How Chinese Is Chinatown DC?

Chinatown DC Chinese New Year

When Chinatown is at its most Chinese — Chinese New Year, January 2012 (Photo By: heydayjoe)

What’s in a place name anyway? If you’ve ever been to Germantown, Md., you’ve probably noticed that it’s not all beer halls, lederhosen and St. Pauli girls. But when you think of Chinatown DC, you expect something authentically Chinese, right? Shiny arches. Red lanterns. Dim sum. Lychee nuts. A Buddhist temple or a dragon-infested arch. DC’s Chinatown has some of these—Chinese restaurants, a handful of souvenir shops and even a traditional Chinese gate—but it also has a major-league sports arena, a Hooters, an Ann Taylor Loft and a Bed Bath and Beyond. And despite the inclusion of Chinese names on all the shop signs, Chinatown still falls short on one key measure of authenticity—Chinese residents. It wasn’t always that way though.

The first Chinese immigrant arrived in Washington City in 1851. Many Chinese had moved east to escape the violence perpetrated against them in the West, but upon arriving in our nation’s capital, they found they weren’t exactly welcomed here either. Racism was rampant, and its power coalesced here in DC.

Chinatown-Chinese-Exclusion-Poster-DCIn 1877, a joint special committee of the Senate and House of Representatives released a report on the “character, extent and effect of Chinese immigration.” It contained the following testimonial:

“The burden of our accusation against them is that they come in conflict with our labor interests; that they can never assimilate with us; that they are a perpetual, unchanging, and unchangeable alien element that can never become homogeneous; that their civilization is demoralizing and degrading to our people; that they degrade and dishonor labor; that they can never become citizens, and that an alien, degraded labor class, without any desire of citizenship, without education, and without interest in the country it inhabits, is an element both demoralizing and dangerous to the community within which it exists.”

Soapine ad

A late 1800s ad for Soapine, produced by the Kendall Manufacturing Company of Providence, R.I.

White folks must have been easily demoralized back then, although they certainly had no problem with using Chinese laundrymen or eating Chinese food. As still happens today, fear of the “other” and concerns about “racial purity” ruled the day. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting any new immigration from China and barring the Chinese who were already here from ever becoming U.S. citizens. This marked the first time in American history that the U.S. restricted immigration based explicitly on race. (The Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until the Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943!)

Chinatowns in America were extreme forms of racial segregation created in response to congressionally mandated racism. So it was that Chinatowns came into existence not out of collective pride in Chinese heritage, but for group safety. As they had on the West Coast, the Chinese congregated in part to repel anti-Chinese attacks.

Washington, DC’s original Chinatown took shape in the 1880s on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 3rd and 7th streets NW. Pennsylvania Avenue was a major commercial hub at the time, catering to Congress members and other VIPs. Greeks and Italians ran most of the nearby businesses, hotels and restaurants, but the Chinese did have some shops in the area, mostly laundries.

Excluded from not only neighborhoods, but also many trades, the Chinese had turned to the service industry, taking on work that was deemed undesirable by whites and that required little training and capital. In DC, this work included groceries, restaurants and laundries. In 1881, the DC Directory listed four Chinese laundries. A decade later, this number had grown to about 40.

Chinatown DC Pennsylvania Ave

Commercial buildings along the south side of Pennsylvania Ave., including the Nam Kee and Hop Sing laundries, circa 1890 (Courtesy of Washingtonia Division, DC Public Library – Photo By: L.C. Handy)

The Chinese were seen mostly as quiet and law-abiding, but their rights were still limited. In 1929, the feds kicked out the entire population of Chinatown to build the cultural and government buildings known as Federal Triangle.

The displaced Chinese residents and businesses were resilient though. In 1931, nearly 400 of the Pennsylvania Avenue Chinese moved several blocks north to H Street NW, between 5th and 7th streets. The area’s white residents and businesses opposed the mass relocation and launched a petition to prevent the migration. It failed, and DC’s Chinese had a new Chinatown.

Germans had originally populated the H Street NW site (it’s still home to the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut), but the name Germantown never really caught on, and the Germans had left well before the Chinese arrived on the scene. By 1936, 800 Chinese lived in the new Chinatown.

