Of DC a Century Ago, Smithsonian Sci+Tech Museum Founder Frank Taylor, and Joan Taylor's Career in European Archeology
Joan Taylor: Oral History Excerpts
Q: How did your father’s side of the family get to Washington?
JT: There is a long history to Taylor. Taylor was the first poet of the United States around 1660…John Taylor had gone on to the Detroit area as a missionary to try to convert Indians.
Q: What year was that?
JT: I don’t know. I’d have to do some research about that. But I know the family stayed around the Detroit area. The Taylor that came back to Washington was a banker whose bank had failed in Detroit. He put his family on a steamship—his wife was a relative of the Ainsworth family. The local doctor at Cape Vincent on Lake Ontario was the grandfather of my grandfather. He took the two kids in. My grandfather was going to be a medic, but he couldn’t take the dissection of the eye, so he became a pharmacist.
Q: So, when did your father’s side arrive in Washington?
JT: The banker from Detroit, Nathaniel Terry Taylor, got an appointment with the U.S. Treasury. That was bad. He’s a failed banker that gets appointed to the U.S. Treasury. That’s when they moved to Washington.
Q: When was that?
JT: I don’t know exactly. It was when there was a depression—perhaps in the 1850s. My grandfather then trained as a pharmacist. He was one of the pharmacists that lobbied and put through the pure food and drug act through Congress.
Q: It sounds like your great grandfather was the failed banker. That sounds more like the 1890s. There was a huge depression in the 90s.
JT: No, earlier, as my grandfather married my grandmother before that.
Q: And the FDA came in just after that.
JT: Right! My grandfather’s sister was also a pharmacist. That side of the family was all Episcopalian. It was my father’s mother who converted that side of the family to Catholicism. So, most of my relatives are Episcopalian. Stephen Kübel must have been Catholic, too, because I know his daughter was Catholic.
My father’s uncle was working with Powell who co-founded the Cosmos Club; he was director of the Geological Survey. My great uncle wasn’t a founder-member, but he joined after it was established. He was the head cartographer of the Geological Survey. Apparently, he was vicious and would run his signet ring across a copper plate if he spotted a mistake. My grandmother was a German-American, born in Washington DC, as was her brother, Stephen, who was the member of the Cosmos Club. There’s an article published by Silvio Bedini in the journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences (vol. 85 No.1, December 1998) about the family. They were called Kübel. They were high precision instrument makers. They came to Washington to make working patents for the Patent Office and instruments for the Geological Survey and also some instruments for the scientists at the Smithsonian.
Q: Fascinating. Do you know when they came over?
JT: I think it was 1849. I had to do the research for dad on the plots they settled on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, the building of the tunnel from the south into Union Station allowed these lands to be confiscated. And when the government confiscates, they pull all the records. It’s the daftest thing I’ve ever seen. So, I ended up with the original ledger of Washington DC down in Chinatown—there was a little office run by the Washington surveyor. He told me he couldn’t allow me to Xerox it, but I could trace anything you like.
To handle that ledger I felt like I was handling history of the first order. It was all there, from about 1800 or a little bit before. And do you know you could see where Carroll of Carrollton gave land on Capitol Hill to the District and then every other plot was given back to him as payment for the land he’d given. This is how they funded the District of Columbia. Some of those plots were owned by the Kübels. The most fascinating thing was that the only income at that time was the post office. The making of stamps was the only income the federal government had at the time. Now I hear that they are going to do away with the post office. That’s daft. The District of Columbia was set up so that it couldn’t be influenced by state politics. And now the District wants to become a state! We are sort of defeating the purpose of DC’s existence.
Q: Do you know where the family was from in Germany?
JT: One part of the family is from Bayreuth. I understand that there are Wagner sheets of music somewhere in the family, but I have not seen them. Another part is from the Hartz Mountain area. And I know my grandmother was helping German girls who came over to go into domestic service, by what manners were and things like that. She died when I was 17. She only spoke German at the end.
Q: Did you speak German to her?
JT: Oh, no—my father did. My German is pretty limited, even though I worked with the Germans.
