It's time to reject the reality you've come to believe in and substitute it with the truth. Below, you will find 10 myths and urban legends you (probably) have about Washington, D.C. from the city being built on a swamp to Pierre L'Enfant leaving J Street out in order to spite a rival. After being clued in, you can provide additional local facts at the end of this article by leaving a comment. For more D.C.-focused mythbusting, be sure to check out the local news and lifestyle blog We Love DC here.
MYTH #1: The Height Limit was established to prevent the Capitol from being overshadowed.
After the 164-foot Cairo Hotel was built in 1894, Congress passed Washington, D.C.'s Height Limit in 1899 out of safety concerns risen out of the newness of skyscrapers. According to Washingtonian, the height of a building in the District is limited not by the structure's shadow's proximity to the Capitol, but by the width of the street it faces.
MYTH #2: Pierre L'Enfant left J Street out of his city plan to spite his rival, John Jay.
Whether or not Pierre L'Enfant disliked the letter J due to John Jay's alliterative name is irrelevant. The real reason why J Street does not exist in Washington, D.C. is because the letters I and J were used mostly interchangeably at the time. So, J Street was left out in order to prevent any confusion.
MYTH #3: D.C. is the murder capital of the country.
Just because Washington, D.C. is the nation's capital, that doesn't mean that it's the murder capital as well. It is true that homicides have risen in the past year, but when analyzing homicide rates over the last two decades as opposed to the last two years, the numbers have dropped significantly, from 397 in 1996 to 88 in 2012. The District doesn't even rank as one of the top 30 cities in the U.S. with the highest murder rates. In the end, though, what is the murder capital of the country? That unfortunate title goes to East St. Louis, Illinois with .86 murders per thousand residents, a rate that is 21.5 times higher than the national average.
MYTH #4: The reason why Washington, D.C. has traffic circles was to better stop any invading army.
Originally, Pierre L'Enfant didn't plan for the capital to have traffic circles, but squares. These squares would have established "informal state 'embassies'" with each settled by residents and Congressman of a particular state. This plan was later scrapped not because of the threat of an invading army, but because most of the squares were under private ownership, the McMillan Plan didn't promote L'Enfant's scheme, and when the Plan was established in 1901, there were only 45 U.S. states.
MYTH #5: Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp.
Yes, summers can be very humid in the District, but that's not because the city was once a swamp. It was actually a tidal marsh. What this means is that the area was never a wetland with trees in standing water, but a wetland with a variety of reeds and grasses.
MYTH #6: A Metro station was not built in Georgetown because the residents blocked the construction in order to keep crime out of the neighborhood.
While it is true that residents in Georgetown did campaign against the station that was once planned in the neighborhood in the 1960s, it wasn't the residents that convinced the planners to scrap the route in the end. The reason why no Metro was ever built in the neighborhood was because there were not enough people to make the site a commuter hub. Additionally, because the neighborhood is so close to the Potomac River, the planners would have had to dig a tunnel under the historic streets as opposed to under the river, which would have only created further issues.
MYTH #7: The color of the stone on the Washington Monument changes a third of the way up because it was used as the high-water mark of a "great flood."
While constructing the monument, the Washington National Monument Society ran out of money seven years after the cornerstone was laid in 1848. Without any money, all construction on the Washington Monument ceased from 1856 to 1876 until Congress authorized public funds to complete the structure. The new stones that were used appeared to be the same color as the other stones already in place, but they darkened as they aged.
MYTH #8: The Potomac River is one of the dirtiest rivers in the country.
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson once described the Potomac River as "a national disgrace," but it has improved vastly over the last few decades with thickets of grass carpeting the river as opposed to bare mud. The river doesn't even rank as one of the top 50 most polluted rivers in the country. Even so, the river is not yet swimmable and no fish from the waters can be consumed, but there are hopes to make both possible by the year 2025. Also, don't drink the water. The bacteria in the river can cause skin and ear infections, respiratory illness, and gastrointestinal illness.
MYTH #9: The best museums and restaurants in Washington, D.C. are located by the National Mall.
Oh, tourists, with their "I underrated museums. For the best eats, be sure to consult Eater DC's map of the best of the best restaurants. (Disclosure: Eater and Curbed are both owned by Vox Media.)
MYTH #10: No one is really from Washington, D.C.
In Washingtonian's helpful guide to the legends and tall tales surrounding the nation's capital, this myth is addressed with data from the 2005–2009 American Community Survey. According to the data, 46 percent of people who live in Washington, D.C. were born there. So, while Washington, D.C. is certainly a very transient city, it still has its tried and true locals.
· Revealing the Facts and Myths About D.C.'s Street System [Curbed DC]
· Washington's Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales—Some of Which Are True [Washingtonian]
· Category Archives: Mythbusting DC [We Love DC]