Chinatown DC pagoda phone

Bring back the pagoda phones! In 1981, there were two pagoda telephone booths in Chinatown on the northeast corner of 7th & H streets NW. (Courtesy of the Washington Post – Photo By: Tim Dillon)

For a few decades, the re-established Chinatown developed a thriving cultural community. Then came the 1968 race riots. Although many of the businesses north of Chinatown were torched and looted, Chinatown was untouched. The neighborhood, however, suffered from its proximity to the rioting, and businesses suffered along with it. Most of Chinatown’s Chinese followed their German predecessors out to the suburbs.

By the mid-1970s, Chinatown had so little Chinese flavor that when the city opened a Metro station in the heart of the neighborhood, it was called Gallery Place (for its proximity to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery), with no mention of Chinatown. By the late ’80s, only a quarter of all Chinatown businesses were Chinese owned.

So how do you reinvigorate a disappearing Chinatown when all the Chinese have left? You make it look like a Chinatown.

Foreseeing the threat of a complete disappearance of Chinatown in our nation’s capital, the remaining local Chinese community took action. With some funding from the feds, they built the Wah Luck House, an affordable housing complex for low-income Chinese residents. It was a good start but not much of a tourist destination. So the community pushed for the creation of some sort of visible attraction, like an archway, that would draw visitors to Chinatown. Mayor Marion Barry sprang into action. In 1984, he helped establish Beijing and DC as sister cities, and the Friendship Arch, a traditional Chinese gate, was dedicated by Barry and the mayor of Beijing in 1986. This dazzling $1 million work of public art includes seven roofs up to 60 feet high, 7,000 glazed tiles and 272 painted dragons.

Chinatown DC arch construction

Looking east at construction of the Chinatown Friendship Archway in 1989. To the right of the arch is a parking lot that today is the site of Gallery Place. (Courtesy of Zinnia “DC Changes” Photograph Collection)

With its 35,000 separate wooden pieces decorated with 23-karat gold, the Friendship Arch was a gleaming beacon of hope for a new Chinese presence. But the rest of Chinatown was rundown and falling apart, and soon the arch was falling apart, too. In June 1990, one of the 100-pound dragons fell off and landed on a passing soda truck. By Chinese standards, this was an ominous sign, usually portending the fall of a great emperor. Sure enough, that same night, “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry announced that he would be stepping down from office at the end of his term, following his recent arrest for possession of crack. Eight years later, the mayor of Beijing would be found guilty of corruption and forced to resign. Both mayors went to jail. And Chinatown still struggled to remain Chinese.

Chinatown Friendship Arch

There be dragons! (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Even though Chinatown now had the largest single-span Chinese archway outside of China, the neighborhood still needed a little more Chinese flavor. To preserve what was left of the character of Chinatown, local ordinances required that all signs appear in English and Chinese. A $200 million renovation in the 1990s brought in more restaurants, stores and entertainment but, ironically, most of the new businesses were national chain restaurants and stores. This created some interesting juxtapositions. Places like Hertz Rental Cars and Starbucks attempted literal translations. But the jokey racism of English names like the restaurant Wok n’ Roll transformed into “Hall of Precious Flavor.” And Chinatown Gifts became something completely different in translation: “Service Center for People Leaving the Country.”

Today, less than 15 percent of Chinatown residents are ethnic Chinese. Only a few hundred residents live in their ethnically named enclave, and most of them live at Wah Luck House. The superficial homage to Chinatown’s Chinese past lives on though, in the Chinese-character signs that grace Fuddruckers, Legal Seafoods and Urban Outfitters. Transforming a neighborhood and translating the names of its shops can be a tricky business, but even if it doesn’t promote authenticity, it adds character. For all we know, the Chinese characters on the Friendship Arch may actually say “Welcome to Germantown.”

Black Israelites DC: Hating and Berating at Gallery Place

Black Israelites outside Gallery Place in Chinatown DC

The Black Israelites want to make you cry. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

If you’ve ever walked by the corner of 7th and H streets in Chinatown on a Friday afternoon, you probably heard the amplified tub-thumpings of the Black Israelites of DC long before you saw their shoulder pads and flowing black robes. Although they may look like a gothic super-hero tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire, their ultimate vision is the impending bloody demise of whites and other enemies at the hands of a vengeful returning Christ.

The Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), Inc. (yes, they are incorporated, as a nonprofit) is a sectarian faction of the Black Israelites, whose members believe they are direct descendants of the ancient Israelites. The Black Israelites follow the teachings of the Kings James Bible and adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. The guys from ISUPK, though, are a far cry from the Judaism of Eric Cantor or Drake.

Given what these particular Black Israelites profess not to like, it’s hard to imagine what would make these radical rabbis smile. The Black Israelites hate homosexuals, “fraudulent” Jews, Asians, abortionists, promiscuous black women, Martin Luther King (“a no-good, low-life traitor”), Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, the Virgin Mary and Santa Claus. (No word on how they feel about puppies and babies.) They have a special hatred for the white man, who is believed to be evil personified and deserving of only death or slavery.

Next time you see them on the streets, you can try asking them about it (tip: bring your own megaphone). Or you can do what gay rights activist Qween Amor did. S/he tangoed with the Black Israelites at Gallery Place, foiling their bigoted bluster as a dancing David to their blow-hard Goliath.

The first time Qween Amor danced in front of the group, s/he was arrested for indecent exposure. But s/he kept coming back to dance, and the Black Israelites didn’t appear on the corner for months. Amor has since moved to New York, and the Israelites are back! You can catch their next show on any given Friday around rush hour, live and uncut, on the southeast corner of 7th & H NW. But remember, according to their preachings, God hates the sin, the sinner and this world in general — yes, that means you. Enjoy!

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”500px” height=”” background_color=”#f3e7fd” border_width=”3″ border_color=”#39006b” ]BONUS: Here’s a list of famous people that most folks think are white but that, according to the ISUPK, are actually black: Beethoven, Mozart, Shakespeare, Tom Jones and Henry VIII, to name a few.[/dropshadowbox]

Temperance Fountain: Nobody Knows How Dry It Was

Temperance Fountain DC

Located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW, the Cogswell Temperance Fountain is the only intact fountain of its kind. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Dr. Henry Cogswell often wondered why anyone would choose an alcoholic beverage over a nice cool drink of water. In his mind, the solution was simple: Build water fountains across America.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash

While most dentists rail against the harmfulness of sweets and candy, Doc Cogswell warned about the evils of distilled liquor. It makes sense if you consider that most alcohol is the adult version of candy – fermented sugar. But that wasn’t the real issue for Cogswell. A devout Christian, he felt that the ungodly temptations of alcohol were destroying not only the family, but also man’s connection to God.

To Cogswell, the choice of what to drink was simply a matter of easy access: Offer a man in search of a saloon a drink of water instead of whiskey, and he will rightly choose the healthful, thirst-quenching water. Needless to say, Cogswell was not a drinker.

Henry Cogswell

Henry Cogswell, c. 1850-52

Born in New England, Henry Daniel Cogswell began his first dentistry practice at age 26 in Providence, Rhode Island. When gold was discovered in California, he went, spending five months aboard a clipper ship before landing in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. No 49er himself, he immediately set up shop to become the first practicing dentist in San Francisco. As a teetotaling tooth-puller, he made a mint from the gold miners, often decorating their terrible teeth with gold dental fillings made from their own finds. He also pioneered the use of anesthetic chloroform in dental operations in California. (Chloroform has since been shown to be carcinogenic – it’s like laughing gas without the laughs.)

I do not believe in people being compelled, whether they wish it or not, to go into a saloon to slake their thirst.” – Dr. Henry Cogswell

Cogswell got the last laugh though. He wisely invested his dental earnings in stocks and real estate, becoming one of the first millionaires in San Francisco. He retired from dentistry and put his money to good use, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi. His real passion, though, was for curing the working classes of their drinking problem. His plan: to provide free drinking fountains in American cities, one for every 100 saloons. What the great unwashed really needed was cool clean water.

A strident supporter of Prohibition, Dr. Cogswell built his first fountains in San Francisco and then set his sights on the sinfully thirsty in the rest of the country.

