Remained in Chevy Chase while others fled to the suburbs
Thomas & Mae Scanlan: Oral History Excerpts
TOM - SERVED IN OKINAWA WHEN BOMB WAS DROPPED
TS – Well I earned a scholarship to Corcoran for drawing. Then I went to the Army for over 3 years during the war years. I was drafted.
Q – Where did you serve?
TS – My overseas duty was Okinawa. I was there about 10 months.
MS – He was not supposed to go overseas because of his eyes. But he went to Okinawa. He was there when the war ended. If the war had not ended when it did, he would have been involved in the invasion of Japan. He was in the First Recon. Squadron.
Q – What was your specialty?
TS – I worked in the orderly room.
Q – You were there after the bomb was dropped?
TS – Yes I was there – before and after – and during.
A friend of mine who died recently – Paul Fossel – he wrote a controversial piece for the Atlantic entitled “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.” I was on his side, because I thought we would have probably been dead, because they would have taken me.
TOM - NEWSPAPER MAN AND A SECOND CAREER WRITING ABOUT JAZZ
TS – My first job was at the Takoma Journal and I became a newspaperman. Then, I got a job at Army Times. I was working for the Takoma Journal when I was going to GW. I did local reporting. It is now a defunct paper.
Q – Did you write military type stories at the Army Times?
TS – Yes. It was a weekly.
MS – He wrote sports stories. He wrote about jazz. He covered stories as a reporter. He then became managing editor.
TS – It was a Ryder publication. You know Mel Ryder? He also produced Federal Times. They shifted me from Army Times, where I was managing editor to the Federal Times where I was the editor for about 15 years. Then I retired. I also had a semi-career on the side writing about jazz.
MS – He wrote many programs for the Voice of America.
Q – did they employ you or did you do it as a hobby?
TS – They paid me – pretty good pay for those times.
MS - He was a name in jazz. In fact, there was a magazine called Downbeat. I don’t know if it exists now. But at one point, he was offered the editorship of Downbeat. He turned it down, because it would have meant moving to Chicago. We had 2 little kids. Being a jazz critic requires late nights, because that is when they play. He thought that was not what he wanted to do. But he remains a judge for many art service contracts about jazz.
Q – How did this interest in jazz begin?
TS – I became a jazz addict when I was a teenager.
Q – Who were the people in that era that you liked?
TS - Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lester Young at tenor saxophone.
Q – So then did you start playing the guitar as a result of that?
TS – Sure. My favorite guitarist remains Freddie Green. He plays a straight guitar. He was the guitarist for Count Basie’s orchestra from about 1936 and until after Basie’s death.. He died about 2 years after Basie did. Another guitar player I liked very much was Steve Jordan. He was local. He played at Blues Alley. I wrote a book with Steve. It was his memoir. He worked with Bennie Goodman and Stan Kenton
Q- You never played nonprofessional but in pick-up groups?
MS – His professional interest was in writing not playing.
Q – Tell me about the books that you wrote.
TS – I wrote Rhythm Man with Steve Jordan. I wrote a book on jazz – called the Joy of Jazz. They came to me about that book. That was some time before I retired. I retired in 1985.
MS – He also wrote a book on army posts around the country – the histories of them.
TS – They are not bases. They are called posts.
MS – He is now working on a book that he has been working on for years. It is a scholarly critic of jazz criticism.
My son in Boston, John, is doing the technical stuff that has to be done on the computer.
TS - I did most of it on the computer myself. That was before I lost my vision. I have bee working on it for about 10 years. It was over 3000 pages, and I have been cutting it down.
MAE ATTENDED WOODROW WILSON - SURPRISED TO FIND IT SEGREGATED
Q – So let’s switch to you, Mae. We have you born in Baltimore and traveling all over the country with your family because your father was in the Navy.
MS – I lived in Drexel Hill, which is near Philadelphia. Than we lived in Charleston, South Carolina. There, I christened a vessel. I was 8 years old. It was a happy memory. A lot of my childhood I lived in New London, Connecticut, which I loved. It was during the war years. My father was overseas. He had been stationed at the base there. It was a small town, and it was right on the water. I still have reunions with my grammar school classmates from New London.
I moved here in 1948. My father was transferred here. I went to senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School, which was segregated. That was a surprise to me. Segregation was a surprise to me, because we did not have it in Connecticut. I went to school with African American kids there. But there were not many.
I saw it in Charleston. I have vivid, vivid memories of the days of lynching.
I would hear about them. I remember the appalling photographs in Life magazine of white women laughing as a young black boy was hanging from a tree. It is hard for me to talk about it.