Q: Did your father learn German from his parents?
JT: I think he learned it from his mother. Or he may have studied it in school.
Q: Did your father have siblings?
JT: Yes. He had a brother who was older and a sister who was younger. It was the sister that got the $15 scholarship to Maryland. His brother went to MIT. His brother deferred going into university because he knew the first world war was coming. There was the Sterling armament firm in Washington DC, which is British. He worked for them. With that experience, with the outbreak of war, he was sent just behind the lines re-commissioning arms that were largely made by the Sterling firm. He caught malaria in northern France. All the fens there had been malarial swamps, though they weren’t considered to be at the time of the First World War. When the war was over he was eager to get back, but they couldn’t bring everybody out all at once. He ended up again re-commissioning arms. They had a pistol competition among officers who were delayed returning. He also got flu in the 1918 epidemic and was quarantined in some sort of an Army base, but he recovered from that. For his part, dad was delivering soup in Washington. A lot of single people were working for the government. The doctors were writing their prescriptions plus soup and food. He never got the flu but I know my grandfather had to put up food as well as prescriptions for people who had the flu.
My father, Frank Taylor
JT: My father wanted to be a patent lawyer, so did a degree in engineering at MIT followed by a degree at Georgetown Law. But in the meantime, the Smithsonian picked him up and he became the curator of water power and then moved up; he ultimately built the Museum of History and Technology, which is now called the National Museum of American History. Father served as acting secretary at times when Dillon Ripley was out of the country or out of town. So, he moved right through the Smithsonian. The Times of London had the best obituary—the Washington Post rather muffed it [Washington Post obituary at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/29/AR2007062902435.html]. The Times pointed out that he had an international reputation. They called him “Mr. Museum”.
Q: How old was he when he died?
JT: He lived to be 104 years old. He began to like to have half-yearly birthday parties.
Q: What year did he die?
JT: It was June 14, 2007.
Frank Taylor at 104
Dad went to McKinley Tech. One of his teachers, a Physics teacher, I think, made him take the exams for interning at the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST). It used to be the Bureau of Standards and now is out in Gaithersburg. It used to be at Van Ness Street between Reno Road and Connecticut Avenue. They had to take exams to become apprentices. It was because he passed those exams that they were interested in him at the Smithsonian. He had been a runner during World War One at the National History Museum, where war records were stored. So, he knew the Smithsonian first-hand from that.
Q: He lived in this house his whole time in Washington?
JT: He grew up on Capitol Hill. He was being pushed by a friend to move to Knollwood [a retirement home for veterans on Oregon Avenue in Chevy Chase]. He didn’t want to live outside of the District of Columbia and he decided he wanted to stay in his own home. So, gradually I hired various house-keepers and he was very happy here.
Father saw a lot of change. In fact, when he bought this house, his parents warned him that he was buying in the wrong location—“Washington will never move out there”. As a child he was taught at the movie house never to accept free land in Virginia, because you would only ever pay tax on it; it would never be developed.
Q: Free land was being given?
JT: Yes, and it was around Tyson’s Corner. “Boy! I missed out on that,” he later told me. In fact, he and his brother used to shoot birds down where the Lincoln Memorial is now. It had been all swamp then. I picked up some engravings of Washington that somehow came into the hands of a man in Wales. They show water coming up almost to the White House. And of course there was the Tiber canal that took materials to build the Capitol up Constitution Avenue. So, there was quite an interesting change to that part of the city. Father had always been interested in the history of Washington.
In the flu epidemic of 1917-1918, dad was sent to Baltimore to get some pharmaceuticals that had run out. It was the time of Prohibition and people were going to Baltimore to get alcohol. He was turned away from the streetcar that would have taken him to Baltimore and told to take the train, because he had two suitcases. Going up to Baltimore all the bootleggers were congratulating dad for being such an entrepreneur, but I don’t think dad knew why. Coming back, they would throw one suitcase out the window to someone on the other side of the fence as they were coming into Union Station. And as they got off, the police would just take the other suitcase and throw it into a paddy wagon and it would break, so that there was alcohol running in the gutters. Despite this, dad did manage to get the pharmaceuticals through to my grandfather.
