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Friday, June 5, 2009

Thing 155: The Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle

The final tour I took over WalkingTown DC weekend was the Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle tour. I was not the only person to have this idea. Over 200 people showed up for this tour which was...too many. Although the tour was still fun, it lost a good deal of its charm by virtue of having to do battle with other people in order to get close enough to hear our guide. Even with that obstacle though, I learned the following things:
  • In the late 1910s, an anarchist attempted to blow up a member of the Cabinet by strapping explosives to his body and then ringing the doorbell. Unfortunately, on his way up to the house to ring the door bell, the young man tripped on the sidewalk and blew himself up -- and what a powerful explosion it was! Paul, our guide, read us the newspaper account, which was mighty gruesome, including that the man's spinal column flew across the street, broke an upstairs window, and landed by the bed of a student trying to take a nap!
  • The Hope Diamond belonged to a woman who lived in Dupont Circle (the house that is now the Indonesian embassy, in fact) -- her family was so rich that seemed to have just bought it on a lark, and there are pictures of her swimming in it, and accounts that she would attach it to her dog's collar before taking him out for a stroll.

  • And speaking of diamonds, that lady from the Titanic movie? Rose? Based on a DC resident. She was way ahead of her time, writing and lecturing on how women should be their own people and make their own living. She lived on New Hampshire Avenue, and was coming back from Europe aboard the Titanic. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, she found a lifeboat that was being captained by a very inept male crew member -- she and another woman took it over and steered them towards rescue.

  • DC also has its own "Schindler" who saved a bunch of Jews during the war, but didn't get a movie made about him so isn't as famous. And of course, I didn't take notes during this tour, so I am unable to bring his name to light even now. But, if I recall, he saved 60,000 German Jews by getting them US visas in a hurry.

  • We stopped along the block of Q Street between 17th & 18th, right in front of a man's house who was just sitting on his front stoop, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. Suddenly, 200 people swarm around his house, as our guide announces to us that this block is famous for murder and mayhem. In fact, in front of this particular house, a man was killed with nothing but a slingshot. Nice relaxing Sunday for that home owner, I imagine.

  • DC had its very own slasher -- like Jack the Ripper. This person would break into people's homes, and slash his victims ruthlessly. This went on on and off for six years until he was finally apprehended. How could this go on so long? His victims were sofas, and other pieces of furniture, and so he was pretty low on the police's priority list.

  • Dupont Circle originally had a statue of Admiral Dupont in the center of it -- just as Logan or Thomas or Scott circles have statues of Logan or Thomas or Scott. Except apparently, Admiral Dupont was a pretty terrible admiral. His statue was mocked when it stood in the circle, and eventually, his family took it down and moved it to the family estate, and commissioned the now-beloved fountain to stand in its place.

Our tour was led by Paul Williams of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, who literally wrote the book on Dupont Circle. He was as surprised as the rest of us by the sheer turnout for the tour, but stayed in good spirits and projected his voice just as much as he could. And he clearly took delight in all the scandals and murder that he told us about, as did the 200 of us listening, and the odd homeowner who might have learned a little something new about his home that day.