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As we near the end of September, spooky season is creeping up on the horizon for Alexandria.

A series of tours planned for next month blend the eerie Halloween spirit and local history to look at how late 18th century and early 19th century residents processed death.

Every Friday in October, the Carlyle House (121 N Fairfax Street) is hosting tours of the building as it would have looked in mourning for “Death Comes to Carlyle House.”

“In September 1780, John Carlyle passed away and the family would have gone into mourning,” a newsletter from the Office of Historic Alexandria said. “Join us for an evening tour of the house to learn about death and mourning in the 18th century. Tours will be led through the house at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m.”

Tickets are $12 per person.

Nearby, on Friday, Oct. 14, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (138 N Royal Street) is hosting a similar tour: “Death at the City Tavern.”

“In 1808, death visited Alexandria’s City Hotel when the curtain fell upon one of theatre’s ‘Brightest Ornaments,'” the newsletter said. “While a guest at the hotel, Anne Brunton Merry Wignell Warren, the most celebrated actress in the U.S., shockingly lost both her infant son and her own life at the young age of 39 in what is now known as Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.”

The tour includes an exploration of phantasmagoria, a cocktail, macabre trivia competition and viewing of the 1910 silent film Frankenstein.

The tour is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person with a minimum age of 21.

Finally, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S Fairfax Street) is hosting a tour of the sinister side of medicine. A tour focused on poisons is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7, from 5:30-6:45 p.m. Tours are $15 per person or $12 for Office of Historic Alexandria members.

“Come explore the sinister side of medicine on the Apothecary Museum’s Poison Tour,” the newsletter said. “This tour explores several different types of poisons, their historic uses at the Apothecary, and what we know today. Recommended for ages 18 and up.”

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Two walking tours around Old Town this month will offer a look at some unique historical sites and local architecture.

Both events, featured in a newsletter from the Office of Historic Alexandria, start at the Carlyle House Historic Park (121 N Fairfax Street).

The first, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, will look at the evolution of architectural styles in Old Town.

“Alexandria has grown from a small town in the 18th century to a bustling small city in the 21st century,” the newsletter said. “Join us for a tour of Alexandria as we explore looking at the various Architecture styles that adorn the city streets and make it one of the best places to live and work.”

Tours are $20 per person with prior reservations required. It’s an hour-and-a-half tour held in either rain or shine, so guests are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes.

The second walking tour focuses on the “legacy of the Green cabinetmakers.”

The tour starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 and, like the architecture tour, tickets are $20 per person with prior registration required.

“In the early 19th Century, William Green started the Green Furniture factory in Alexandria and by 1823 his son, James, would take over,” the newsletter said. “James expanded his father’s factory and established himself as a prominent Alexandrian through building and operating Green’s Mansion House Hotel. Join us on a tour to learn about James Green and his family’s life here in Alexandria.”

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Once a Civil War fort, then a bastion for Black Alexandrians before they were pushed out by city officials, Fort Ward (4301 W Braddock Road) has been at the center of an ongoing mission to reexamine the fort’s past and build a better future for the site.

A new interagency report for FY 2022 highlights the progress made by the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA), Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA), Department of General Services (DGS) and Transportation and Environmental Services (TES).

The report said RPCA was involved in three improvement projects at Fort Ward this year:

  • Picnic Shelter Accessibility Improvements: This spring, progress started on new permeable pavement and overall resurfacing. The goal is to make the picnic area more accessible from the parking lot, improving ADA accessibility. The picnic area is expected to re-open to the public this fall, the report said.
  • Playground Accessibility Project: After a delay to consider concerns that the new playground could impact sites associated with the post-war community, the city has identified alternate locations for the playground. Follow up meetings for more public input are scheduled this fall.
  • Natural Resources Management projects: Over the summer, the Natural Lands Management staff implemented several clean-up projects on the eastern side of the park, including removing invasive and dead vegetation. The landscape restoration is scheduled to continue this fall.

The report said the OHA has also been involved with some of the projects around Fort Ward, playing a guiding role in the picnic shelter and playground relocation project.

“Archaeologists provided guidance to RPCA and contractors on the picnic shelter site project, and monitored the work that is in progress,” the report said. “Archaeology prepared a background report on the Peters/Lewis family site (southwest corner of the Park, where the original playground relocation was proposed). Although the relocation of the playground to this area is unlikely to be located within the properties owned by the Peters or Lewis families, a background study is being compiled for those properties, and will be available online in the future.”