His fountain at the junction of California and Market Streets [in San Francisco] was crowned by a full-length statue of the fountain-giver philanthropist until the close of the last year. On the first of the new year certain citizens found no better way of relieving the exuberance of their spirits, or of attesting their dislike of the statue as a work lacking art, than to hitch a rope about the neck of the good doctor’s image and pull it to the ground.” The New York Times, January 14, 1894

Cogswell designed his donated fountains himself, often incorporating a giant statue of himself in a frock coat, holding a cup and dispensing water to the parched masses. The recipients of Cogswell’s magnanimous gifts, however, often quenched themselves by other means and didn’t hesitate to express their true feelings about his monuments to temperance. One “silent gang of hoodlum miscreants” in San Francisco (as the San Francisco Morning Call put it) hitched a rope around the neck of the dentist’s bronze doppelganger and toppled the statue in 1894.

The residents of DC weren’t too keen on Cogswell’s monuments either, but as often happens in our nation’s capital, Congress overruled them and passed a bill in 1882 granting the dentist permission to donate the unwanted fountain. His original design for the DC fountain was, like the San Francisco monuments, topped with a statue of a man eerily similar to himself. But in DC, where statues of great men abound, that design didn’t sit well with the powers that be. Instead, the DC monument – located only blocks from the U.S. Capitol – is topped with a life-sized heron with a single reed growing next to it. (Although the heron appeared on a few cities’ fountains, others were adorned with gargoyles, frogs, pigeons, horses and sea serpents.)

Temperance Fountain heron

The bronze heron atop DC’s Temperance Fountain (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Installed in June 1884, DC’s Cogswell Temperance Fountain is located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW. Cogswell built about 15 of these anti-alcohol monuments nationwide – in Boston, Buffalo, Rochester, San Francisco – but DC’s is the last remaining intact Cogswell fountain (although restored and reconstructed fountains exist in New York City, Pawtucket, R.I., and Rockville, Conn.). For years, the monument stood squarely on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania NW, across from the Apex Liquor Store, before it was moved a half-block north. Now it stands across from a Starbucks.

Apex Liquor Store DC

Apex Liquor Store, with Temperance Fountain in front

Made of granite and bronze, the fountain was chiseled at a Connecticut foundry, with the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity” and “Temperance” cut under the stone canopy. Cogswell had patented a device to produce cool water and air from ice. Blocks of ice were placed in a sort of well around the central column, and the city pipes flowed through tube coils under the ice. In the fountain’s heyday, this ice water flowed from the mouths of two intertwined scaly dolphins, which look more like Chinese carp. A brass mug dangled by a chain, encouraging those passing by to scoop up a cup of the cool water. Below, a trough caught the runoff for thirsty horses.

Temperance Fountain fish

The fish mouth from which the cool water of the Temperance Fountain would flow (Photo By: heydayjoe)

It was probably pretty nice to have a cold cup of water during a hot DC summer in 1884, but it’s uncertain if the fountain ever worked. Soon after it was erected, the city stopped replenishing the ice altogether. In the late 1880s, the city considered connecting the fountain’s pipes to a local spring, but the spring was polluted with sewage.

Cogswell’s DC Temperance Fountain was headed for the scrap heap in the 1940s when Sen. Sheridan Downey of California introduced a Senate resolution to tear it down, calling it a “monstrosity of art.” Ulysses S. Grant III, the former president’s grandson and chair of the city’s planning commission, wanted to preserve it, calling the fountain “ugly, but interesting.” Congress ignored Downey’s resolution, and it died in committee.

In 1984, the fountain that nobody wanted in the first place was listed on the DC Downtown Historic District National Register. The pipes are no longer connected to the fountain and the ice well is, ironically, filled with discarded cups, soda bottles and other trash. Despite the abundance of public water fountains in town, the saloons of DC are still doing brisk business.

FDR and Friday the 13th

FDR friday 13thPresident Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a mild case of triskaidekaphobia — he didn’t like the number 13. He refused to travel on the 13th day of any month and would not sit down with 13 at dinner or host a dinner party with 13 guests.

FDR especially hated Friday the 13th. He would never start an important trip on a Friday, particularly the 13th. But as it turned out, Friday the 13th wasn’t out to get him after all.

FDR died on Thursday the 12th (April 12, 1945).