Anyway, in New London, that was not an issue. I came down here, and there were segregated schools. It wasn’t until later that this changed.
MAE – SONG WRITER
MS – I wrote a country-western song called “No Survivors.” I wrote more songs, but this one got published. It was supposed to be sung by Eddie Arnold. He was the biggest thing in country-western music. I wrote home, because I thought I had it made. I was thrilled beyond belief. It was a good publisher. Just before it was supposed to come out, I got a call from the publisher who said that Eddie Arnold had run into a contractual problem and could not do it until the following year. So they were giving it to an unknown singer who had a good voice. He felt certain it would be a big hit. Well, everything changed. He was unknown, and he is still unknown. Although Billboard magazine gave my song top ratings, I got just a few royalty checks. But it never really took off.
MOVE TO CHEVY CHASE HOUSE
Q – What year would that be that you moved here?
MS – 1962
Q – The house was not new. Do you know the age of your house?
MS – I think it was built in 1938.
Q – Do you recall what you paid for your house?
MS - $27,000. I got him down from $27,500 to $27,000, and that seemed like a lot then.
Q – How did you choose this house?
MS – I wanted the kids to go to Lafayette School. I decided it was a good school. I took a year looking for a place that was not in a busy area. I choose this little 2-block street, because I saw a lot of kids. I thought that would be nice for our kids. The day that we moved in – we moved in on a hot June day - the next morning there was a knock at the door. We didn’t go to bed until after midnight. The next day there were 6 kids there. They had 7 kids. So we had plenty of kids, which was wonderful for our 2 growing up.
Q – What was it like in 1962 when you moved here?
MS – Quiet – There were not many cars on the block. We got curbs 6 months ago for the first time.. We were classified as a temporary block. The street is 2 blocks long. The upper block was permanent and we were temporary. For years, they would not plow. People would attack plows to their cars and plow us out. Still, if there is a snowstorm, this is the last street to get treated. But it was quiet and wonderful for the kids. They could play. The only people who drove by were those who lived on the street. And not everyone had a car.
REMAINED IN CHEVY CHASE WHILE OTHERS ESCAPED TO THE SUBURBS
Q - So your kids went to Lafayette?
MS – They went to Lafayette. Then Deal and Wilson. I remember when they went to Deale. – our son, John, who is 3 years older than Mary - that was right when they started busing. Many of our friends who had kids at Lafayette who would be going to Deal moved to Maryland. They said, “I’m not dealing with that – too many problems.’” But we didn’t. It was fine – although there were some rough times.
Q - What was your thinking – why you didn’t move to Maryland?
MS – Well, number one, I believed in the public school system. I believe in everybody being together – so does he – and I didn’t want to run from something like that. I knew it was going to be hard times, and it was. There were shootings and all kinds of things.
Q – There were shootings? Where?
MS – Outside of the school. I forget the details of some of it. It was a rough period adjusting to it all.
Q – How old were you kids t the time?
MS – They were at Deal – 7th and 9th. It was both kids, but it was harder on John because the year he started Deal was when it happened. You feel for these kids. They would be bused in from the poorer sections of town, and then the minute that school was over, they would be bused out again – back to their neighborhoods. Yes, it was integrating the schools, but integration didn’t mean very much until there was busing. There were so many problems. But our son got on the baseball team. I think for a while he was the only white member of the baseball team. So his friends were black.
Q – So he had black friends, as a result?
MS – Yes and he has a black wife.
Q – Even though the kids got bused back to their neighborhoods, was there much social interaction - or was it mostly when they were on teams?
MS – It was mostly when they were on teams. I think if they were involved in sports, they could stay until it was over. But it was a hard system as opposed to if they lived in the neighborhood. But then, John, especially when he was older and in high school and was able to drive, he would want to go over to some of these rough neighborhoods to be with his friends. I said, “Well, I can’t say it is OK for them to come here, but it is not OK for him to go there.” It goes against what I believe in.
Q – But you worried a little bit?
MS - Well, I worried a lot.
Q – The fact is that because they went to integrated schools, their horizons expanded.
MS – Their horizons expanded, and they got good educations. Some of the teachers at these schools are the ones who inspired my son to go on to study.
Q – I thought I was told that African American teachers came here before the kids were bused? Did he have African American teachers?
MS- He had African American teachers at Lafayette.
Q – When he was at Lafayette, there was no busing?
MS – There was no busing. As far as I know, at Lafayette, there were all types of kids. But the busing changed a lot of things.
