The government was shut down; feds were on furlough. A Democratic president was bickering with House Republicans. (The public was fuzzy on details, but it had something to do with health care funding). And citizens shut out of national parks and other government services were taking their rage to the Internet.
The date: December 1995.
The tale’s recounted in this New York Times story from the era. You’ll have to forgive the funny formatting; the Times didn’t launch its own website “publishing daily on the World Wide Web” until two months later.
The story centers around a Web startup from Fort Washington, Md., a D.C. suburb, that built a site called Shutdown ‘95 listing alternative locations for Washington tourists to visit while monuments and Smithsonian museums were off limits because of the government shutdown.
The site logged 60,000 visitors in 15 days . (Yes, that was a lot then). More importantly, it prompted hundreds (yes, that was a lot then; please bear with me) of reader emails. Some had titles such as “Very Angry and Furloughed.” Others claimed Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich was “a spy sent by alien life forms to disrupt the lives of ordinary Americans.”
Shutdown ’95 listed “private museums and galleries as far away as Richmond, as well as the few federal destinations that are chugging along despite the absence of 260,000 Government employees,” the Times reported. It branded itself “Your starting point for having a wonderful time in Washington in spite of Bill, Bob and Newt!” referring to President Clinton, House Speaker Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Dole.
After the angry emails started coming in, developers began collecting some of them into an ad hoc comments section, the Times reported.