Mullans Reflect on Raising Six Children in Neighborhood So Close 60 Vacationed Together Each Summer
Interviewees: William and Joan Mullan
Date: June 16, 2012
Location: Chevy Chase DC home of the Mullans
Interviewers: Joan Solomon Janshego and Carl Lankowski
Transcribed (from audio recording) by: Joan Solomon Janshego
Joan Woodworth Mullan passed away Dec. 23, 2013 at age 86 and William Evans Mullan Jr. passed away Jan. 4, 2019 at age 95
Q – Let’s start as to who you are. We can talk about how you got here a little later.
WM – I’ll go first. I am a Navy Junior. My father was a regular Naval officer, and so I spent my life traveling from place to place with him. I spent six years in Hawaii back in the days that people thought of it as girls in grass skirts and grass shacks. I did live in the Washington area, I guess it was about the mid 1930s. We lived at what they call Peace Cross and what they called Berwyn then. I am not sure what they call it now.
My father was assigned to the Navy Department working in those temporary buildings downtown. We stayed in Washington for two years, and then we moved back to Hawaii. We continued to move until the war. Then during the war, I volunteered before I was drafted and got into the program of training naval aviators. So I got my wings and qualified on carrier landings. I was assigned to night fighter training in Texas. Fortunately, before I had to do a carrier landing at night, we dropped the bomb, and I got out.
I went to Catholic University and graduated in the class of 1949. During the time I was there, Joan was at Trinity College. We met, married and started having children.
We first lived in a couple of apartments. Then we bought a house in Wheaton Woods. Our first child was born in Newark. I joined the telephone company after I got out of school and worked in an old building on the American University campus. Because of some of the work that I did, I was asked to go to the Bell Laboratories on loan for a couple years developing some telephone equipment for the FAA. At the end of that period, I came back to Washington.
After I got back from the Bell Laboratories, I think mainly because of my background, they asked me to go to New York City AT&T General headquarters. I went back there and spent several years at AT &T and then they said that the job that I really should have in the telephone company was open. So I came back to Washington and stayed as the building engineer for the telephone company basically for the rest of my career. I spent 33 years total in the Bell system.
Q – What date was that?
WM – That would be 1958, because we bought this house when we came back from New Jersey. We had our first two children in Newark and one in Summit, New Jersey and then the rest of them in Washington – six all together. We have three boys and three girls. I think one of them went to Lafayette School for kindergarten. Another went to Rosemary School. Because of their birth months, they could not get into Blessed Sacrament. All of the rest of them were in Blessed Sacrament through elementary school.
Q – Can you tell us where your dad was originally from. Is there an immigrant story there? Your mother?
WM – My mother and father met in the second grade at St. Ann’s school in Baltimore. My father and mother were both born in Baltimore. They knew each other through elementary school. Then my father went to Baltimore Polytechnic, and my mother went to Notre Dame. He went to the Naval Academy after getting out of Baltimore Poly. That would be in 1916. In those days, it was wartime, and they completed their course in three years. He graduated in the class of 1920. It was the class of 1920 but graduated in 1919.
They were living at San Diego at the time that my mother was pregnant with my older sister, and she stayed in San Diego during the birth. When I was coming along, she said that she missed her family when she was pregnant and had me in Baltimore.
I am 8th generation of my family to live in Baltimore. We are related to a family that came to Baltimore in 1704 – 25 years before Baltimore was incorporated. We have a lot of relatives still in Baltimore.
My father was assigned to the War College in Newport, Rhode Island, when the war came along. We actually were moving out of the house that we rented in Newport when the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor came on the radio. We were moving. We didn’t know anything about it until we were in the car and getting ready to go to the Boston area, which was his next assignment. We turned on the radio and learned about Pearl Harbor.
His assignment at the beginning of the war was executive officer on the cruiser Vincennes. They stayed in the Atlantic Ocean about six or eight months. Then they went to the Pacific. Vincennes was one of four cruisers that was sunk in the first battle of Savo Island, and he was badly injured. It took him a considerable length of tine to recover physically so that he could go back to sea. In the meantime, he was the commanding officer of a Wave school at Indiana University.
In the meantime, I had signed up for the Navy Air Corps and that was when I was called into the service. This would be May 1943 – something in that order.
Q – I forgot to get your birthdate.