The Fort Ward Museum reopened last October, with activities like Civil War reenactments returning throughout the last year. The museum also received a few upgrades over the last year, like new exhibit lighting and tree trimming.

Meanwhile, the report said the OHA is working on new signage for the park.

“Work continued on interpretive projects, such as compiling content for the revision and production of new historic fort markers, and two Park orientation stations,” the report said. “Content for the replacement of historic fort signage is planned to be submitted for fabrication in September 2022, with a production and installation goal for some in November.”

Additionally, the museum staff began work this year on a new permanent exhibit that will focus on the fort’s history and the post-war community.

“Content for the Museum exhibit will be developed for production in 2023,” the report said.

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Alexandria’s DeShuna Spencer wants you to binge on Black culture without the interference.

The founder and CEO of kweliTV has dedicated herself to celebrating and amplifying international Black stories and storytellers. After five years in business, she’s now got 40,000 registered users, with 48,000 watchers of her live channel.

“It’s been a rough couple of years,” Spencer said. “My goal is to make things better. I want to change the world. I know that I’m only one person, but I feel I at least can do my part with my platform.”

Spencer runs the steaming service from her basement in the city’s Parker Gray Historic District of Alexandria. The content (seen for $5.99 per month or $49.99 per year) includes award-winning independent films, documentaries, web series, animation and children’s shows like Look, Listen and Learn.

A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Spencer harbored dreams of becoming a journalist, and got a degree in communications and journalism from Jackson State University. She cut her teeth as an intern writing crime stories for the Oakland Tribune, but found the work unfulfilling.

“I didn’t want to know the coroner or the police chief,” Spencer told ALXnow. “I wanted to be in media in a way that celebrates authentic Black stories.”

“Kweli” means “truth” in Swahili.

The live channel launched in 2020, during a period of social, medical, emotional and political upheaval. Spencer said that people needed a positive outlet to act as a safe space, which is what she provides.

Spencer also founded emPower Magazine in 2008, and shut it down in 2017 — the same year she launched kweliTV.

ALXnow: From publishing Empower magazine to today, you’ve been doing this work for years. What was the spark that lit this flame for you?

Spencer: I started as a journalist, I was a writer first. After I graduated, I ended up moving to the (San Francisco) Bay area and getting an internship at the Oakland Tribune. That was the real spark, because I was always the first person to get in the office. I was still sort of thinking it was Central Time, so I was always really early. I lived with six other girls and three bedroom apartment in Alameda, California. I would literally be the first person in the newsroom at like 6:30 every morning just because I wanted to get out of the house. The only other person in the office would be the senior cop reporter, and since I was always there first, he would always give me really interesting stories.

After the internship was over they wanted to hire me full-time as a cops and courts reporter, but I hated those stories about people being hurt, about Black people getting shot. That was pretty much my job, where I would interview someone’s mother whose child was shot… I didn’t want to know the coroner or the police chief. I wanted to be in media in a way that celebrates authentic Black stories.

That’s when I started meeting with community organizers and people who were actually trying to make change. I ended up moving to Buffalo, New York, and I was an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. It gave me a different perspective on the work I wanted to do, and I really wanted to focus on those people who were making an impact. I ended up moving to the DC area when I was 24 years old and I became the communications manager for a trade association. They had a monthly magazine that I was put in charge of. I was always a reporter, so I had to learn how to manage people, manage money and manage projects. It was an invaluable experience.

ALXnow: What’s the difference between your streaming service and others?

Spencer: At the root of it, it is really about dismantling what we see as this Black narrative in traditional media. That’s the mission of kweliTV. I truly believe that storytelling is, by changing, can change the world.

For us, number one is for people like me who celebrate ourselves, where we’re not seeing images of trauma and suffering. Number two, this is for people who don’t look like us to understand why culturally they may not necessarily see it in traditional media. Hopefully, we’re able to change perceptions on how we’re seeing ourselves and by people who are not part of our culture.

ALXnow: Is traditional media missing the beat?

Spencer: People have felt fatigued with the media, and I felt that having a streaming service and using documentaries and cultural films to tell stories had a much bigger impact than the news cycle. The path is extremely clear and I’ve always I’ve always focused on social impact content. That’s very important to me. But also, I know that people tend to digest content through watching versus through reading.

