One of the fall's more anticipated television series, Quantico, may be set at an iconic American institution, the FBI Academy in northeastern Virginia. But from the hype surrounding lead actress Priyanka Chopra, a Bollywood star and former Miss World playing recruit-turned-possible-terrorist Alex Parrish, the draw may be more international. Considering the national security implications of filming on a law enforcement training ground, it's not surprising the series also went international when shooting, and had the University of Sherbrooke, in a small town outside of Montreal, stand in for the academy. It's understandable but disappointing that a show depicting such a centerpiece of America's security apparatus couldn't stage a domestic film shoot, and not merely for accuracy's sake. The academy and surrounding town of Quantico have a rich history worth investigating.
Before Quantico became a proving ground for future g-men starting in 1934, it had already established itself as the country's pre-eminent Marine base. It's fitting, since the large swath of land in northeast Virginia, 86 square miles near the Potomac river, has a pretty impressive military record. The Commonwealth of Virginia docked ships nearby in the 18th century, and Confederate forces set up gun batteries to protect the vital waterway. As railroads began linking the outpost to D.C. after the war ended, the Quantico Company was founded, seeking to market the area as a tourist destination and day trip for citizens of Richmond and Washington. At one point, the organization promoted the slogan "The New Industrial City" to try and lure more factories to the region. But the area's fortunes would lie with the military.
With rising tensions due to World War I, the Marines had begun searching for a new base near the capitol in 1917. The Corp formerly moved into Marine Barracks, Quantico, that year and started training exercises for potential European deployment. Close to numerous bodies of water, the terrain proved a fitting place to practice and perfect amphibious warfare, and would serve as the training ground for the American forces that would lead assaults on islands across the Pacific during World War II. Some of the original building of MCB Quantico are so historic, both to the Corps and the country, that they were given National Landmark status in 2001, including the Commanding General's Quarters, and Rising Hill Camp.
The FBI started training at Quantico during the late '30s, using the facilities for firearm practice and training at a time when sophisticated criminals such as Al Capone and John Dillinger were overwhelming local police. Most officers at the time received little to no instruction, and were often simply outgunned. A prime example of this phenomena that made headlines nationwide was the "Kansas City Massacre." In 1933, a group of FBI agents transporting prisoner Frank Nash were ambushed by criminals at the Union Railway Station in Kansas City in an attempt to free the captive. The ensuing gunfight left four officers, as well as Nash, dead. At the time agents weren't even allowed to carry guns, but the outcry from the killings, as well as a national study that suggested law enforcement standardize practices across the country, pushed FBI leadership to establish a school to train recruits.
From the outset, the FBI Police Training School taught investigation techniques, crime detection and other basics required for detective work. In the late '30s, FBI executive Hugh Clegg began recruiting lecturers from top universities to train recruits in criminology and forensic science, raising the bar for police training nationwide and earning the facility the nickname "The West Point of Law Enforcement." The training center grew over the ensuing decades, but was relatively cramped, leading the Bureau to petition for a larger facility.
The academy as we know it today didn't open until 1972, when a new campus was completed within Quantico (the FBI, as well as the DEA, would both find space for training facilities on the sprawling base complex). Consisting of roughly 60 buildings spread across 547 acres, the FBI training center puts recruits through a 20-week basic training course, including firearms practice, leadership skills and fitness challenges, such as the "Yellow Brick Road," a Tough Mudder-type 6.1-mile run through an obstacle course containing a signature series of mile markers laid down by the Marines (those who complete the challenge walk away with their own yellow brick).
Perhaps the most famous part of the facility is Hogan's Alley, a simulated town named after an old comic strip that's been set up and stocked with actors for training. The Bureau's corny description of town— "a hotbed of terrorist and criminal activity ... Its only bank is robbed at least twice a week"—doesn't quite do it justice. The 60-acre facility, built by Hollywood set designers, boasts everything from a barbershop and bank to a pool hall, and a replica of Chicago's Biograph Theater, where agents famously gunned down John Dillinger, is down the road from the simulated town square.
The somewhat aged acacemy has been renovated over the course of the last decade, as new training facilities and a standalone lab have been added in the wake of the Bureau's expanded role post 9-11. While Quantico has had plenty of cameos in film and television, including memorable scenes in Silence of the Lambs, it remains to be seen if this new show can make it an even more familiar pop culture reference.
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