You might safely call this the first day of Spring. Crocuses are creeping up in well-tended flower beds all over town, but i leave those behind to walk the treacherous cliffs down to the Potomac. It is overcast and warm, the sky and water have become a singular creation, like Godard and his sunglasses or John Wayne on horseback. I feel a bit like a movie star myself, pretending there is a camera trained on me from the opposite bank, as I scramble over rocks and leap the fast-flowing rivulets of Windy Creek and Donaldson's Run. The river is in fine form.
Just to the north and west of DC, the Potomac takes on a very wild quality. You may see osprey and kingfisher, tundra swan and red fox. Stone cliffs rise up on either side, forming a gorge, and I walk beneath. I read once of a hiker on this trail who heard noises directly overhead and looked up to see a struggling white-tailed deer suspended in mid-air by a tangle of vines. Eventually, the beast tore free and bounced twice before miraculously regaining its footing and bounding off somewhere, anywhere.
Where I stood today, there are metal hooks protruding from the rocks, weathered and ancient looking. Actually, they have only been here for 80 years, as they are a well-documented element of one of Washington's most tragic stories.
In the spring of 1928, at the height of the Jazz Age, many of the District's elites held a slambang party at this very spot, in a suspended dirigible tethered to these very rocks. The giant blimp hovered over the river, between the stone walls of the gorge, filled with partygoers in cocktail attire and the joie de esprit of the times. There was even a dance floor and a Negro band (I know, I know, but remember the times...). Sadly, yet obvious in retrospect, there was an accident involving a cigarette and, of course, the dirigible caught fire. Socialites tumbled and leapt from the burning vessel, falling hundreds of feet into the fast-moving waters below. Almost all were lost and the incident today is mysteriously forgotten by all but the oldest of the District's denizens, and their numbers grow fewer each year.
I stood at the very spot this morning, almost 80 years later, contemplating the fall and the water as it flows on, muchas it did that fateful night. There is no plaque or sign, no reminders of any kind. I feel lucky to have even heard of it myself, as if I am the keeper of one of my city's many secrets.