Union Station Roman Legionnaires: Behind the Shields

More than 90,000 visitors pass through Union Station daily and, thanks to a group of foresighted railroad officials now long dead, most of those visitors will never have to see a Roman legionnaire’s sculpted man parts.

Back in 1906, American sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens was under contract with the railroads to create a series of interior and exterior statues for the massive Union Station train depot being developed a few blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Louis was the brother of famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the bronze Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Park.

As the Roman legionnaire symbolized the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire, so these figures symbolize the far-flung ribbons of steel of the vast network of the American railroads reaching every part of the United States.” — George J. Olszewski, “Construction History of Union Station, Washington, D.C.”

For Union Station’s interior, the main sculptural theme was to be Roman legionnaires, to complement architect Daniel Burnham’s Beaux-Arts style modeled after the Roman baths. Upon official railroad approval of a plaster model to be submitted in advance, Saint-Gaudens would then complete 46 carved soldiers. Perched atop the arches over the entrances and exits of the main waiting room, these larger-than-life statues of Roman legionnaires would dutifully watch over the Union Station travelers below.

When Saint-Gaudens submitted his plaster model of the legionnaire, though, there was one small problem: You could see his package. And it wasn’t wrapped. To be clear, the soldier’s wee willy wasn’t even a proper Roman penis — more of a nubbin really. But the officials of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads were having none of it – there would be no sexy soldier legs or any other bareness beneath the belt.

Although the pants-free lifestyle was typical of the Roman legionnaire, railroad officials believed it would cause undue embarrassment for little old ladies visiting Union Station to be exposed to the towering genitalia of rock-hard Roman legionnaires. They felt Union Station was designed to be a noble transportation hub for our nation’s capital, not a giant Roman bathhouse with leering legionnaires gone commando. Louis Saint-Gaudens was urged to alter his model.

Jarrett Hendrix (@briliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire's junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Jarrett Hendrix (@brilliantartistry) takes a photo of a Roman legionnaire’s junk. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Louis tried to convince the prudish railroad officials of the architectural significance of the symbolic figures, but they were adamant that no sculpted man-bits would appear in their new train station. After many meetings (for which we wish we had the transcripts), Saint-Gaudens proposed a solution: Why not place a shield in front of the legs of each legionnaire, held by his right hand (so station travelers would know what that right hand was up to), and thus covering the objectionable hint of phallus the whole way from feet to hips, just to be sure. The railroad officials conceded that this was an adequate manhood cover, and the shields were incorporated into the final design.

The 46 legionnaires were hollow cast in plaster with a sand finish and arranged in pairs over arches. Of these, 36 appeared in the main hall: 10 facing inward from the north gates to the concourse, 10 over exits from the station and eight each on the east and west sides. Six soldiers appear under the main portico above the doors to the main hall, with four more in the west hall. In addition to these figures, Saint-Gaudens created the six enormous stone statues on the façade facing Union Station Plaza and the U.S. Capitol. The more than 50 statues he created for Union Station are considered his life’s masterwork.

Within six years of his contract, Saint-Gaudens had completed carving all of the statuary for both the interior and exterior of Union Station. He was paid $52,044.10 for his work. In 1913, the Roman legionnaire statues were set in place. That same year, Saint-Gaudens died, a victim of pneumonia. Was it Legionnaires’ disease?

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Behind the shield revealed (Photo By: heydayjoe)

BONUS: You may have noticed that all 46 Roman legionnaire statues look fairly similar in face and build. They are. The model for Saint-Gaudens’ legionnaires was Helmus Andrews, a student from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. All 46 Roman legionnaires have Helmus’ features, though we’re not sure about the nether-nubbens. According to Carol Highsmith and Ted Lamphair’s “Union Station: A Decorative History of Washington’s Grand Terminal,” Helmus visited the station nearly 50 years later and was not impressed. The statues look “pretty crummy,” he said, and he was probably right. By the 1960s, the statues were in dire need of cleaning. One was wearing a Santa hat.

To see more great behind-the-scenes photos of Union Station and the Roman legionnaires, check out the hashtag #UnionStationTour on Instagram and Twitter.