Dad said you were raised by the people in the community. If you wanted to go watch a blacksmith, as long as you behaved yourself, you could do it. If you misbehaved you could get slapped. It wasn’t wrong for the neighborhood industries to discipline you as much as your parents. Dad couldn’t sing. The music teacher made him sing The Star-Spangled Banner on his own. This awful sound came out. So she slapped him and sent a note home. My grandmother was very musical. In fact, her brother was the chief organist at a number of churches on Capitol Hill as well. He even had a music room built on his house. My grandmother went around to see the teacher—not to complain, just to find out what my father had done wrong. The teacher explained that “your son can’t sing the Star Spangled Banner with respect.” My grandmother replied: “he can’t sing, full stop.” The German side of the family was very musical. My father was sent one time for some sheet music. The attendant did not recognize him and took dad’s cap off and said: “Well, I guess you’re good looking enough to be a Kübel, but I’m not certain.” (laughter) Congressmen would bring in things to sell from their constituents, like maple syrup, holly at Christmas time. My grandfather would buy them then send my father out to others in the family to sell them. Dad remembered going around with holly and mistletoe to sell in the neighborhood on Capitol Hill. So it was quite a nice environment.
Q: Tell us more about Barnaby Woods and how your father got here.
JT: If you look from here towards the houses on 31st Place, there were no trees in their back yards. That’s because it was farm land. A man called Swanson built the first five houses on this street—we’re the biggest. The other two have the same house plan, as do the two further houses have identical original plans.
Q: Swanson was the builder?
JT: Yes. He was funded by his mother-in-law, who apparently was fairly wealthy. He would buy rolls of copper and make his own guttering. Therefore, the quality of the houses was superior to others because he had this extra money to throw at it. I have no idea what my father paid for this house—I think it was in the teens, maybe $17,000—and of course it’s not worth $17,000 today.
Q: What year was that?
JT: It was 1937. They bought it unfinished and had Swanson finish it to their tastes. Those bookcases on either side of the fireplace were what Dad wanted. There were some wall sconces, but when this portrait was hung, Dad took them off.
Q: Where did your grandparents live?
JT: On Upshur Street. Near Rock Creek Park near Blagden Avenue. My grandfather had two pharmacies on Capitol Hill. They were called Taylor’s Pharmacies.
Q: Who lived in this house before you?
JT: No one. We are the original owners.
Q: And your father before moving here?
He always moved with his parents. There was Capitol Hill, then Upshur Street. He was doing a degree in Economics when he met my mother.
Q: Do you know how they met?
JT: They met through my Aunt Helen McCurry and Uncle Edward Taylor. My uncle was at MIT as well. I guess dad was living with my uncle while he was finishing his degree. He went to evening school here. My uncle was fully paid for by his father to go through university. My father and his sister had to find their own ways. My father attended evening classes at George Washington University and also at Catholic University. He needed a B average to transfer to MIT, but there was one English course in which he did not have at least a B on all his essays. He went in and negotiated with the teacher. By this time he was working at the Smithsonian. The teacher told him he had to write up some short biographies of famous people in the Washington area, scientists mostly. “If you can write them, I’ll mark them and use them and we’ll see how it goes.” He got a B out of that course as a result. At that point, he took leave from the Smithsonian and finished his engineering degree at MIT in 18 months. So, he was very much a self-made man in that respect. He later taught at Catholic University for a term and Secretary Bradley who did the budget for the Smithsonian Institution was in his class. He remembered Dad’s distinctive voice when he was interviewing him for his job.
My father fought in the Philippines during the Second World War. He said it was the only time he had ever used his degrees, which is a bit of fiction. He was in anti-aircraft artillery for engineering and then custodian of property for the island of Mindanao.
Q: Tell us about your father during World War Two.
