13 Pieces of Bizarre But True Local History

Yup. These things really happened here.

Need a good story to tell at your next cocktail party?  Here are some odd facts and a few “firsts” that occurred in the place we call home.

Wikipedia photo


During the Civil War, one of the nation’s very first aerial reconnaissance missions was conducted by aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe in a hot-air balloon over Falls Church.


Courtesy of Herman Obermayer, The Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard


Arlington was once home to the headquarters of the American Nazi Party. Its founder, George Lincoln Rockwell, was assassinated in 1967 at the Dominion Hills Shopping Centre.


Robert Hanssen FBI file photo


In 2001, Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center was the site of a failed FBI attempt to nab the now infamous spy Robert Hanssen, a double agent for the CIA and the KGB. Here’s how it went down (or didn’t).


Courtesy of Arlington Public Library Center for Local History


The Weenie Beenie hot dog stand on Shirlington Road was opened in 1954 by pool shark William “Weenie Beenie” Staton, who acquired the seed money for his restaurant venture in a series of billiards bets.  The eatery was later immortalized in a 1995 song by the Foo Fighters (front man Dave Grohl grew up in Northern Virginia). It’s still in business today.


Members of the Pagans motorcycle club


In the summer of 1966, 100 shots were fired at Arlington’s Lee Harrison Shopping Center during a heated exchange between rival biker gangs. A high-speed police chase ensued down Lee Highway.   Read the full story.


Courtesy of the Meyers family


Before it became an Arlington County public facility, Gulf Branch Nature Center was a private residence and the love nest of silent film star Paola Negri, who reportedly had flings with Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin.


National Archives photo


Anticipating a British attack on Washington during the War of 1812, Secretary of State James Monroe ordered the evacuation of the Declaration of Independence and other iconic American documents from the capital city. The documents were temporarily hidden in linen bags, in the grist mill at Pimmit Run in what is now McLean.

Read our timeline chronicling this and other notable moments in local history.


Rosslyn’s seedy red light district. Courtesy of Arlington Public Library Center for Local History


At the turn of the 20th century, Rosslyn was a sketchy part of town dominated by speakeasies, brothels and gambling halls. Commonwealth’s Attorney Crandall Mackey led a series of raids in 1904 to “clean up” the neighborhood.


The famed garage (Arlington Arts photo)


In the months leading up to the Watergate scandal, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward had several clandestine meetings with FBI agent Mark Felt (aka “Deep Throat”) in the shadows of parking space 32D in Rosslyn’s Oakhill Office Building. It’s now the site of a new development by Monday Properties.


Outside the Ballston Metro in 1979


After Metro’s Orange Line opened in 1979, Arlington county officials began promoting Ballston as a “new downtown,” referring to Fairfax Drive as the future “Champs-Elysees” of Arlington.


Falls Church’s Igloo Village


Falls Church was once home to “Igloo Village,” a small enclave of experimental postwar “bubble houses” designed by Wallace Neff.  Billed as an architect to the stars, Neff also designed the Hollywood estates of Judy Garland and Graucho Marx.


Courtesy U.S. Army


In 1908, the grassy area that is now Summerall Field at Fort Myer became the site of the first fatality in aviation history when a test flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright went terribly wrong.



Bailey’s Crossroads is named after circus-owner Hachaliah Bailey who, in the early 1800s, used the area as the winter headquarters for his small circus. A descendant of the Bailey family would later join forces with P.T. Barnum to co-found the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Discover how other Northern Virginia roads, neighborhoods and landmarks got their names here.

Categories: Local History