Documentaries are our number one genre on kweliTV. We’re not going to have a bunch of reality shows in order to build our audience. We’re going to stick to our guns and may not be for everyone. We know that we’re different. We’re mission-driven and we’re not going to be one of those other platforms, and we’re okay with that.

ALXnow: Are you hoping to produce your own content at some point?

Spencer: A lot of platforms jump out the gate trying to create their own content to compete with Netflix. That’s our goal. Our goal is slow and steady growth to eventually create original documentaries and documentary series. In the future, our goal is to definitely move beyond movies and shows and to also focus on health and wellness content. We really want it to be an experience for an entire family, where they can come for practical advice, or, for instance, if you had a bad day to do breathing exercises. I’m really excited about having conversations with Black wellness coaches and financial experts so we can really expand our platform in a way that can help our community, whether it’s financially, physically or mentally.

ALXnow: Everybody was stuck at home a couple of years because of the pandemic. Was that good for kweliTV?

Spencer: It was. That’s why we started the live channel in 2020. People were suffering financially, especially if they were frontline workers.

ALXnow: You’ve realized that giving away content is valuable part of your business model.

Spencer: Exactly. The live channel is ad-supported, totally free for anyone who wants to watch the channel. We saw it as a bit of a benefit especially during the height of the pandemic where everything seemed so uncertain. It’s been a rough couple of years. My goal is to make things better. I want to change the world. I know that I’m only one person, but I feel I at least can do my part with my platform.

ALXnow: What is your vision for kweliTV? Where do you want it to go at the end of the day?

Spencer: The overall goal is for kweliTV to be a global brand, that when people think about a mission-driven platform that they think of us. I would love to get into farming creatives who are underrepresented to be able to fund their projects. I hope that whatever is the technology of the day, we’re still in it and we’re still evolving to meet new combinations of where the world is.

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Memorial post for victims of Alexandria lynchings (photo via City of Alexandria)

The Alexandria Community Remembrance Project (ACRP) has organized a pilgrimage to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum next month, and today (Tuesday) is the last chance for locals to register to join the trip.

Community members will transport soil from where two Black Alexandrians were lynched. The trip will involve visits to historical sites around Alabama and evening programs with guest speakers.

“You can choose to travel with us by bus from Alexandria, or you can join us in Montgomery,” the city website said. “This trip, October 6-10, includes chartered busses, discounted hotel stays, curated social justice tours, most meals and two evening programs with guest speakers.”

Joining the trip will also enroll members in the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.

“We hope that you will join us in the future, as we continue to meet, educate, reflect and build a more inclusive and equitable Alexandria,” the website said.

Trips with independent travel are $485 or $585 to join on the chartered bus. Those interested in supporting the trip can donate online.

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Alexandria has been a hangout for revolutionaries going back hundreds of years.

On Saturday, September 24, the Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) and Emerging Revolutionary War will host a Revolutionary War symposium  discussing how the outcome of the war (fought between 1775 and 1783) transformed governments around the world.

The theme for the event is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale.”

“The American Revolution created waves across the world with its lasting impacts felt even today,” the OHA said in a release. “As we approach the upcoming 250th anniversary of our nation, examining our American Experiment is key.”

The event will be held at the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street). Tickets are $60 per person, $50 for OHA members and students, and $30 to attend virtually.

The Alexandria Lyceum (Staff photo by Airey)

As George Washington put it: “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

The schedule for the event is below.

  • 8:30 a.m. — Coffee & Light Breakfast at the Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum
  • 9 a.m. — Speakers
  • 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. — Lunch on your own in Old Town Alexandria
  • 1:30 p.m. — Speakers
  • 5 – 7 p.m. — Happy Hour at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (134 N. Royal Street)

Speakers

  • Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky: “Peace and Inviolable Faith with All Nations: John Adams, Independence, and the Quest for Neutrality”
  • Norman Desmarais: “Reevaluating Our French Allies: A New Look at Popular Assumptions of the French Army through the Diary of Count de Lauberdiere”
  • Kate Gruber: “A Retrospective Revolution: England’s Long 17th Century and the Coming of Revolution in Virginia”
  • Scott Stroh: “George Mason’s Declaration of Rights and Their Global Impact”
  • Eric Sterner: “Britain, Russia, and the American War”
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After being shut down the last few years due to COVID-19, the Historic Alexandria Homes Tour is returning to Old Town next month.

Tickets for the 80th annual tour cost $40, which will be held on Saturday, September 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Proceeds from the event will go to the INOVA Alexandria Hospital.