JT: His brother had fought in World War One. Dad always thought that he should serve. He had been a reservist for years starting with horse cavalry. He signed up. I was not yet 2 years old. He trained on the east coast and drove Colonel Gambol’s family across to the west coast. He came back and drove us across. I have some vivid memories of that. He talked mother into having a picnic on the desert, because he’d been trained in desert warfare, as they were going after Rommel in North Africa. Of course, Rommel capitulated to the British before he got there, so he was sent to the jungles of the Philippines. He was going to be sent overseas from California.
Q: What kind of unit was he in?
JT: He was in the Army; he was anti-aircraft artillery. He told the wonderful story of the sealed orders to report to a place on the west coast. He said he couldn’t understand why the soldiers were all polished up. On the road, he opened his orders and it was that they were to proceed to a point in Los Angeles, but it hadn’t been built yet. There were streets in, and street signs to find it, and hydrants, but it was just desert. Dad said the soldiers all thought they were going to the middle of Los Angeles. He never understood how the orders leaked, because they knew where they were going and he didn’t. The Smithsonian asked for his uniforms in 1994, as his military history was researched by Phil Hindenburg of the journal, Military History.
Q: Do you remember your reaction to your father going away?
JT: I was distressed. My grandmother (mother’s mother) came to live with us. Mother said every time she went to mail him a letter, I would break into tears and have a tantrum. I don’t remember this at all, but she said it was because I thought it was because he left that she, too, might be leaving. On his letters home, dad would always do a little animal like a panda or something and she kept these in a scrapbook for me. He sent some wooden shoes from the Philippines. The little ones were for me, but they fit my dolls and the ones for mother fit me, because they were all petite people. When he got to Mindanao, he was up against the Moros who are still a threat to everybody and I guess had been since the Spanish-American War. They were quite a problem. He was saved by his sergeant from being murdered by one of them. They strap themselves up in a frenzy and bind themselves and then they come at you with a machete. He said they took the stanchions of his windscreen off his jeep. His sergeant used his side arm to kill the man. They didn’t control the Moros. They were giving back all the property that the Japanese had confiscated. He was in charge of a salt works, a fish drying facility, and all sorts of industries that he had to give back to the proper Filipino owners. That’s when he felt he used his law.
Q: What kind of engineering degree did he get?
JT: I’d say civil, but I am not sure. When he built the Museum of History and Technology he invented a lot of things. He invented a kind of point that went into the floors. They could install partitions at these points of low floor and ceiling to enable galleries to be moved to create open floor space. He always checked the plans to make sure that the architect hadn’t made some blunder, like having doors open on doors, and things like that. He was using his engineering then. I know he wasn’t too impressed with the architects in getting things to function. The basement of the Museum has double columns and it is an extra-heavy floor on the first floor because the water table was so close to the surface that they had to pile it, in effect. And then they floored it to have open access and moveable galleries. He was disappointed, as he wanted variable flooring and he put in wooden blocks in the locomotive hall. But the underground pass at 12th Street flooded and the flooding came through the window, causing the blocks to go up in a wave. There is a picture in the Washington Post showing it. They didn’t have the money to replace it, so it went down as tile. He thought people’s feet would get tired walking on the same surface. There were also other things he wanted people to see in these blocks. I have seen some in Cambridge, where streets were made of them at one point. Road workers came across these when they were digging as the road surface went on top. Blocks were factory floors in this country. I think he feared that history would just lose them. People would at least be able to see it if they walked over them in the gallery.
Q: Later, when you had established your career in England, your dad visited you frequently?
JT: Yes. Whenever he had to go around the world. He worked sometimes in India, advising them on museums. At one point he was in Thailand and another time between the two. He had a lot of work in helping establish science and technology museums. In fact, the science and technology institution he established in India is still being overseen by Barney Finn, who lives on Connecticut Avenue. He is a retired member of the Smithsonian, but he still goes over. They set up several museums and labs for school kids and he still goes and supervises that. Wherever the U.S. embassy could not take money out of the country – they called it counterpart funding – and after the embassy that gets first claim on the counterpart funds, had any left, they would allocate it to other projects. Anything left over in India could be used by museums. Dad was overseeing that. India was the main instance. Dad also knew Nehru, who was the ambassador to Washington for a while. We used to get lovely canisters of Darjeeling tea that he would send at Christmas.
