"Washington, D.C., is no place for a civilized man to spend the summer." President James Buchanan, sometime in his 1857-1861 term
"Washington was once thought of as not a healthy place to live in the summer, because of the heat and the swamp," said Roxanna Deane, chief of the Washingtoniana Division at the Martin Luther King Library, explaining Buchanan's comment.
Today, with the swamplands drained and air conditioners offering cool interludes to the sometimes stifling heat, many persons, including throngs of tourists, find the District a dandy place to pass the summer.
It is a time of free concerts on the lawns of the Capitol, the Washington Monument and at Fort Dupont Park, and of music at the National Zoo, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, Sylvan Theatre and the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Virginia.
It's also a time of pool openings and school closings, more tourists and less parking, and, this year, a cool start and a warm finish.
"There's a 55 percent probability of the summer being warmer than normal, after a cool start in June," said James Wagner, a National Weather Service meteorologist at the National Weather Service, where June 1 is marked as the first day of summer.
Astronomers will mark the first day of summer as June 21, the longest day and shortest night of the year, when the sun is at its highest in the sky. Other people loosely call summer any month that has a string of sultry days -- which can begin as early as May and last until mid-September.
"Summers here are incredibly muggy and hot and long," said Faith VanGilder, a publications assistant, munching on carrots at lunch time recently in McPherson Park, downtown. "But's there's so much to do: sitting in the park, biking, canoeing, swimming at a friend's."
And if you don't have a friend with a pool, there are 40 city pools open during the summer.
Nearly half are outdoor pools and 14 are smaller pools used primarily to teach children. Five are indoor and three are designated for handicapped residents.
More than 21,000 District youths will spend most of the summer in one of the school system's "special summer programs."
For gifted and talented students in grades two through nine there are 20 hands-on courses to choose from, including newspaper production, zoo experience, gourmet cooking, and typing experience.
The 20 branches of the District's public libraries, usually open on Saturdays to give students time for research during the school year, are closed on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer. Generally, they would be closed on Thurdays or Fridays. The main library, Martin Luther King, downtown, will be closed on Sundays and will close at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, instead of at the usual hour of 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, some youths will toil from 20 to 40 hours a week at summer jobs that pay the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. The District government has referred 20,051 youths aged 14 through 21 for jobs.
While 23,562 young people signed up for jobs, only 21,551 applied during the time in which the mayor guaranteed jobs, said Daryl G. Hardy, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
Still, Hardy expects that every youth who wants a job will get one, since some applicants will turn down the jobs they are offered.
Last year, said Hardy, 23,803 youths registered for the D.C. jobs program; 22,876 were offered jobs and 20,110 accepted them.
But for the majority of area residents, who work year-round, the real difference between summer and the rest of the year is the opportunity to get outside in the sun.
"I love this city. I love summer. I love putting on skimpy clothes," declared Paulette Turner, sporting short shorts and a revealing blouse during a downtown shopping trip on a recent hot day.
Summer and Washington is a popular combination with tourists, too. July and August are peak tourist months, said Tom Murphy, manager of public relations at the Washington Convention and Visitors Association.
"We're one of the top most visited destinations in the United States," said Murphy. "We had17.2 million people visit last year. We get about a billion dollars a year in new revenue from tourism. The fact that everything is free here is a big selling point."
Millions of out-of-towners visit "the most popular museum in the world, the Smithsonian Institution complex," he said. But this year the extended summer hours have been eliminated.
In the past, Air and Space, the most heavily attended of the Smithsonian museums, remained open until 9 p.m. and the four other Mall museums were open until 7:30 p.m. during the summer. This summer, Air and Space will close at 7:30 p.m. and the other Mall museums will close at 5:30.
The National Gallery of Art, which in the past stayed open until 9 p.m. on summer evenings, will close at 5 p.m. this summer. The Sunday hours remain unchanged: noon to 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, at the Capitol, the Rotunda is extending its hours for the summer, staying open until 10 p.m. instead of closing at 4:30 p.m.
"With more tourists, we add a couple of people to our bus operations, to direct buses on where to go and where to park," said Capt. Bob Howe, spokesman for Capitol Police."
Personally, Howe said, he would like to spend his summer days "on river banks, drowning a few worms." But he knows that summer means "the lines for the Senate and House galleries become permanent features, and we work at the National Symphony evening concerts at the Capitol on the West Lawn."
Free concerts are everywhere in the summer. At Fort Dupont Park in Southeast Washington, this summer's acts include jazz vocalist Betty Carter and blues singers Ronnie Brooks, Koko Tylor and Lil' Howlin Wolf. Trumpeteer Tom Browne and keyboard player Lonnie Liston Smith open the series June 21.
The concerts at the Carter Barron aren't free, but they're cheap: $5. Residents can feast their ears on the sounds of jazz, Latin and pop music every Saturday and Sunday. The concerts started last weekend with pop singer Angela Bofill and will end Aug. 25 with pop vocalist Melba Moore.
"It may have been considered unhealthy to live in Washington long ago, but even when President Buchanan lived here, Washington was known as a place where people loved amusements," said Deane, at the library. "By 1801, there was dog racing and cockfighting in Washington."
Anyway, technically, Buchanan spent his summers here, too.
"It was a time when a person might have a regular residence on K Street and a summer house in Cleveland Park, which was the country," said Deane. "Buchanan's summer residence was one of the cottages at the Soldier's Home."