Washington, D.C.

"Fourth of July fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 1986," public domain
Fourth of July fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 1986,” public domain

“I was born in the last throes of winter, 1982, at the old Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C. (Legend has it Duke Ellington was born there, too. He and me and a quarter-million others.) My parents weren’t then and have never been since D.C. residents. But with home being just a few miles across the border in suburban Maryland, quick jaunts into the District for museum visits, sporting events and childbirths were easy and frequent.

An annual ritual soon developed where several of the neighborhood families would haul down to the National Mall on July Fourth for the big birthday extravaganza. Eventually, my teenaged friends and I were deemed trustworthy enough to run around unsupervised. Exit parents, enter Nalgene bottle full of rum. The scene was always boisterous, especially on the backend of the fireworks, by which point most of the revelers had been reveling for a big handful of hours. After the last ooh was oohed and the last aah aahed, the crowd spilled back into the depths of the city, flowing along avenues with names like Constitution and Independence. A kid could splash around in a plaza fountain, with impunity, if he wanted to.

It struck me then and still does now that I was lucky to have grown up in a place where I could take a short train ride to celebrate the nation’s birthday in the nation’s capital itself. I think I knew, also, how spoiled I was the rest of the year, when a class field trip or family outing could take you to the Smithsonian, or the National Gallery of Art, or any number of famous memorials, or on a tour of the Capitol or the White House. But never more than on the Fourth of July were the pleasures and privileges of being raised in the long shadow of George Washington’s monument more grand, more acute, more liberating.” – Brad Petit

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Header image: map of Northeast Houston in 1922, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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