“We are thrilled to be offering the 80th Annual Historic Alexandria Homes Tour this year,” said Michele Cumberland, president of The Twig, which is sponsoring the event. “The annual tour is typically our largest annual fundraising event and enables us to raise vital funds for our community hospital.”

The tour will include seven homes in Old Town, including a “home featured in Southern Living magazine, a home with a 75-year-old fig tree and a home with a guest room surrounded in an ‘Alexandria-centric’, hand-painted mural,” according to The Twig.

The event will be held rain or shine, although kids under 12 are not allowed in tour homes. No video or photography is allowed, and tickets are not refundable.

Tickets can be bought online for $40 at www.thetwig.org and on the day of the event for $45 at Boxwood at 128 S. Royal Street, the Old Presbyterian Meeting House at 323 S. Fairfax Street or The Twig Thrift Shop at 106 N. Columbus Street.

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Women’s Equality Day is around the corner, and Alexandria is included in a regional historic bike ride to recognize the fight for women’s rights.

The free bike ride is sponsored by the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Alexandria Spokeswomen and Alexandria Celebrates Women.

Perhaps Susan B. Anthony put it best when she said:

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.

The ride starts at the Braddock Road Metro station at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 27 — the day after Women’s Equality Day.

The initial 6.2-mile route goes through Annie Rose Avenue and Ruby Tucker Park in Potomac Yard, Judy Lowe Neighborhood Park and Pat Miller Neighborhood Square in Del Ray, the Nancy Dunning Memorial in Potomac West, Shirley Tyler Unity Park in Lynhaven and Cora Kelly School in Arlandria.

In 1917, 32 suffragists were freed from the Occoquan Workhouse (now the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton) after a trial at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. The women were tortured and force-fed while in prison.

In recognition of their struggle, the bike ride continues at 10:45 a.m. from the Franconia-Springfield Metro station to the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center. Admission to the museum is $5 and includes a guided cellblock tour.

“The round-trip route is approximately 23 miles, with a mix of bike lanes and roads,” event organizers said. “Participants are encouraged to wear (and/or decorate your bike) with the colors of the women’s suffrage movement — purple, gold and white.”

The final segment of the ride starts at noon,and runs 1.3 miles between the Lucy Burns Museum and the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial. The cyclists will then get lunch at Brickmakers Cafe before returning to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

Photo via Pedego/Facebook

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Gadsby’s Tavern (image via Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant/Facebook)

It’s a few years behind the cultural zeitgeist, but for anyone still running Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton on repeat: Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s (138 N Royal Street) Hamilton-themed tour is making a return next month.

The tour centers mostly around Hamilton’s supporting cast like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The musical is also currently touring at the Kennedy Center through Oct. 9.

“Discover the room(s) where it happened,” The Office of Historic Alexandria said in an email. “Inspired by the musical Hamilton, hear about Washington, Lafayette, Jefferson, Madison, and Burr, who all came to the tavern, and delve into the issues they faced and how their choices impacted local citizens.”

The tours are scheduled for Sept. 3, Sept. 9, Sept. 17 and Sept. 23. Each tour runs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tours are $15 per person or $12 for Office of Historic Alexandria members.

“Space is limited, so advance purchase of tickets is recommended,” the email said. “They may be purchased by calling 703.746.4242 or through the online shop at www.alexandriava.gov/shop.”

Image via Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant/Facebook

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Today, George Washington is one of the city’s two public middle schools, but the building’s history as white-only high school and the process of desegregation is being told in a new historical marker.

The George Washington High School Alumni Association is planning a dedication of the Virginia Historical Marker in front of the school on Saturday, July 23 at 11 a.m, according to the Office of Historic Alexandria.

“The marker will detail the history of George Washington High School (1935-1971) and its significance to the City of Alexandria, Virginia,” the office said.

The historical marker includes details about the building’s Art Deco style and funding from the New Deal program. The building has notably been showing its age recently, with mold issues and faulty fire alarms.

The marker reads:

The City of Alexandria purchased 15.5 acres here in 1933 and opened George Washington High School in 1935. For two decades this was the city’s only public high school for white students. The Art Deco-style buildin was constructed with funding from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, a New Deal agency that helped modernize the nation’s infreastructure during the Great Depression.

Later expanded, the school served as an important community gathering place for the arts and athletics. Alexandria’s school system was desegregated in 1965. This campus, which closed as a four-year high school in 1971 and later became a middle school, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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