WM – January 16, 1923. It makes coming up 90 years old in January – if I make it. Anyway, my dad worked on his health until he was able to go back to work as skipper of the cruiser USS San Diego. The San Diego was the most famous ship you never heard of. The reason is that she was part of the screen of the fast carrier task force. She was in the Third Fleet when Halsey was in command, and she was in the Fifth Fleet when I think it was Spruance who commanded. Anyway, the San Diego earned 16 battle stars. They were in 16 major battles during World War II and only one ship had more – the carrier Enterprise had 18 battles.
The San Diego steamed over 300,000 miles without a major overhaul. She never lost a man in action. She was an anti-aircraft cruiser. She was credited with shooting down something in the low hundreds of Japanese planes. So she was very effective in the job that she was assigned to. So much so, that Admiral Halsey selected the San Diego to be the first ship to go into Tokyo Harbor – after mine sweepers of course. He intended that they have the surrender ceremony on the San Diego, but a guy named Truman got into the act, and it was done on the Missouri.
By the time they held the surrender ceremony, the San Diego was coming back to the United States carrying 150 really lucky soldiers. Because most people when they were coming back from the war were on a transport that maybe made 10 or 12 knots, but the San Diego was carrying 150 extra people, and so they came back at 28 knots – which is really very fast. It is not fast for the San Diego, but fast for troops coming home.
So then my father was assigned to the naval gun factory as the engineering officer. I lived at the Naval Gun Factory when I was going to Catholic University.
Q – Where is that?
WM – Well it is called the Navy Yard now at 8th and M Streets, SE. I used to go on the streetcar up to Catholic University and back. So it was funny. People would say, “Where do you live?” I would say, “at the Naval Gun Factory,” and I would get a double take.
Q – I wanted to intersperse here and ask the name of your earliest ancestor who came to Baltimore.
WM – My earliest ancestor named Mullan in the United States was Patrick Mullan, and he came from Ireland in 1770 and married the granddaughter of Jonathon Hanson, who was a miller. He had two or three mills along Falls something or other. Patrick Mullan was a constable, and he was a guy that measured cordwood. He went around and measured a pile of wood that someone would have for sale to certify it was a full measure.
The Mullans were prominent in the Catholic Church in Baltimore. My great great great grandfather was the sexton at the Cathedral. There is a house beside the Cathedral on the Cathedral ground that was built for him. They figured it was cheaper to put the sexton up in a house that they owned than renting a house in the neighborhood for him. He and his son were stonemasons, and it ended up that the son built several churches in Baltimore and carved the altars for them. My grandfather was a newspaperman. He was in charge of the linotype operation at the Baltimore Sun for many years. We know this because my son is the genealogist in the family. I have a pile of books concerning the various parts of the family. He traced them all.
A – Joan your turn. Tell us when you were born and move out from there.
JM – I was born on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1927. I lived in Brookland until I got married. I went to school there at St. Anthony’s and then I could walk to Trinity. So I walked past Bill in the morning. I went to High School at Notre Dame. I got on a streetcar to go there.
Q – Where is Notre Dame?
JM – It is on K Street – North Capitol. It has been taken over by Gonzaga now.
Q – What did you major in at Trinity?
JM – English. Then when I went to GW, it was still English.
WM – You worked first for the State Department in the exchange student area.
Q – That was after Trinity?
JM – Yes
Q – Then you went to GW for graduate work?
JM – I did. Also in English. That led to my job at Montgomery College after the kids all moved out.
Q – Did you marry soon after your graduated from Trinity?
JM – It was about a year and a half. We got married in 1950. It is coming up 62 years this fall.
WM – I might mention that we have 18 grandchildren.
JM – Our children are all bright and beautiful.
Q – Any great grandchildren yet?
JM – One. Kids are getting married later in life now.
Q – Were you teaching at Montgomery College?
JM – Yes. – for 20 years – in English.
Q – This was after the kids were grown up?
JM – Yes. I liked teaching very much.
WM – Two or three years ago, one of our grandchildren graduated from Montgomery College, and she was one of 20 junior college students who was named outstanding college graduate by USA Today. Joan went out to the college and was included in the celebration of Marianne’s graduation.
Q – Can you tell us what you did at the State Department?
JM – I worked for Dr. Fisher. The office was on Connecticut Avenue around about O or P Street. They were involved in approving students from abroad who wanted to come to the US as exchange students. I remember one night I left work without locking my safe, and they hauled me out of bed. I had to go down and lock the safe. Bill drove me there. I used to take a bus from downtown, and Bill used to drive me part way downtown so I didn’t have to transfer. I would leave an order for Bill. He was to have a pickle or ice cream for me. I was pregnant with our first child at that point.
A – Can you go back in time and tell us a little about your parents?
