Bravo to Felix Gillette for deconstructing the hoary “once a sleepy Southern town” description (“Sleepy Hollow,” 7/18). He really captured it for what it is: an inherently empty and ahistorical phrase, often the last refuge of those who can’t be bothered with what happened before their arrival on the scene, or those unwilling to research what happened before their period of historical interest.
Your readers might be interested to know that during my tenure (1994 to 2000) as editor of Washington History: Magazine of The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., I banned the phrase from the journal. I’ve found that Washington has changed with bursts of new populations that arrive in response to a national crisis, jacking up the energy level of the city as a whole. Or in the wake of a new technology, such as air conditioning, that allows for a longer, more productive (less somnolent) workday. Or, as Gillette so wisely pointed out, when someone such as Katharine Graham returns with a new personal perspective. It’s so much more interesting to look at the larger picture!
Historian and Director of Publications
Cultural Tourism DC