Mary Ann was the daughter of Michael Shiner, the black Navy Yard worker and politician whose famous diary is housed at the Library of Congress. Michael Shiner owned property on Capitol Hill, where Mary was raised. As an infant, she and her mother were kidnapped by slave traders on Eighth Street, SE, near the Navy Yard, and freed by her father’s heroic efforts with assistance from friends at the Navy Yard. In an era when mixed marriages were rare, Mary Ann married an Italian immigrant and ran a string of successful businesses near the United States Capitol, including hotels, restaurants, a bawdy house, a home for children, and a dance hall called the Razzle-Dazzle (a.k.a. The Burning Rag). In the late 19th century she was well-known in Washington, a confidant of politicians and diplomats. In her later years she raised four adopted white children. Although largely forgotten today, her death was mourned on the front page of the Washington Times.
Mark Herlong, a third-generation Washingtonian, is known for his creative research on the capital’s 19th century social history, including gambling, social reform, culinary history, opium dens, and grave-robbing. He based his lecture on meticulous use of newspapers of the day, plus other public sources, including maps, photographs, city directories and court records.