United House of Prayer Has Sweet Daddy of a Parade

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

Not to be confused with IHOP, UHOP is a big deal in DC. Bigger than all-day pancake breakfast. Big enough to have its own parade. IHOP doesn’t get its own parade.

With a dozen brass bands, gospel singers and cheerleaders for Jesus, UHOP takes the almighty word of God to the streets each year on Memorial Day weekend with its “Christian Saints” marching parade. The video below shows one of several blocks filled with church members preparing for the parade.

The United House of Prayer for All People (also known as the United House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith) – let’s call it UHOP – was founded in 1919 by “Sweet Daddy” Grace, a Cape Verdi immigrant also known as Bishop Charles Manuel Grace and born as Marcelino Manuel da Graca. Let’s call him “Sweet Daddy.”

Once a railway cook, Sweet Daddy began using the title bishop and built the first UHOP church in Wareham, Mass., for 39 bucks – ecumenical and economical. The church was incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1937, and its national headquarters is located in the Shaw neighborhood at 601 M Street NW. Members refer to the headquarters as “Sweet God’s White House.” (Its gold dome can be seen in the still for the video above.)

In addition to its renowned cafeteria, which serves inexpensive soul food, UHOP headquarters is also famous for it mass street baptisms, in which hundreds of congregants dressed in white, many wearing shower caps, are baptized by fire hose.

According to UHOP documents, the church now has between 25,000 and 50,000 members, with 145 houses of worship in 29 states.

For its annual parade, UHOP busses in congregants from all over the country. After about an hour of preparation, in which shout-band cacophony fills the streets near the church, the parade kicks off in royal fashion. Led by long columns of male church elders in black robes, UHOP’s current bishop, C.M. “Sweet Daddy” Bailey, rides in a chariot throne with members of his family.

This Is Your History … on Drugs: DEA Museum

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Musuem exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Museum exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

“By 1900, when 1 in 200 Americans was addicted, the typical addict was a white, middle-class female hooked through medical treatment. But there was also a rapidly growing new group of young, urban pleasure users.”

And it is these users who will likely enjoy the DEA Museum the most.

Located just one block north of the Pentagon City stop on DC Metro’s Yellow Line, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum & Visitors Center greets you with the friendly checkpoint security you’ve come to expect at DC’s museums, i.e., empty your pockets and step through the metal detector. (Note to stoners: We know that subtlety is not your forte, but that was your hint on what not to bring on your visit to the DEA Museum.)

The DEA Museum literally showcases its successes in the brief history of drug enforcement in the United States while inadvertently highlighting its many failures in the futile war on drugs. The combination makes for a delightful cocktail of fear and yearning.

From opium smoking in China, whence “began the modern drug pleasure culture,” to pill-popping pharm parties with the kids in suburbia, the DEA Museum has it all. The illicit drug-use story begins with the Opium Wars of 1840 and 1860, which Britain won, thereby forcing China to make opium legal. (Kudos to the Western World for once again starting something that it would spend endless years and dollars to stop.)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The narco narrative then moves to the U.S., with an array of plexiglass displays that hint at a nostalgia for the good ol’ days, when Americans used Schedule 1 and 2 drugs to alleviate every ailment known to man, woman and child – from the morphine-laced Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for teething children to Bayer Heroin, a seductive sedative for that nasty cough.

The all-ages party begins to wind down in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotic Act, a law that dictated the orderly marketing of drugs in small quantities and the physician’s right to prescribe in larger quantities. Johnny Law took this to mean that a doc could not prescribe dope to an addict to maintain his addiction. Drug addicts took this to mean no more over-the-counter highs. Lines were drawn, and the honorable tradition of federal drug law enforcement was born. In a nod to the true motive behind this governmental oversight, the first enforcement agency was the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the precursor to the IRS. It was the U.S. Treasury that would enforce the Harrison Act, and it intended to make its presence on the streets known. Every narcotics agent was issued a badge, a Thompson machine gun and a pair of hand grenades. The war on drugs had begun.**

You didn’t see no kids selling or using drugs. If a kid came around … they’d chase him away. They’d say, ‘What do you want? Get out of here! You want a lollipop or something? The kids definitely were not involved [in drugs] in the Thirties and Forties.” – New York addict, 1970s