Q – What year was that – the busing?
MS- Well, let’s see . He was born in 1957 and he would have been 11 – 12 when he got out of Lafayette. . So it would have been 1968 – when there was a lot of unrest anyhow, with the riots going on when Martin Luther King was assassinated – all that era of civil rights turmoil.
Q – Was there a time when houses didn’t sell that well here with people moving to Maryland. Did others move in, and it was OK?
MS - No - someone else moved in.
Q – It wasn’t like the houses went down in value?
MS – No. The houses have never gone in value to my mind, unless they did recently because of the economic situation. But it was minimal – because of where we are.
MAE - FELL IN LOVE WITH PHOTOGRAPHY
So I took a course in photography thinking it would be honing skills on framing pictures. But it was about developing. I thought that I didn’t really care about that, but I signed up for the course. Well, I tell you, Joan, the first time that I took a piece of blank paper and slipped it into a vat of chemicals, and I saw my picture come up, I was totally and completely hooked on it.
As Tom will tell you, I would be there late at night in the lab. And sometimes I would go out to Glen Echo and use their lab. I could just not get enough of this. Tom said finally, “Look, you are having so much fun with this. Why don’t you quit your job and do photography. Then I would get to see you.” So I did. Everyone warned me against it. They said, “You are not going to make any money in a town like Washington, it can’t be done.” Well, I was not out to set the world on fire, but I was out to make some money, and I did. I did not go into the kind that pays big money like fashion photography or advertising photography.
I went into editorial photography. I started out covering a few things. I went downtown and covered some Democratic function, and I did some weddings and that kind of stuff. Then I became a stock photographer, which means that you get together a bunch of photographs, and you advertise. People will come to you, and slowly, they did. I did a lot of calendar work, travel guides – that kind of thing. I had a good time doing it.
Q - This was your own business?
MS – Yes.
Q – This was before the Internet.
MS – Yes. I printed up cards and letterhead and paper. I went to the library and to the bookstores and looked at who puts up what. Then I went to the telephone and made calls and wrote letters. I got a base of things to start with, and I would see that this company used this type of picture and that company used that kind of picture. They started buying my stuff.
Q – Were you developing and printing?
MS – No. They only wanted slides. So I would take a lot of pictures. For instance, Hallmark bought a lot of my pictures – particularly cat pictures and scenic. That is what I would specialize in – animal pictures and scenery. I would send pages – 20 on a page - of maybe 40, 60, 80 photographs and ask if they would suit. They would say, “Three of them will do or whatever.” I have 70,000 slides upstairs.
MAE AND TOM PUBLISH BOOK ON WASHINGTON DC.
MS - --------- Of course, since 9/11, it is very difficult [to photograph]. I used to go downtown walk up the steps of the Capitol, go into the Capitol and just shoot to my heart’s content. I will show you a book that Tom and I put together that has gone in several editions.
Q - Walking Washington DC. Is the book. These are your photographs and it is Tom’s writing. How beautiful.
MS - I would just wander in the Capitol and take pictures like that. Now, you cannot even walk up the front steps of the Capitol.
Q – When did you do the book?
MS – This is a later edition. It is republished. But I think it started in 1988.
Q – Are they still selling it somewhere?
MS – I got a call several weeks ago. They will put out yet another edition of it soon.
Q – It is called Beautiful America’s Washington DC. It is newly revised, including a mall-walking map. It has beautiful photographs of the familiar Washington scenes.
MS – But I used to go downtown when he was still working and spend the day down there. I would park, and when the 2-hours was up, I would find another parking place and go to another area and just loved it. I met a lot of interesting people. I was there for the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial.
Q – In a professional way – or did you just take photographs?
MS – I took photographs and sold them. But I was there that day. It was an emotional day for everybody, and, of course, I come from a military family.
Q – How about the FDR memorial. I see you have photographs of that. Were you there for that dedication?
MS - No. But I like the design of that memorial.
Q – So you are getting royalties for these photographs?
MS – No. I was paid a sum and each edition has several new pictures, and I get paid for the new pictures.
Q – You have written your books and you did this one together.
MS – It was fun to do it together. The publisher is in Oregon, and he had bought some of my pictures, and he called me from Oregon and asked me if could do a book of photographs. I said, of course – of Washington – and he flew here. He came and talked to me and signed me up to do it. He said to me, “Would you happen to know any writers. He said that the writer that he had signed up died. I said, “I know exactly the perfect writer – Tom.”
Q – What year was that?
MS – 1988 was the first edition.