JM – My mother came to Washington with a group who came to work for the government during World War I. Dad came home from the war and I don’t know about his first jobs.
Q – Where did your mother come from?
JM – Halstead, New York – near Binghamton. She taught school in a one-room school. My father was one of four children who were left semi-orphaned by the death of their mother. The father decided that he could not handle them, and they were put in an orphanage in Albany. A pair of maiden ladies adopted the sisters, and they left the boy in the orphanage. The girls said that they did not want to leave their brother. They prevailed, and the woman adopted my father as well and did a good job in raising them.
When he grew up, my father went to war and was in the cavalry. He was gassed, and so his health was always quite fragile. He was a self-employed accountant, and one of the things that he did was he became a sort of major domo at Saint Anthony Church in Brookland.
WM -It was funny because Father Duffy who was pastor at Blessed Sacrament and I worked closely together, I did a lot of stuff for the church. He said that Joan’s father did at St Anthony’s some of the same things that I did at Blessed Sacrament.
I think the story about Joan’s father helping her mother is interesting, because that led to their getting married. They lived in the same boarding house. Her mother got appendicitis, and she lived on the second floor. They didn’t know how they would get her down to the ambulance to take her to the hospital. So Joan’s father carried her down the stairs and got her to the hospital. He then went to the hospital to make sure that she was settled. Then he called her mother to report that she was all right. That started an association between the two. They ended up getting married. I am amazed that he could carry her, because he was a slight guy. I think he weighed 135 pounds. Of course, she was slight also. So that was the start of the romance that ended up with Joan and her sisters.
Q – We have established how you got to this house in Chevy Chase and got married. We should ask what the neighborhood was like then.
WM – I think we have to mention the Quesada Street gang. Technically, we were not part of Quesada Street. When we first moved in here, the lady who lived around the corner on Quesada Street contacted us and had a little party to welcome us to the neighborhood. Her name was Bea Forsythe. Her husband was Paul Forsythe, and they were the mainspring of this neighborhood. Everyone that moved in, they would have a little party and welcome them to the neighborhood.
Paul belonged to a hunting club in South Mountain, Pennsylvania. During the summer when hunting was not going on, the members of that club could use the club. So we used to go to South Mountain for a week, and there would be 50 or 60 people from this neighborhood that would come up and go camping together. I think that is extraordinary. I don’t know of a neighborhood where everyone went camping together. I have a bunch of pictures and I dug up some of the pictures from there.
Q – Were you in tents?
WM – They had a hunting lodge. For people who did not want to camp out in tents, they would stay in the lodge. It had a flush toilet. There was only this one toilet, and some of us used outhouses. A lot preferred not to use them – as you can imagine. Many of the people who were part of the gang that went camping together still live on Quesada Street. I think six or seven families are still here. There were about 15 – 16 families. Many set up tents in the forest, and they had several places where you could go swimming. And there were hiking trails all over the place. We always went up about the time that blueberries were ripe. That was a big deal. The problem was when that many people went berry hunting, we had too many berries to cope with.
Q – Was it a designated week?
WM – We went every year. We went up with our children and then later we went up with grandchildren.
Q – How many years do you think you did that?
WM – I would say that we probably went up until the 1990s – something like that. I think the Forsythes passed away in about 2002. I think it was 15 years that we did that. The tradition still carries on, because we have a 4th of July cookout. The whole neighborhood goes to swim at the Emorys, and then some of the adjacent yards are set up for the meal. Then on Labor Day we have a block party on the block of Broad Branch north of here. We all bring stuff. It is getting more and more elaborate. When it first started, I used to cook 40 biscuits and take them up there and they were gone almost immediately. Last year, I baked 40 and there were 20 left over. It is because there are so many casseroles and coffee cakes, and sausages and things like that, so people don’t want to fill up on biscuits any more. I think it is somewhat unique in that we have so many families that are still here and still involved in that kind of community affairs.
Q – What part of Pennsylvania is South Mountain?
WM – It is in the middle of the state both ways. I remember we went past the Lewisburg Federal Prison on the main road, and then we turned north towards Williamsport. I don’t recall where we turned off. I did dig out the cookbook that was published. The first printing was Christmas 1988. So I guess it was the early 1980’s that we started going there. There are recipes from the Slades who lived a couple doors down from the alley. And Lola Emory is who published the book, and she had something in it. I had my secret on how to make Bisquick biscuits. And Joan has a recipe for stew.
