|Frederick Douglass, c. 1880 (Source: Library of Congress).|
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895), the most famous African American of the 19th century, has been in the news lately because his statue is to be added to or near Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building to represent the District of Columbia. It's a notable and long overdue recognition for both Douglass and the District.
Douglass, as is well known, was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, escaped as a young man in 1838, and fled to New York, where he became passionately involved in the abolitionist movement. When his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was published in 1845 it became a bestseller. White people marveled that a black man and former slave could write so eloquently, and they were even more astonished when they heard him speak. Douglass became a powerful civil rights advocate and the embodiment of all that African Americans could achieve in the face of truly daunting adversity.
at 8:47 AM
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Washington has had many notable seafood restaurants, including many oyster houses. In the 19th century, Chesapeake Bay oysters were abundant and cheap, constituting possibly the most common food item consumed in public cafés and eating houses. The most famous oyster restaurant in Washington's history was undoubtedly Harvey's, which began before the Civil War and for many years stood just east of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, Harvey's wasn't the only prominent oyster house, and today's postcard highlights another venerable favorite from the early decades of the 20th century.
at 9:00 AM
Monday, September 10, 2012
In addition to the big hotels like the Willard and the Arlington, smaller boutique hotels were very popular among the rich and powerful in late 19th-century Washington, both as places to stay and for their elegant dining rooms. One of the most notable of these was run by James Wormley (1819-1884), an African American who was truly an exceptional individual in the city's history. Wormley had an unusual dexterity in navigating the disconnected worlds of whites and blacks in 19th century Washington. He opened his first catering business in the 1500 block of I Street NW in the 1850s and rapidly became very successful. The English writer Anthony Trollope stayed at Wormley’s in 1861 and offered these observations on Wormley’s skills as a host:
I put up at one of the lodging houses of Mr. Wormley, a colored man, in H Street, to whose attention I can recommend any Englishman who may chance to want quarters in Washington…. My landlord told me that he was sorry I was going. Would I not remain? Would I come back to him? Had I been comfortable? Only for so and so or so and so, he would have done better for me. No white American citizen, occupying the position of landlord, would have condescended to such confortable words. I knew the man did not in truth want me to stay, as a lady and gentleman were waiting to go in the moment I went out, but I did not the less value the assurance.
at 8:18 PM
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The story of S. Kann, Sons & Co., once Washington’s second largest department store behind Woodward & Lothrop, begins just north of us in Baltimore. There a German immigrant named Solomon Kann (1836-1908) opened a clothing store during the Civil War. As time went on, he brought his three sons—Louis Kann (1860-1920), Simon Kann (1861-1932), and Sigmund Kann (1865-1930)—into business with him. In the early 1890s, the family learned that a Washington, D.C., clothing merchant by the name of Dorsey Carter wanted to sell his business, and Solomon Kann sent Louis and Sigmund to investigate. The sons bought the stock of the old business and later two other nearby stores as well, combining their offerings and opening S. Kann, Sons on the northeast corner of 8th Street and Market Space NW in 1893. The location was perfect, right in the heart of Washington’s commercial district, directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from Center Market (where the National Archives now stands). Louis (called “short, quick, and aggressive” by the Washington Post) and Sigmund (“tall, deliberate, and reserved”) soon brought Simon (“short, stocky, and wearing thick-lensed spectacles”) in as well, and the brothers’ store prospered under their energetic management.
|Kann's Busy Corner in 1907 (author's collection).|
at 8:37 AM