This campaign to make our children safer against heroin tablets and cocaine toothache drops was more than just taking candy away from a baby; it was taking away baby’s narcotics. Decades would pass before kids again had such easy access to drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t appear until nearly 60 years after the Harrison Act, when it was created in 1973 as part of the Department of Justice. Although it was a direct offshoot of the DOJ’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (1968-73), its ancestors include numerous agencies created in the first half of the 20th century: Treasury’s Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Prohibition, the Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Diamonds are a druglord's best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Diamonds are a druglord’s best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each of these drug enforcement predecessors had a touch of seizure fever. Although they were all opposed to people taking drugs, none had any qualms about forcefully taking away people’s drugs – and anything else they found next to or in the same house or in the general vicinity of those drugs. Confiscated treasures on display at the DEA Museum range from a homemade honey bear bong to a full-size marijuana vending machine to the diamond-encrusted Colt .45 of drug kingpin Rafael Caro-Quintero

The DEA has even managed to obtain for display a box of twisted steel and concrete chunks from the World Trade Center. What’s the connection to drugs? Here’s your answer: Poppies grow in Afghanistan; poppies are used to make heroin; heroin production fuels terrorism; and terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Seems straightforward, right? (NOTE: None of the 9-11 terrorists were Afghani nationals, and opium production has been on the rise in Afghanistan since the U.S. occupation began in 2001.)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was "Second Ending." (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was “Second Ending.” (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Growing drugs isn’t always a profession of choice, but taking them usually is. Many have tried to enhance their personalities by devouring dope, but drug use typically doesn’t enhance your career – unless you’re an athlete, or a former DEA agent, or a musician. The intertwined story of drugs and music is much like the chicken or the egg causality dilemma: Although we don’t know which came first, there’s a long history of taking drugs to make music to take drugs to. The DEA Museum graciously provides some pleasant side effects of that medicinal medley. Here are some of the high notes:

  • “Marijuana enthusiasts of the 1920s called themselves ‘Vipers.’ Jazz music with lyrics about marijuana, known as viper music, was often played in basement clubs known as ‘tea pads.’ To listen to the Rosetta Howard & the Harlem Hamfats version of “If You’re a Viper,” click here.
  • Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow was the jazz musician who introduced marijuana to Harlem in 1929 when the drug was still legal.” He became so well known for selling weed to the jazz cats that “mezz” became slang for marijuana, a reference that is used in “If You’re a Viper.” He was also known as the “Muggles King” – “muggles” being another slang term for marijuana.
  • Kurt Cobain makes an appearance in heavy eyeliner, included in the gallery because he “shot and killed himself while high on heroin.”
  • Perhaps the greatest song featured in the museum is one created by the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Check out the video below.

Don’t forget to the visit the DEA Museum gift shop before you leave!

**According to the DEA, the “war on drugs” began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, with increased penalties for even first-time drug offenders and expanded DEA powers. By the 1990s, more than half of federal prisoners were incarcerated for federal drug violations.

Presidential Inbreeding: Are All U.S. Presidents Related?

Octopus King - the genealogy of related presidents (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Octopus King – the genealogy of related presidents (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Does anybody else wish we could be done with all Bushes, Clintons and Kennedys? No more Roosevelts, Harrisons or Adamses?

As it turns out, ruling dynasties formed by centuries of incestuous coupling aren’t just for European monarchies. Here in America, we have our own “royal” families, a certain posterity who just can’t seem to keep their posteriors away from the seat of power.

Although no U.S. president has ever been directly related to the president that he immediately follows or who immediately follows him, some have come pretty close:

  • George W. Bush (#43) was the son of George H. W. Bush (#41).
  • John Quincy Adams (#6) was the son of John Adams (#2).
  • Benjamin Harrison (#23) was the grandson of William Henry Harrison (#9).
  • James Madison (#4) and Zachary Taylor (#12) were second cousins.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (#32) was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt (#26)

The presidential bloodline runs especially deep for our longest-serving president. Genealogists have determined that FDR was related to a total of 11 presidents, five by blood or and six through marriage: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Zachary Taylor, Martin Van Buren and George Washington.

