D.C. historical society’s journal holds its nose and dives into garbage

John Kelly
Columnist February 20, 2013

They’re talking trash in the new issue of Washington History, the journal of the Historical Society of Washington.

Curtis J. Hartman’s lead story in Vol. 24, No. 2 is an examination of solid waste policy in the District from 1877 to 1922. If reading about solid waste strikes you as unpleasant, rest assured that it’s much better than actually experiencing it firsthand. In the 1890s, for example, the city’s monthly production of 3,000 tons of garbage included 1,000 dead dogs and 500 dead horses.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Dead horses were the junked cars of their day.

Curtis, a grad student at California State University at Fullerton, writes that there were three categories of solid waste. Besides dead animals, there was garbage (food waste from kitchens) and night soil (the contents of privies). The first contract to haul the city’s waste was handed out in 1880. H. Clay Jones was paid $28 a day to dispose of the mess.

Jones did it for a while, then realized that wasn’t nearly enough money. He stopped hauling, the refuse piled up and Jones was arrested. Others took over the contract before, in 1922, the city took on the job.


‘The Bayou: D.C.’s Killer Joint,’ a new documentary airing Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. on MPT. (Courtesy of Metro Teleproductions)

Although collecting trash was better than leaving it to rot in the streets, the streamlining of waste removal was bad news for one group: the trash pickers, often former slaves, who carefully gleaned usable materials — rubber, bottles, cans, cloth — and sold it.

The new Washington History also contains articles on the 1922 Knickerbocker Theater disaster (when 98 were killed after a snow-laden roof collapsed), photographs of D.C. taken between 1913 and 1917 and a survey of Washington’s lost horse-racing tracks.

Good news: The society’s Kiplinger Research Library is finally open to the public, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and by appointment Mondays. For information on joining or visiting, go to www.historydc.
org
.

Step right up

Sometimes it can be hard to find volunteers. Apparently, it also can be hard to find people to nominate their favorite volunteers for recognition.

Monday afternoon is the deadline for Montgomery County’s volunteer award nominations, and although they have a few, they want more. Maybe volunteers are just too busy volunteering to toot their own horns.

“I think it’s basically just ennui,” said Andrea Kempner-Wink, senior fellow at the Montgomery County Volunteer Center. People may not want to spend the hour or so it takes to pen a few hundred words on a nominee form. (In fact, the awards were discontinued for a while, before being reinstated last year.)

But come on, people! How sad would it be if there weren’t enough nominations for a volunteer award?

If you live or work in Montgomery and have seen the good that volunteers do, now’s the chance to celebrate them. Nominees are being sought for the Neal Potter Path of Achievement Awards, which honor people 60 and older, and the Montgomery Serves Awards, which honor businesses, groups and young people who have made a difference in 2012. Go to www.montgomeryserves.org for the nomination forms.

As for volunteering, Andrea said, “I always get more back than I give.” She works with developmentally disabled teens and adults. “I feel good when I leave. I feel like I’m getting karma points.”

Born at the Bayou

U2 played there. Foreigner played there. So did the Slickee Boys and the Nighthawks. Employees had sex under the stage, and the bouncers were known as “floor men.”

Those are just a few of the things you’ll learn if you tune in to “The Bayou: D.C.’s Killer Joint,” a documentary about the late D.C. nightclub being shown at 9 p.m. Monday on Maryland Public Television.

I caught it a few weeks ago at a screening at the AMC Loews in Georgetown, which coincidentally occupies roughly the same space under the Whitehurst Freeway as the Bayou once did.

The documentary is worth watching just to catch a glimpse of the Telstars, who in the 1960s were one of the Bayou’s hardworking house bands. At a time when many entertainers had weird hair, the coiffures of the Telstars were truly bizarre. Imagine follicular helmets, puffed up like Jiffy Pop. They were equal parts cool and scary.

The documentary isn’t all hagiography. Todd Rundgren might want to bang on the drum all day, but the rocker hated banging it at the Bayou. In his interview, he says he thought the joint was horrible. Although it hosted occasional punk and new wave acts, the Bayou never really embraced that fare, eventually becoming a jam band haven and allowing the 9:30 Club to serve the edgier end of the market.

But the Bayou was a rich strand in the city’s music history, and this documentary — produced by locals Dave Lilling, Bill Scanlan, Vinnie Perrone and Dave Nuttycombe — does the joint proud.

To read previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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