SOCIAL, FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS
Q – I was wondering what else it was like living in Chevy Chase in those years. You talked about the schools, the issue of busing and the quiet neighborhood. Did you have block parties here?
MS - Yes we do. This block we can’t say enough good about it. It has changed a lot over the years. The neighbors at the two corners were here when we first moved in. Everyone else is new.
TS – We are the old timers.
MS – But consistently everybody who has moved in, we like so much. We have wonderful block parties.
Q – Do you close the street?
MS – Yes. Everyone here that we called on when we needed to is helpful. One neighbor we coordinate with when we get our Christmas tree. I pull up in front of his house. He comes out of his house. Gets it. Puts the stand on outside. Then he brings it into the house and sets it up for us. He asks us to let him know when we want to take it out to the alley. They are just wonderful neighbors. When one family moves out, I grieve, because I hate to lose track of them. But I know someone nice will move in. And they stay in touch. We had a couple from Sacramento visit us not too long ago. They knocked on the door and said “Don’t know if you remember us, but we lived next door 15 years ago.” “Of course, we remember you, come in,” I said.
Q –Any other kind of neighborhood activities?
MS – Well as I said, people are always willing to help whenever there is a power outage. In 1989, there was a vicious storm – a wind sheer thing – and hundreds of trees went down. They all went in one direction. I happened to chronicle that with photography. I have a couple hundred photographs, which I have decided will go to the Chevy Chase Historical Society. It was a major event.
Our car was under a tree for 6 days, because the power company could not handle it. It was just a small section of Chevy Chase that was affected.
Our block parties have been super, because everybody likes everybody. Sometimes people have just dessert parties. We have the works – people grilling hot dogs and we have chicken and so on.
NEIGHBORHOOD CHRISTMAS CAROLING
Q – Anything special happen at Christmas?
MS -Yes. One thing that is lovely is our neighbors 2 doors down – she is a flute player with the Washington Opera Society. He is a violinist with the National Symphony. They and their family and some of their friends -- about 15 people who go caroling Christmas Eve. That is something I don’t see very often. It will bring tears to your eyes. They are wonderful. They sing harmony and everything. They knock on the door around 7:00. They tell you about when they will come, and we open the door and come out on the front stoop. They sing about 3 carols and they wind up with “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” These little angelic kids looking up at us and signing their hearts on – and the parents and grandparents. They are of all ages. It is almost the nicest thing about Christmas - those neighbors.
SHOPPING AT BROAD BRANCH MARKET AND DGS ON CONNECTICUT AVENUE
Q – What about Broad Branch Market?
MS – I remember Curly at the Broad Branch Market with great fondness. He was the bald, tall guy who delivered stuff for years and years. I remember in the old days everybody would go there after school. I would stop by to pick up something that I needed.
Q – Did you use Curly’s delivery service?
MS – Mainly what I did was to go get my groceries, and for a while before there was a Safeway or Giant, there was a DGS where McGruders is now. I used to take the kids in a stroller. You didn’t pick this off the shelf. They got it for you off the shelves.
Q – Did you walk there?
MS – Yes. That was when we were on 41st Street. It was a long block away. I just walked down there and got what I needed. To show what a small world it was back then, the manager of the DGS when our kids were born gave us baby presents. With Broad Branch, it was just pick up something.
CONNECTICUT AVENUE STORES
Q – Any other stores that were memorable to you?
MS – Well, of course, Peoples. My son worked at Peoples. It is now where the CVS is. Down the street was Drug Fair, and my daughter worked there. Drug Fair was on the same block but closer to where the American Diner is.
I went to the banks of course.
Q – How about the Avalon Theater?
MS – Oh yes. We were always there. I remember pre-Tom days, the Uptown Theater was a block from where we lived in Cleveland Park, and we would always go there. It was 35 cent to see the movies - either my sister and I, or my mother and I, or my father and I. Somebody was always going to see the movie. One movie would run Monday and Tuesday. The other would be Wednesday and Thursday, and then the blockbuster would come in on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then Cinerama movies came in. That was fun. Of course, I did the commercials for that.
Then there was the barbershop in the Arcade and Tom still goes to the same barber – Jose. He used to go to a barber in Southwest, because his office was, there. After he retired, he got on the metro and went to southwest. After his stroke, he couldn’t handle the metro. I said, “I am not driving you to southwest.” So he started going to the same barber that he went to when we first moved in here.
Q – What about the restaurants?