Q: Talk to us more about your experience with desegregation.
JT: I was at Wilson between 1956 and 1958. I remember these two teachers coming, so I would have thought that it was my second year at Wilson that they arrived.
Q: They were African-American teachers?
JT: Yes. They were Mr. Lucas in Chemistry and Mrs. Jackson in History. Mrs. Jackson was a brilliant teacher at history but she also had a very personable way with the students. As one came into class, kids chewing gum and all, she would take the roll and then would say to the class: “now that you have gotten the good out of your chewing gum, would you please come up and deposit it here.” And so people would come up and put their chewing gum in the waste basket. That sort of thing went down well, because she was tolerating them chewing it for a while.
I never had Mr. Lucas. He was shyer. I never took Chemistry. I think from what I heard he was an excellent Chemistry teacher. And the only two African American students who came at that time were Joan Crawford and her brother.
Q: Why weren’t there more?
JT: I don’t really know. You tell me there was the Reno School…That was the building with the air raid siren on top. At that time we were being trained to go under our tables in case there was an atomic bomb. A lot of good it would have done us. I know my parents had agreed to meet out in Maryland if Washington got evacuated. The likelihood of ever doing that was impossible.
Q: Regarding desegregation, students had to live in the neighborhood, right? There was no busing yet…
JT: Correct. Mr. Crawford was verger at Blessed Sacrament. Whether Blessed Sacrament provided him with accommodation I don’t know.
Q: Were the houses you described in Tenleytown—were they still there at that time?
JT: The houses were still there. There were the three boys we talked about. I don’t know why they didn’t come to Wilson with desegregation. They were right on top of Alice Deal, so should have gone to Wilson.
Q: So during your high school career there were only these two people?
JT: And the diplomatic corps.
It was also during the era of the McCarthy hearings. We labeled two boys in our class McCarthy and Cohen.
Q: Why did you do that?
JT: One was a little bit arrogant and very pompous and the other one was his side-kick.
I became an Archaeologist with a career in England
JT: My father [Frank A. Taylor, 1903-2007, a founder of the National Museum of American History] was with the Smithsonian Institution. So, when I became interested in Archeology, he put me in touch with people he thought would discourage me. But Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans encouraged me. They encouraged a lot of young people who were interested in Archeology.
Q: Who were Meggers and Evans?
JT: They were curators at the Smithsonian in Latin American Archaeology. She still lives. She’s 90. She has been a close friend all my career. She went to the University of Pennsylvania and then to Columbia, where she met her husband, and then she and her husband went to the University of Michigan for their PhDs. I went to the University of Pennsylvania and then to Cambridge, England. I did my doctorate at Cambridge.
Dad said he’d see me through for the undergraduate degrees, but that I would have to earn my way through graduate studies. So, I had odd jobs while I was at Penn to earn money.
I was told by my Anthropology supervisor to go to Cambridge, because some of the professors were getting annoyed that I asked “why” too often. He said that when I go to Cambridge I can ask as many whys as I want. And by golly, you had better ask why, because that is the basis on which they judge you. You write your essays and you have to go and defend them.
Q: What was your parents’ reaction to your leaving the country like that?
JT: They weren’t happy, but they supported me. And dad did pay for me to go, because I couldn’t work once I got to England, though it was cheaper for me in England than it was at Penn. Nowadays it wouldn’t be. Or maybe it would, since tuitions have risen here so much. I found that although my parents had to take out a loan to send me through Penn, my matriculation was $500 each semester. And it was about $500 room and board—you had to live in the dorm. They still needed a loan to send me through. This was 1958-1962. It was less to send me to Cambridge in that sense, although probably to bring me home for Christmas it was slightly more. We used to be members of a society that hired chartered flights for Christmas.
Q: When were you at Cambridge?