We had a guy who did most of the cooking. He was John Stack. He lived on the corner of Nevada and Quesada. He acted as a short order cook. So he and Lola and myself would get up around 7:30 and start preparations. He would cook bacon and sausage. Lola would cut up fruit, and I would do the biscuits. Then at 8:30 the people would start wandering in. He would cook omelets for them on order. For dinner, people would cook different things. Joan would do the stew one night when we were there. I would often bake 120 biscuits, and there would still be enough to go around for breakfast and dinner.
I do have pictures from the camping trip. It shows the tents in the woods and people swimming in the pond. It is some of the people that you may end up talking to – like the Emory’s who live on Quesada. They are Fred and Lola Emory.
I think the most unique thing about our neighborhood is that there are only a few houses that have been remodeled. Only one to my knowledge was torn down and replaced –the first house going up Quesada from Broad Branch on the south side of the street. It was the original farmhouse that was here before World War I. This house was built that same year as Joan – in 1927. I don’t think it was anywhere near the first house built in this area. The house on the corner of Patterson and Broad branch is a Sears and Roebuck house.
Q – Did you also participate in the annual Lafayette Fair?
WM – I sold coins at the fair. What I did was accumulate these coins and donated them to the fair. I sold them, and all of the proceeds would go to the school. I participated in the Lafayette Fair 38 times in the last 40 years. They didn’t mention me in the Lafayette book, and my daughter, Anne, was incensed that I was not mentioned.
Some coins were given to me and I buy some wholesale. I buy them for a third or half of what I would sell them for. So my donation cost me about $150, and they would sell them for $350. So my contribution to the fair is greater than my financial input. I did it for a number of schools. I did it at Blessed Sacrament. I think next year will be 19 years. I think I have had my last fair at the Friends School at Baltimore. My daughter’s children went to Friends School and I did that for several years. Then I did the Takoma Park Middle School. My daughter teaches art there. They have what they call an international night, and I sell coins at that school, too.
I enjoy so much talking to the kids. I have a favorite story about Lafayette Fair. It lasts four hours, and it gets quiet at times. So during one of these quiet periods, this little guy – maybe 9 years old and 4 feet tall – was looking all over the board for a coin that he might buy. He found one, and he brought it to me. I said, “I watched you looking all over the board, and you bought a coin from Bhutan.” I said, “You probably don’t know where Bhutan is.” He said, “Yes, I do.” I said, “OK where is it?” He said, “It is north of India, near Nepal and Tibet.” I said, “That’s right. How did you know that?” He swelled up and said, “I am a geography expert.” That makes it all worthwhile.
I have guys coming up to me at the fair who bought coins as kids, and who now bring their children.
Q – How did you become interested in coins?
WH – Well, it actually started when my oldest boy was in Cub Scouts. He wanted to make a presentation on a hobby. He said, “What can I do?” So I said, “When your mother and I were on a trip to South America, we would pick up some coins each place that we stayed.” I really wasn’t interested except that they were souvenirs of our trip. They were from Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela. I said, “Why don’t we make a presentation and compare the coins from the United States to coins from other countries.
When I got the coins out, I couldn’t find a Two Bolivar coin from Venezuela. I started looking around town and see if they had a Two Bolivar coin from Venezuela. I found a company called Deke and Company, which is a foreign exchange company, on New York Avenue. They had a box that was probably 12” by 12” and maybe 6” deep full of foreign coins – and cost a nickel apiece.
I would go there during my lunch hour and go through those. I would come home with a dollar’s worth of coins – 20 coins. I would sit at the dining room table, and I would look them up in a catalogue and check them off when we had them. That was the beginning of it – being able to buy coins for a nickel a piece. That is why I always have nickel coins at the fair. It costs me a nickel to put up the coins. There is always a kid who has 50 cents to spend and buys 10-nickel coins. I have a sign that says, “Coins – 5 cents and up. “ I really do have nickel coins.
Q – Did you work at the fair too, Joan?
JM – Not at first because of the children.
WM – Now, she helps me. I drive up with the car and unload and get rid of the car. So she makes sure that no one walks off with the coins. She puts the coins up on the board. That board holds 700 coins. At one time at Blessed Sacrament, it sold out in less than an hour. They are much more into coins than the Lafayette kids are. I guess it is part of their culture.
Q – Having six kids must have been quite a sight.