MS – We would go to the Parthenon. We tended to go to the restaurants in Cleveland Park and downtown. Of course, Wisconsin and Western was different too. They had Raleigh’s and some other stores. That all moved out. The only thing that remained was Clyde’s and they put in a new Giant.
MAE WROTE SONG PARADIES AT PRESS CLUB HONORING HELEN THOMAS AND MARK RUSSELL
MS – I did some parodies for the National Press Club. Tom is a press club member. Throughout the years, we have gone to a lot of functions there. Somehow someone found out that I do song parodies. For long-time members, they have what they call “hoots.” Because there are owls. If you have been a press club member for 25 years, you are a silver owl. If you have been a member for 50 years, you are a golden owl. Well, Tom is a golden owl. They hoot where they get together, and they honor certain people. They do song parodies. I did one for Helen Thomas and Mark Russell. I have done them for the club in general.
Q - Are you still doing it?
MS – Whenever they ask, I do. They may have one this spring.
Q – Do you feel any pressure doing them?
MS – No. I have been doing them for so many years. For Mark Russell, we went to see him for years. He was at the Shoreham Hotel for many years. So I knew a lot about him and that is the same for Helen Thomas. So if I am asked to do one for someone I do not know, then I have to do a lot of research.
MAE FREQUENT WINNER OF STYLE INVITATIONAL, WASHINGTON POST
I also do the Style Invitational in the Washington Post. It runs every Sunday. It is a humor contest. I submit things.
TS – You see those things on the refrigerator?
MS – Each one represents one of my wins. If you win the top prize, you get a statute. I have gotten some of those. Then second prize you get a T-shirt or a mug. I have gotten some of those. But if you appear at all, you get one of those little things. I have been doing it for many years. It is word play. Sometimes it is poetry. Sometimes it is change a word with one letter. It is fun. Sometimes they have parties.
MAE – HUMOR WRITER
Q – How did your interest in humor come about in your life?
MS – I always loved humorous verse. I have been successful with it. There was a publication called Light, which was a quarterly. When I heard about that, I submitted something. It is humorous verse. I consistently got in it. In fact, in one issue, they featured me as the poet, ran a lot of my stuff and interviewed me.
Q – Is it still in existence?
MS – It just folded because the editor just died. But it has been taken over by somebody else, and it is going to be on line - with the same name. She hasn’t gotten it started yet. She will let me know when she does, and there will be a call for submissions. I submitted a lot of stuff to publications in England. Actually, I have had more success there. They don’t use much light verse in America anymore. The Spectator, which is the oldest publication in England – or anywhere I guess - run a column every week. I was the first American to win their top prize.
Q – Do they pay you?
MS – That one does pay. It pays I think 25 pounds or something. Another one I got 300 pounds, which turned out to be close to $500. I find out a lot of this stuff on line. I enjoy doing it, and it takes the place of photography because I can do it at home.
Q – When you say on line, what do you search?
MS – I know sites where I can find out if some publication in England is looking for humorous verse. I check occasionally there will be something in this country in a college review or a magazine put out by a university. Usually that is serious poetry, and I don’t do much of that. I like to stick with the humorous stuff, which I feel can make a very serious point.
Back when I was a kid there were all sorts of areas where you could read serious verse. Ogden Nash was huge. There were many poets back there who wrote humorous verse. They were famous, and they became my idols. I have done this since I was six years old. I just love it.
TOM – BASEBALL FAN – KNEW CONNIE MACK
MS – One big interest is baseball. Ton is an advent baseball fan. He was a fan of the Philadelphia Athletics when he was a boy. He knew Connie Mack, the legendary manager.
Q – How did you know him?
MS – Because he went to ball games.
TS – Mack sat in the stands with the regular people before the game. I got to know him that way.
MS – Tom says that he called him “Tommy.”
TS – I called him “Mr. Mack.” The player called him “Mr. Mack,” too.
MS - We almost went to spring training on our honeymoon. I love baseball, too. My father was the star pitcher on the Naval Academy team. We didn’t do that. But many times since, we have been to spring training in Arizona and Florida. We took our kids out of school on opening day when the Senators played here at the RFK Stadium. We are very excited about the Nationals. We jut love them. We watch every game. Tom in the attic has 39 scrapbooks that he made about the Philadelphia Athletics when he was a boy.
Q – There are newspaper clippings?
TS – Yes. - and Red Smith columns.
MS – There was a man who was writing a book on a former Athletics player. He asked if he could come down. He came from somewhere in Massachusetts and spent the day. Tom brought the 39 books down. On the carpet was nothing but books. It was a wonderful experience. He said that he got all sorts of wonderful information
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