JT: I was at Cambridge from 1964-1970. I was a slow learner. It wouldn’t be allowed now. I had to do a year to prove that I was of their standard, because they only recognized Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin. I managed to do that and from 1965-1970, I was a graduate student. They put you into teaching the last few years. In fact, I taught after I graduated, because my husband was a metallurgist and he was still studying for his PhD. So, I had to come back and teach for them to pay the utility bills, because I didn’t earn enough at Birmingham City Museum and the salary was about £1,800 per year, which just wasn’t enough to feed us. My father had to give me money to buy a car. It had to be bought in my husband’s name, because women were considered chattels of their husbands. I think I would have gone through the roof, had I known this, as I considered this almost slavery. It wasn’t until I was divorced that I knew this. But my father knew through his law studies that these were the conditions. It is no longer true in Britain, and I was able to buy my own house in my own name. As a result my driver’s license is as Taylor-Shell. And curiously enough, my passport is Taylor-Shell. I never used the “Shell.” I was writing a paper on my wedding day and it was as Taylor. Poor Colin got known as Mr. Taylor. When I moved to be curator in Bristol, the old lady that lived beneath me always addressed him as Mr. Taylor. He just graciously took it.
Q: You got your PhD at Cambridge?
JT: Yes. I am a European prehistorian. I did my doctorate in gold. “The Bronze Age Goldwork of the British Isles” is the title of my dissertation. This irritated the Irish, who said I should have called it ‘Britain and Ireland.’ But I took it as a geographical area. I called it the British Isles. There used to be a copy floating around here, but maybe I gave it to the Wests—I don’t know—but I don’t have one to show you. It won a type-setting award. I wouldn’t claim that I won the award. The Cambridge University Press won it. It was when they still set the type in hot lead. My research has always been gold. I travelled on a German grant all around Europe. I was linked to Stuttgart, where people were doing metal analyses. So, I am really more European than just British. Though now that Britain is in the European Union, I notice that the two people that replaced me at the University of Liverpool claim to be European prehistorians, but one is really only British. The naming has changed.
Q: What were your dates at the University of Liverpool?
Q: Are you now retired?
JT: Sort of. I am now Senior Honorary Research Fellow. This is why I am returning in June. I chair the first science-based Archaeology committee in the United Kingdom. It’s on Implement Petrology in the southwest. It was established in 1937 and still goes on with more modern analytical techniques. We are now using much more modern scientific techniques. It’s about the making of stone axes in the Neolithic period. There were several factory sites, quarry sites. We are now looking at what rock they actually used in these quarry sites. We are linked to Camborne School of Mines to get this work done. When I came back to the United States this time I thought I had two weeks to prepare a talk for the Saint David’s Society of Washington, which is the Welsh society. Suddenly I learned it was the very next day. I had to scramble. But we did it.
Q: Why the Welsh Society?
JT: Margaret West is from Wales. They invited me to their annual dinner. That was very nice. It was at the Cosmos Club. Then they asked me to give this talk: I had eaten my dinner before I made the commitment. I discovered on this trip that I am a third generation member of the Cosmos Club.
Q: How did you decide to work and live in England?
JT: Primarily because I am a European prehistorian. I actually had a group of students at Cambridge corner me in the archaeological library and told me to go home. They didn’t like my being there. I said, well, look, if I wanted to stay in Britain, I would specialize in Latin American Archeology, because you don’t have Latin American Archeology over here. But I want to go back; I want to be a European prehistorian, because they don’t have the subject in America. As it happened, just as I finished, the whole expansion of the universities in America closed down. There was a recession here and they weren’t taking on new subjects. I returned to Washington during the Watergate scandal. I hadn’t looked at dad’s coffee table, which had the law bulletin with Judge Sirica on the front cover and a centerfold with pictures of all of those accused of being involved in Watergate. I told dad that I didn’t really want to stay in museums in England, which I knew probably, hurt him a bit. But they were getting too political and I didn’t want to be an American telling them there were other ways to function at Bristol City museum. Meantime, Bristol was being moved along with the reorganization of the counties as we were government in effect. Museums could be educational, but Bristol politicians wanted to downgrade us by reclassifying us to a leisure function, which would have placed us with swimming pools, crematoriums and that sort of thing. I felt we were educational and I led a petition saying we were educational.