But it gets better. In 2012, a 12-year-old girl in California traced the lineage of all but one American President back to King John, who ruled England from 1166 to 1216. King John “Lackland” Plantaganet signed the Magna Carta in 1215, limiting the monarch’s power and helping form the British Parliament. According to the pre-teen, only one president was not related to King John – Martin Van Buren (#8), who has Dutch roots. (He was known as the “OK” president. Seriously.) If her research is true, it appears that all but one of the U.S. presidents are cousins. Kissing cousins. Of related royal bloodlines. Descended from European monarchs. So much for the Revolutionary War of independence

Holding Out for Some Heroes

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

On Friday, DC’s Awesome Con, a self-described “comic-con that embraces all aspects of geekdom and pop culture,” attempted to break the Guinness World Record for most assembled costume players photographed at one time. The clarion calls went out through social media, microphones and bullhorns for all superheroes (and villains) to meet at noon at the Reflecting Pool in front of the U.S. Capitol. The goal was to beat the current world record held by China’s World Joyland, the Chinese equivalent of Disneyland, which gathered 1,530 costumed characters on April 19, 2011.

There must have been a confluence of worldwide calamities yesterday, because only 237 superheroes showed up – and most of them were under four feet tall.

Heyday DC was there on the National Mall to witness this grand fizzle of a nonhistoric non-event. Click on the photos below to see some of our favorite costumed crusaders.

 

T. Rex Finds New Home in DC – Rent-Free!

    DC's resident T. rex arrives at the loading dock of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the wee hours of April 15, 2014. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

DC’s resident T. rex arrives at the loading dock of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the wee hours of April 15, 2014. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

You know that colossal T. rex skeleton that towers over you as you enter the dinosaur hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History? It’s a fake – but not for long. This morning at 5:30 a.m., a FedEx 18-wheeler pulled into the parking lot with the real skeletal remains of a genuine T. rex.

Federal Express – When your dinosaur absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

For the first time since the dinosaur hall opened in 1911, the Museum of Natural History will have a bona fide Tyrannosaurus rex gracing its space. This 38-foot long, 7-ton T. rex is on loan to the Smithsonian Institution for 50 years, and we owe its discovery to a Montana woman out camping with her family.

The first bones of DC’s new T. rex were discovered in 1988 by Kathy Wankel, a rancher who found the dinosaur’s arm bones near the Fort Peck Reservoir in northeast Montana, on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Christened the Wankel T. rex, the dinosaur was kept by the Corps at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman for nearly 20 years until it was packed up and shipped to DC.

Shipping a T. rex isn’t as hard as it may sound. In some ways, it’s like sending a care package to college. Wrap it up, put it in a box and toss the box onto a truck. Only this care package nixed the bubble wrap in favor of custom-molded plaster cradles. And it came in 16 crates in a customized FedEx truck driven by a husband and wife team. The couple left Bozeman in a 53-foot-long semi on April 11 for the more than 2,000-mile trip – and arrived on time.

Time to unload the dinosaur (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Time to unpack the dinosaur (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Back in 1997, the Museum of Natural History was on the verge of getting a real T. rex — a dino named Sue. Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, was to be auctioned by Sotheby’s to the highest bidder. The Smithsonian thought it belonged in its dinosaur collection. To bring Sue home to DC, the world’s most-visited natural history museum was prepared to spend $2.5 million. It wasn’t nearly enough. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago drastically outbid the Smithsonian, spending $8.3 million to bring Sue home to Chicago, where the 67-million-year-old remains the star attraction, drawing more than 6.5 million visitors.

Some assembly required -- eat your heart out, Ikea. Yes, this T. rex would eat your heart out, Ikea. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED — just like Ikea! (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Since that fated auction, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has been looking for an alternative T. rex to complete its collection – until now. To make room for the big guy, the dinosaur hall will close on April 28 for a five-year renovation. When the hall reopens in 2019, the Wankel T. rex is set to be the centerpiece of a new paleontology exhibit that will showcase the giant carnivore like never before.

Now that will be something you can sink your teeth into…

[DINOSAUR BONUS: The Ohio State University marching band does a great T. rex impression. To see the beast in action, scroll to the 1:30 mark in the video below.]