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What Pennsylvania Avenue Looked Like in 1909 What Pennsylvania Avenue Looked Like in 1909

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What Pennsylvania Avenue Looked Like in 1909

Rare footage reveals the fashions, modes of transportation, and a general disregard for safety of turn-of-the-century Washington.


(Charles Edison Fund/Ghosts of DC)

What did the streets of Washington look like more than a century ago? Thanks to some of the nation's early film pioneers, modern-day District dwellers can take a quick stroll through history.

This footage, shot in July 1909 (not 1907, as the YouTube clip's title reads) on Pennsylvania Avenue between 10th and 11th streets, reveals the bustle of a city against the backdrop of the U.S. Capitol Building. Washington appears to be in the middle of the transportation revolution, with cars, trolleys, and horse-drawn carriages all navigating the same streets. Bowler hats were big, and jaywalking was the norm.


The minute-long clip comes from Ghosts of DC, a blog that collects video, photos, and stories from the District's long history. The person who supplied this footage to the blog, identified as Tom, writes that the footage comes from the Charles Edison Fund, originally known as Brook Foundation Collection, a philanthropic institution created by Thomas Edison's son in 1948. Edison had pioneered early filmmaking in the late 1880s, with his invention of the kinetoscope, and later through the movies he produced with his motion pictures company.

The Ghosts of DC contributor writes of the scene:


Notice the billboards. The one on the left appears to be an ad for C/B Corsets. The right billboard appears to show silhouette of a child and the word 'Velvet.' My search for billboard identification turned up nothing.

I don't know, but would love to find out, whether this is an "actuality" or an Edison clip for a movie. It does not appear to have been a staged scene with actors. Also notice the African American woman holding a parasol and the stylishly dressed African American man crossing the street.

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