Q: You tried to maintain an apolitical orientation?
JT: Right: my mother was always independent. From Boston. She didn’t like the political machines in Boston and objected to our getting a mayor in Washington, which I found interesting. My father considered his position apolitical, so he would never tell us what might have interested him in politics.
Dad and I voted for the first time in 1964. I had an absentee vote and voted from Cambridge. I remember that a close American friend of mine at Cambridge was going to vote for Barry Goldwater. When she got her packet from Minnesota, it was thick. Mine was an air letter with one piece of paper in it to vote for president. I didn’t vote for Barry Goldwater. That was when the film “Dr. Strangelove” had just been released. The two were pretty comparable.
Q: You voted for the first time when your dad did?
JT: Yes. DC residents did not have the vote until the presidential election of 1964. We laughed. He was 61, I think. There was such an age gap; I was just 21.
Q: What was your parents’ reaction to the news that you would now be living in England?
JT: Mother died in 1969 when I was still a student. I offered to come back to dad when I had decided to leave the post of curator at Bristol City Museum and he asked me what I would do if I came back. I said it was no good my trying to be an Archeologist here. Archaeology in America is too different from the way it is practiced in Europe. I told him I would re-train as a lawyer. And that’s when the eruption occurred, because the law bulletin was sitting on the table. “No,” he said, “you’re not going to re-train as a lawyer. You’re having a successful career in Britain, so stay.”
Actually, I realize now that I have had two careers in Britain, where nobody is usually allowed to change gear. I had changed from being a successful curator of Archaeology into being the head of a department at the University of Liverpool. I was a one-person department. I soon grew to two. I eventually put science-based Archaeology into Liverpool with many more staff. I felt very lucky that I managed to do that. I could have been told to go wander, as jobs have always been limited in Archaeology.
Q: Through all those years, how many times have you returned to the States?
JT: I usually came back twice a year, but then my mother died in 1969 and she made me promise to look after dad. So, I come back at least twice a year and I would receive a list of things to do in the house, like redecorate the dining room, the living room, and things like that. I would work at those during the summer usually. My mother was good at re-decorating, etc., and Dad assumed I would be also, but I wasn’t as capable.
Q: You had summers off.
JT: Yes. Though I always had to do field work, excavate and things like that. When I was coming three times a year I had to make sure I produced a paper while I was here. The university expected you not to use your summers as a holiday. It was to be a time for field work and research. But I felt I had to come back and see dad, so I usually came back for only two weeks at a time.
Q: What a wonderful life he had.
JT: Oh yes. He actually wrote a letter to support a museum’s budget in Devizes – the Wiltshire Natural History and Historical Society Museum, founded in 1853 [whose website proclaims it “the best bronze age Archeology collection in Britain”]—because the county was going to cut it completely. I told him “They’ve asked me to write and they asked you to write. I realize you don’t have the facilities to write this. Would you let me draft it and you can criticize it and I’ll send it under your name and I’ll send mine.” I did one from him on the museum point of view and I did mine according to the students’ point of view, because they went for training there. He criticized and I sent them. Two weeks later I got this stern voice over the phone saying “you have not sent me a hard copy of that letter.” I knew that voice. (laughter) Complete criticism of what I had failed to do. That was six months before his 104th birthday, in March.
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Oral history interviews may be copied for personal, research and/or educational purposes only under the fair use provisions of US Copyright Law. Oral histories accessed through this web site are the property of Historic Chevy Chase DC. the copyright owner.
Use of these interviews is subject to the following terms and conditions:
- Material may not be used for commercial purposes. Short quotes and references are permitted for instructional and publication purposes.
- Users must provide complete citation referencing the speaker, the interviewer, the date and website with URL address.
- Users may not re-post or link the oral history site or any parts of it to another program or listing without permission.
Questions about the use of these oral history materials and requests for permission should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or HCCDC, PO Box 6292, Washington, D.C. 20015-0292.