WM – We would send them off to the park. We had the tennis courts up here. I don’t know if you heard about Chico. He gave lessons. He was a Cuban, and he was a boxer. He had some kind of arrangement with Lafayette School where he lived in the basement of the school. I guess he made sure there was no problem with the heating or cooling systems. So he taught tennis lessons, but from the background of boxing. He said that the main thing about tennis is that you had to get your feet right. So two of our children took lessons from Chico, and they got to be fairly good tennis players. Broad Branch Market for years had a big picture of Chico and Yvonne Goolagong. She was a world-class tennis player and apparently was a friend of Chico’s.
Q – Did she live in the neighborhood?
WM – I don’t think so. But she was the most graceful person on the tennis court. I used to watch her. She was on TV. She was liquid motion. I think that today the big-time tennis players look so awkward. I think the problem is that they do not have time to get their feet right. Instead of putting their side to the net as we were taught, they stand facing the net, straddled legs along one side. It looks so awkward. I remember that Goolagong was so graceful and liquid in her motions.
If she took lessons from Chico, it was not at this court. So I don’t know how she got to know him.
Q – Did you play tennis?
WM – Yes.
Q – Did you take lessons from him?
WM – I was there when the kids took lessons. So I learned from association Back of Lafayette where the cafeteria is now, there used to be a blank brick wall, with a net drawn on the wall. I used to go there and play against the wall.
I am sure you know from Mort (Needelman) that tennis was a big time thing 30 years ago. You had to go there at 6 o’clock to get a court and by 6:15, the courts were full. There was a crowd of us who used to hog the courts. There were six of us and four would start playing a set or two. Then we would sit down, and a couple others would get into the game. In theory, the people who were not playing were in line to get a court. I don’t think we were actually cheating. But the people who wanted to get a court would say, “You guys have been playing all morning. When do we get a court?” Eventually, we would get tired, and they would get a court.
Q – Anything else you remember about Chico?
QM –I don’t know what happened to him. I know that eventually he was no longer associated with Lafayette. I don’t know if the city found out that they had somebody living in the school and put a stop to it. He was not living there when he died. He taught a great many how to play tennis. I don’t know what happened to that picture of Yvonne and Chico that was at the Broad Branch Market.
Broad Branch was a relatively inexpensive store. It was a little more expensive than Safeway. We would be almost ready for dinner, and we decided that we would need another tomato or something like that. Of course, the kids got popsicles that was part of the ritual around here. For a long time it was vacant, and there was a lot of discussion as to what would happen to it. The big problem, of course, was that it was a nonconforming use. The law said that if you are a nonconforming use building, you can continue that occupation, but you can’t change the building. I don’t know how they got away with it. They made extensive additions to the market.
Q – When the photo of Chico’s up, was that when the Bondarefff’s ran the market?
JM – Yes. They lived across the street from the grocery store – on the corner – on the south side of Northampton
WM – Another tennis player lived next door to them on the south side. He was a congressman from California. I don’t remember his name. Then down Northampton Street about half way down the block was a lady who was in the real estate business. She played tennis. Her sons for a period of time used to teach tennis at the courts.
Q – Was she Laura Robinson?
WM – That’s right. I remember the boy used to be A good tennis player.
Q – Anything more about the Broad Branch that you remember?
WM – They used to stock vanilla popsicles for me. They had a carton of them, and I would get the whole carton and bring it home.
Q – Do you remember any of the employees there?
WM – There was a colored guy who worked there. They called him ‘Curly.’ I remember one day he knocked on our door and said we had not paid our balance. We never had a charge account at Broad Branch. He said that, “Your son came to the store and bought a loaf of bread and a tomato and he didn’t have any money. We asked him if he wanted us to put it on a bill and he said that he did.” At that time, our son came to the living room, and I said, “Is that him ?” He said, “yes.” His middle name was Evans. There is a family named Evans who had a charge account. I don’t know how he figured out that he was going to get that food and charged it. So we ended up paying cash for the bread and tomato.
One of the big things that happens at the block party is that they get a fire truck, and the kids can climb all over the fire truck. They used to hook the truck to a fire hydrant and let the kids use the hose. They had a fireman there.
I think we are close to being the people in this block who have been here the longest. There was a lady up at Nevada Avenue in the middle of the bock. She was the secretary to our doctor, the pediatrician. She passed away a couple years ago. She was the oldest in terms of resident years.
I have a map of the block with the names of people who lived on the block with telephone numbers. This was set up when we became part of the neighborhood watch. I don’t know what happened to it
Q – Your kids went to Blessed Sacrament. What was that experience like?
