Pandemic changes the rhythms, routines of summertime in Washington, DC

A person walks past a portion of a reproduction of the painting "Daniel in the Lion's Den" by Peter Paul Rubens outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.


By MICHAEL E. RUANE | The Washington Post | Published: May 22, 2020

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WASHINGTON — In Ford's Theatre, the set for the musical "Guys and Dolls" sits onstage in the dark. The lighting and costumes are ready. But the theater, which draws throngs of summer visitors, has been closed. The actors are gone, the tourists are not coming.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial was supposed to have been dedicated May 8, but that was postponed until September.

The annual Memorial Day Parade has been canceled. So has the concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. And the Rolling to Remember motorcycle rally, too.

The Capital Pride Parade scheduled for June and the opening of the new Army museum at Fort Belvoir have been pushed back. The July 4 parade in Washington was called off.

The coronavirus pandemic, which began its devastation just as spring arrived, now presents the region with a ruined summer season — devoid of many traditions, fraught with parental headaches and filled with uncertainty.

"A lost summer," said Brittany Rheault, senior director of sports for DC Fray, which in normal times hosts local sports leagues. "I don't think people are recognizing that that's where we're" headed.

Across the country, Washington is known as the seat of politics and government, with all that entails: White House drama, bitter Capitol Hill rivalries, pettiness and, sometimes, a noble figure striding the stage.

But to those who live here, Washington is also a community — one that shows itself best during the summer, in neighborhoods, on the National Mall and in the spirit of the good weather.

The virus has already taken the fun out of spring, and now it threatens the Washington summer.

Although beaches have reopened, summer camps, amateur sports and recreational activities are in limbo.

Internships and summer jobs have been scrapped. The DC Jazz Festival was canceled, along with visions of finding the perfect spot to hear live music along the District Wharf.

Half a year after the Nationals won the World Series, Major League Baseball has been suspended at least until July. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a highlight of summer, is off. And the National Park Service has voided all permits for gatherings on the National Mall at least through June 8.

"For our family, it's just a loss of tradition," said Heather Gonzales of Washington. She has four children who would normally be at the pool and camp and gearing up to enjoy a July 4 community parade.

"That's a lot of what they are losing, some of that pattern of what summer means to them," she said.

Tens of thousands of tourists visit the Washington region each summer to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, visit the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon or see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives.

They crowd onto the Metro alongside workers who trade their heels for flip-flops as they commute. For residents, summer brings the opportunity to take longer lunches at restaurants with outdoor dining. Or to leave work early to catch their kids' game, or play one of their own.

Rheault, of DC Fray, which organizes scores of local games of kickball, flag football and volleyball, said all events were canceled for April and May.

"Right now we have everything showing . . . the end of June as a start date," she said. "My personal feeling is that we really won't be able to resume stuff until about the end of August, beginning of September."

"It's going to have an incredible impact," she said.

"On a Sunday, I would have roughly 1,500 people down at the Mall throughout the day," she said. "Flag football, softball, ultimate Frisbee, soccer, kickball. . . . Just flag football alone, we average about 42 teams."

Thursday nights are even bigger, she said. "On the National Mall on Thursday night, I'll have probably 15 different leagues running. . . . That's 2,000 to 2,500 people."

"It's the best part about living in D.C.," she said. "You get to play next to the Washington Monument and look at the White House while you play kickball. No other place can say that."

"It's been hard," she said. "It's hard on players. It's hard on our staff. . . . We're doing our best here to try to make it happen."

Although the July 4 parade has been canceled, President Donald Trump said he plans another celebration on the National Mall, but one with social distancing and probably about a quarter of the size of the one last year.

But fireworks companies have been hurt.

August Santore, chief executive of Garden State Fireworks, which put on part of the show on the National Mall last year, said his firm has had more than 100 cancellations and postponements.

He said it's not clear whether the company will do a July 4 show in Washington, traditionally the firm's biggest event.

"We don't know what's going on," he said. "Everything is up in the air right now. . . . We've been talking and negotiating. Nothing cut in stone. Just be on standby."

"I can say if they do have it . . . we will be the company doing it," he said.

At Ford's Theatre, "Guys and Dolls" had been set to open in March.

"It was supposed to run literally from March 13 until the end of May," said Paul Tetreault, the theater director.

"When we left, we sort of thought, 'Well this might last maybe four weeks, and then we'll come back'" and perhaps extend the run, he said.

"We had sold $1.2 million worth of tickets," he said.

They had to refund most of it.

Ford's is now closed until the end of June, but "we're all looking at what happens if you can't get back into the theater until January or February," he said. "It's crazy."

The theater, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, is one of the nation's most sacred historical sites, and the thousands who visit each spring and summer are also shut out. Ford's sees about 650,000 visitors a year, most of them from March through July.

"I think it's going to be a rough summer," Tetreault said. "I'm sad to say that I think culture in our city . . . is going to have a bit of a hiatus."

Meanwhile, many parents are struggling with what their children will do.

Mike Showalter of Washington has two children, Stephen, 14, and Sophia, 11.

"All of our stuff is canceled," he said. "My kids were scheduled to do baseball. . . . My daughter was scheduled to do some rock climbing."

He said he worries about "the depression that kids get from not being around one another. . . . So we're really trying to find ways to be social and still be safe."

"My son has discovered fishing on the Potomac," he said. "My daughter, we've been trying to make sure that the bikes are in good shape. . . . We don't have a plan. We were thinking about, 'Is it good to drive somewhere?' I don't even know."

Gonzales, of D.C., said that in lieu of summer traditions, her family plans to attend "Grandma Camp."

"We are going to take some long trips to my parents' house," she said. "My parents live in Indiana with a big yard."

She said her family has a membership at a pool across the Maryland line in Cheverly, but it's unclear when it might open. "They've just been sending updates," she said. "But it's not going to open on time. . . . Maybe by later this summer."

"Not everyone has the choice, but those that do . . . will try to probably escape a little bit, like we are," she said. "I know of multiple families who are doing that, going to Grandma's."

The commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe was to have seen the dedication of the Eisenhower Memorial, a huge flyover of 100 vintage airplanes, and a big ceremony at the World War II Memorial.

The events were timed to mark the anniversary of the triumph of Allied forces over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945.

But the ceremony was small. The flyover was canceled. And the Eisenhower dedication has been rescheduled for Sept. 17, said Victoria Tigwell, deputy executive director of the memorial commission.

"We're going to reinvent it a little bit for the fall," she said. "You can't re-create another event and have it be like the one you already imagined."

"May 8 sort of passed with a whimper, compared with what it was going to be," she said.

As for the Memorial Day Parade, this would have been its 15th year, said Tim Holbert, executive director of the American Veterans Center, which puts on the event.

"We had thousands of people [scheduled to be] in the parade," he said. "People coming from all over the country to take part in something special. For them, it's such a huge loss, and for the city."

Dozens of marching bands were already lined up, he said: "The parade was . . . virtually set to go."

It was also going to be a major salute to World War II veterans.

"We're running out of time with our World War II generation," Holbert said. "This is really the last major anniversary year that you'll have appreciable numbers of World War II vets left. . . . We would have had dozens and dozens of [them] riding down Constitution Avenue."

"Now that's all lost," he said.

The Washington Post's Dana Hedgpeth, Magda Jean-Louis and Allison Klein contributed to this report.

U.S. Archivist David Ferriero walks through the National Archives building, which is closed to the public due to the pandemic.