Transcripts

New Book Explores The 'Wicked' Ways Of Capitol Hill

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and as we continue our Wild Cards theme, we're going to kick off this segment of the show with some seriously bad behavior and the man who's going to tell us all about it...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:21
Hello.

MR. ROBERT POHL

00:00:22
Hi, Rebecca, how are you?

SHEIR

00:00:23
Good. How are you doing?

POHL

00:00:24
Good. Good. Welcome to my 'hood.

SHEIR

00:00:26
...is this guy.

POHL

00:00:27
My name's Robert Pohl.

SHEIR

00:00:28
Pohl is a local historian and tour guide.

POHL

00:00:30
I do walking tours here of Capitol Hill as Walking Shtick. I say, look me up on walkingshtick.com.

SHEIR

00:00:36
The reason he knows so much about bad behavior is he's just written an entire book on the subject.

SHEIR

00:00:40
It has a very playful name, "Wicked Capitol Hill: An Unruly History of Behaving Badly."

POHL

00:00:45
Yes, indeed.

SHEIR

00:00:47
Among Walking Shtick's offerings is something called the Scandal Tour. So when I met up with Robert Pohl in Capitol Hill, he walked me by some sites connected with some pretty sizzling scandals. And we're talking from the 18th and 19th centuries.

SHEIR

00:00:59
All right. So where are we walking now?

POHL

00:01:00
We are just walking out of Folger Park across the street to Providence Park.

POHL

00:01:04
For me, it's the final chapter of the William Taulbee saga.

SHEIR

00:01:08
A saga which we'll hear about in just a moment. But Pohl also showed me sites associated with some 20th century misdeeds.

POHL

00:01:15
So we're walking towards the house that was lived in by John and Rita Jenrette right now. It's just off the park.

SHEIR

00:01:22
And I will hear all about the Jenrette Scandal in just a moment, too, but let's start with one of Robert Pohl's favorites, Kentucky Congressman William Preston Taulbee, who Pohl says was born to be a politician.

POHL

00:01:34
Well, he was tall, he was handsome. He was originally a Methodist minister and had the appropriate verbal chops in that regard.

SHEIR

00:01:42
But something else Taulbee had when he was in office in the 1880s, was a mistress.

POHL

00:01:48
He met a young woman named Laura Dodge, who actually lived on the Hill as well, at 3rd and A Northeast basically. Taulbee got her a job at the patent office as a clerk. The top floor was used to house the old patent models, so lots of little corners to hide in up there and that's where Taulbee and Dodge hid until they were discovered one day.

SHEIR

00:02:11
And the next day, an article ran in The Louisville Times.

POHL

00:02:14
Which basically said, you know, a Kentucky representative has been caught with this young woman.

SHEIR

00:02:19
And actually the full headline was, "Kentucky's Silver-Tongued Taulbee Caught in Flagrante or Thereabouts, with Brown-Haired Miss Dodge, Also of Kentucky, Congressman and Clerk Lunching on Forbidden Fruit and Hidden Waters." But despite the alluring, if long-winded, headline, no newspapers in D.C. reported the story. Taulbee did end up resigning from Congress, but Pohl says he didn't do it in disgrace.

SHEIR

00:02:46
So the affair with Dodge did not ruin his career?

POHL

00:02:48
No, not at all. He stayed here in D.C. and he started earning a lot of money. He was also a lawyer. I forgot to mention that. It's another useful thing to be here.

SHEIR

00:02:57
Now, mind you, this is not the end of our titillating tale. See, Taulbee kept crossing paths with the Kentucky journalist who wrote the aforementioned article, Charles Kincaid.

POHL

00:03:06
The problem was that Taulbee took every opportunity that they met to tweak Kincaid, who was about a foot shorter and sort of hundred pounds, soaking wet. So obviously, you know, in each one of these encounters, Kincaid would come out the worse.

SHEIR

00:03:20
Pohl says at one point, Taulbee warned Kincaid to be armed next time they met. And lo and behold, a few hours later, as Taulbee was emerging from the House chamber, who should emerge, but a gun-wielding Kincaid.

POHL

00:03:33
And Kincaid shoots him in the face. The bullet goes in here, lodges back here.

SHEIR

00:03:38
You're pointing to where?

POHL

00:03:39
I'm pointing just below my eye and it lodged in the back of his skull.

SHEIR

00:03:44
Taulbee was rushed to Providence Hospital, now Providence Park, where he died 11 days later. And as for Charles Kincaid...

POHL

00:03:51
Kincaid was arrested for murder and he was tried and he managed to get away with it under temporary insanity.

SHEIR

00:03:56
And while the newspapers had pretty much had ignored Taulbee's earlier misdeeds, they were all over his murder for quite a while. But of course, William Taulbee was old news by the time we reach another of Robert Pohl's favorite scandals, that of John and Rita Jenrette, the couple's whose former house is just off the park.

SHEIR

00:04:14
So which one is it exactly?

POHL

00:04:15
So it's this blue one right here, 160 North Carolina Southeast.

SHEIR

00:04:19
So it's the mid-1970s and John Jenrette, a freshman Democratic representative from South Carolina, falls in love with Rita Carpenter, the director of opposition research for the Republican National Committee. They get married and quickly become the toast of Capitol Hill, until John was busted as part of a scandal known as Abscam.

POHL

00:04:39
FBI agents went to various representatives, and senators I believe too, and offered them bribes. They said they were an Arab sheikh and they wanted to give them money to do whatever.

SHEIR

00:04:49
Jenrette was convicted, he quit the House and he separated from his wife. But that's not where our scandal begins. Fast-forward to 1980, when Rita Jenrette wrote a juicy tell-all about her and her husband's racy Congressional life for Playboy. And in case you're wondering, she did pose too, semi-nude.

POHL

00:05:07
And that's when it finally took off as a scandal, you know, it's like up until then it was like, yeah, whatever, a representative misbehaving, yeah, whatever, you know. But now, a Congressional wife not only posing for Playboy, but writing salacious tales. That got everybody going.

SHEIR

00:05:23
Because Rita Jenrette wrote about stuff like rampant drug use in Congress and raucous hot-tub parties she and her husband attended.

POHL

00:05:30
And the most famous part of the story was, in fact, where she wrote about how at the Capitol it was a late-night session, and he got bored, and he called her up and she came over and they had unauthorized nookie on the Capitol Steps.

SHEIR

00:05:43
In fact, perhaps you've heard troop, The Capitol Steps? Well…

POHL

00:05:47
They're named for that particular incident.

SHEIR

00:05:51
I should note here that even though Robert Pohl's book is chockfull of stories like these, he refers to it as "Wicked Capitol Hill: Volume One."

SHEIR

00:05:59
Well, it ends, like what, in the mid-80's, 1980s?

POHL

00:06:01
Yes, it seems like a good scandal in order to become a good story, you need a certain distance to it. There's another quote that I use at the very end, Carol Burnett, something like "tragedy plus time equals comedy." And I say it's more like scandal plus time equals entertainment.

SHEIR

00:06:19
And as Pohl writes in the book's afterword, "In time, today's scandals will be added to the cannon of Capitol Hill stories, as well." In the meantime, rest assured that as long as there are people living and working on Capitol Hill, there will be no shortage of new scandals, either.

SHEIR

00:06:38
Robert Pohl is the author of "Wicked Capitol Hill: An Unruly History of Behaving Badly," published by History Press. For more on the book, which also includes the story of an infamous madam whose grave counts among the most elaborate in Congressional Cemetery, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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