The Late Shift digs into waterfront history

The Late Shift digs into waterfront history
A human work of art interacts with attendees at one of the Torpedo Factory's Late Shift events. (Courtesy Photo)

By Missy Schrott |

The Torpedo Factory will be exploring early waterfront history late into the night Friday at the event “The Late Shift: Uncovering the Waterfront.”

The event takes place from 7 to 11 p.m. and will include a host of activities, from trivia to rope making, all cloaked in a blanket of Alexandria waterfront history.

“We were hearing from a lot of people, ‘If only you were open later on weekends,’” Daniel Guzman, programs coordinator at the Torpedo Factory said. “So we tried it out for three sessions over the summer, and each one had a very unique theme to it, and the turn out for it was overwhelming.”

For this month’s waterfront theme, the Torpedo Factory is partnering with several local organizations, including the Archeology Museum, the Black History Museum, Gadsby’s Tavern, the Lyceum, the Apothecary Museum and Ivy Hill Cemetery.

During the event, there will also be an exclusive tour hosted by the D.C. branch of Atlas Obsura, the national digital media enterprise focused on exploring hidden wonders and mysterious things in the world.

Matt Blitz, the head of Atlas Obscura Society D.C., said they were drawn to the Torpedo Factory because of the history of the building itself and the fact that it had been repurposed into an arts center.

“We really love supporting places like that, that turn historic places into places that are for the community,” Blitz said.

While the Late Shift event will delve into the history of the whole waterfront, the Atlas Obscura tour is focused specifically on the Torpedo Factory’s history. Titled “Make Art, Not War,” the event will educate ticketholders on the building’s trifold history as a munitions plant, government storage facility and arts center.

“There’s actually a lot of artifacts that are still imbedded in the building from the time when it was still a factory, like the staircase is still the original factory staircase,” Guzman said. “We’ve been working with the archaeology museum to uncover all these old documents, old floor plans.”

Guzman also said they have been digging into the archives of a Torpedo Factory publication called “The Torp” for fun anecdotes to share during the tour. After the tour, guests will also be able to create their own works of art in a workshop with printmaker Patrick Sargent.

“It’s been great to meet with the folks at the Torpedo Factory and get to find out a little more about what they’re doing, and I guess see their passion for what they do in action,” said Rebekah Planto, an Alexandria resident who pitched the Torpedo Factory idea to Atlas Obscura. “And I mean, living in the area, living in the community, it’s nice to be able to be part of an event that’s local, that’s promoting a local institution.”

Atlas Obscura’s 35 tour spots have already sold out for Friday’s event. Blitz said they capped the ticket sales at a relatively low number to keep the gathering intimate.

“Our Atlas Obscura groups always ask a lot of questions. They’re curious people and it’s great. I mean, that’s what we want,” he said.

Despite this event selling out, both Blitz and Guzman said they enjoyed working together and hoped the evening would be the gateway to future partnerships.

“Walking around, [Blitz and I] would kind of go back and forth just sharing fun stories, and to see someone so excited about exploring the unique and the odd I think is really refreshing,” Guzman said. “A lot of times people come here and they only see the Torpedo Factory as a box, but he sees it as a living history.”

Guzman said the two organizations had discussed hosting an event together again in the fall to celebrate the centennial of the Torpedo Factory’s groundbreaking.

“I think in D.C., people are starting to – they want to get out more,” Blitz said. “People go out because they want to experience life in the city around them and the world around them.”

While the Atlas Obscura piece of the evening is sold out, the Late Shift is free and open to the public.

“The goal is, if the community wants to still enjoy the Late Shifts, we’ll keep doing them,” Guzman said. “We will keep having artist receptions and keep our doors open so people can connect with our artists and really get inspired here.”