Teacher at college in Arundel runs school for scandal Professor's class studies shady side of capital

August 16, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Closet trysts. Swampland deals. Duels to the death.

These are a few of Rita Gomez's favorite things.

The Anne Arundel Community College history professor has gathered the best of the worst for a two-week course in January, "History of Washington, D.C.: City of Sex and Scandal."

HIS 281 starts with the eyebrow-raiser that created the capital city and will end with -- well, it depends on how fast Gomez can get through a litany of scandals among the nation's political elite.

Imagine, she might not have time for JFK or LBJ. And Bill Clinton? Allegations involving Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater and FBI files are nothing compared with the titillating adventures of earlier White House residents.

Pick your peccadillo. There's no shortage of tales about presidents' sexual antics, Gomez says. Start with Andrew Jackson.

Jackson's wife, Rachel, was married to another man when he met her. Her first husband, who returned after a six-year hiatus to find he had been divorced without his knowledge, went along with the arrangement largely because Jackson was a dead shot.

"As I tell my students, sex and violence -- it doesn't get any better than that," Gomez says.

Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate child, and Warren Harding was a notorious ladies' man.

"They had to cancel the White House tours. Every time they opened a closet door, he was in there groping someone," Gomez says of Harding.

Gomez -- who was nearly booted off a tour of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate for talking about the theory that the man immortalized on Mount Rushmore had a sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings -- says history is about people and their imperfections.

"History is better than a soap opera," she says, adding that the recitation of dates and wars that most students endure is plain dull.

Besides, Gomez says, "It irritates me that people don't know their history."

The course will feature two forays into the swamp that became the nation's capital to see where conspirators in Abraham Lincoln's assassination were hanged and other infamous sites.

George Washington and some of his cronies owned "a malarial tidal basin. They tried to sell it off, and nobody would buy it," Gomez says, referring to the current site of the nation's capital. But when there was talk of moving the capital from New York to a more central location in 1789, Washington had the perfect site.

For those who prefer a trans-Atlantic view of scandals among the elite, Gomez will teach a similar course about the British royals, from 1603 to the present, during fall semester.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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