. Instead of giving the audience time to feel the impact of the story- the heartbreakingly empty victory of the remaining loyal and just characters- the actors slowly and dramatically rise and… break out in an Irish jig! It’s entertaining but disconcerting. It didn’t feel right to walk out of Lear cheerfully humming.

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Decorative freeze of King Lear on the outside of the Shakespeare Folger Library

 

It’s not a subtle, nuanced interpretation. Most scenes are played at a fever pitch that can often become shrill and generates lots of sustained shouting (which led to lots of inadvertent spitting by the actors making me glad I was not sitting closer to the stage).

For all that nitpicking, I thought this was a terrific production with an excellent cast (Bethan Cullinane’s Fool and Alex Mugnaioni’s Edgar/Duke of Cornwall were especially compelling).

It’s worth a trip to the Folger Theatre even if you can’t handle the thought of sitting through a Shakespeare play. Either take a tour to see the space (as well as the library and garden) or buy tickets to one of the other plays, concerts, lectures or festivals offered throughout the year (http://www.folger.edu/whatson.cfm). I finally found my way to this unlikely Elizabethan oasis across from the Capitol and will definitely be back.

 

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