WM – I left for work every morning. But Joan was a room mother and a Girl Scout troop leader at Blessed Sacrament. I got involved with the Boy Scouts and was always in trouble with headquarters. I was the troop chairman, and I was the one that had to take the paperwork down to the headquarters to get them approved. The big problem was that at Blessed Sacrament they didn’t feed the graduates of the Cub Scouts into the Boy Scouts. They fed them into the CYO athletic program.
So every time I went down to register the group, I would have to listen to 15 to 20 minutes of lecture about, “you are not really being Boy Scouts.” But the people who put all their efforts into Cub Scouts were mostly into baseball and football,, and we had some very good teams. Guys who graduated from there went into high school and played some outstanding baseball and football. Some how or other, that part died out, and they have a much stronger Boy Scout troop now at Blessed Sacrament because the Cub Scouts are feeding into the program.
Q – Where nuns still teaching at that time?
JM – Yes.
WM – What did we pay? I think it was $200 for six kids tuition for a year. That was mostly because they had nuns who did not have a big salary. Now the school is mostly lay people, and the tuition is something like $7500 a year. And you pay half tuition for the second child and half for the third child. So you can send three children for two tuitions. After that, it doesn’t go up any more. Anything over three children is free. At the time when we were involved with the school, I think there were two families that had 17 children. The ones across the street at Paterson had 13 children, I think. There was a club called the 7 Up Club. You had to have seven children to belong to it. The kids were always on our case that we were one short.
Q – Where did your children go after elementary school?
JM – Gib was the first one to get to the upper grades, and he went to Abbey School. And then the girls went to Immaculata. And the two youngest boys went to St. Johns. And the youngest one stayed with the military tradition. He will retire next month as a captain in the Navy.
Q – Did he go to Annapolis?
WM – No. He went to Duke in the NROTC.
My oldest son went to the Abbey School and then he went to the University of Pennsylvania on an ROTC scholarship. He went into the surface Navy, and I think he served five years. He kept trying to get into the JAG corps. He wanted to be a lawyer. They kept giving him the
runaround. After five years he said, “I saved enough to put myself through law school.” So he went to the University of Virginia law school at the same time that my oldest daughter was going to law school down there. So the two of then would get together for meals, and so forth.
My oldest daughter went to Mary Washington for two years, and then she graduated from UVA. When she graduated, she got a job working at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She was a typist and had an English degree. So she knew punctuation and spelling and things like that. The guy that she ended up marrying found out that she was better at English than he was. So he would take his stuff to her and ask her to proof read it and correct it. Of course, the word got around in typing pool among the other lawyers that she was doing this for him. It got to be that a lot of guys who would take things to the typing pool would pretend that it was being revised and give it to her. It got to be the point that she was overloaded, and some of the typists didn’t have anything to do.
She gradually worked herself into being the person in the typing pool who prepared the documents that were used for the meetings of the FDIC as they were going through their agenda. They eventually said that if she was interested in becoming a lawyer, they would send her to law school at night. This guy, Bill Sweet, who ended up marrying her, had gone to night school to become a lawyer. It took him 10 years. So she said, “I am not going to do that. I think I will quit work and go to law school. “ So she got into the University of Virginia law school and that is when her brother joined her there.
The third child, Maureen, went to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. The next one – Ann – went to the University of Richmond.
The middle boy went to UVA and the third one went to Duke University on an NROTC scholarship. He graduated from Duke, and he went into submarines just like his grandfather did. My father was into submarines until he got to be too senior for that. And Martin went into the submarine corps. I think he served about 18 years, but the stress in his marriage was too much. So he quit the Navy and stayed in the reserves. So he has over 30 years in service now.
He and his wife are divorced. His wife home schooled their children. The first child went for a couple years to regular school and then started being homeschooled. She went to Rockville High School. But all the rest of them, she homeschooled. It is remarkable to me because the boy went to Saint John’s College in New York and graduated summa cum laude. The youngest child, Marianne, was named one of the top 20 students. And Rebecca, the youngest child, graduated from the University of Maryland. Someone told me that she graduated summa cum laude too. So for home schooling, that is pretty remarkable.
To continue the story, the first boy who went to law school, became a lawyer. He worked for years for K and E. He was getting to the point in the firm that he had to retire. So he went to work as a lawyer for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And just about two years ago, he was named the chief counsel for a House subcommittee. His sister, also is a lawyer. The next one down – Maureen who went to Tyler Art School – is the only one that doesn’t live near by. She lives in Denver and works as a graphic artist for the Denver Post. The girl that went to the school in Richmond is an art teacher at Takoma Park Middle School and Evans, the next oldest, is the chief operating officer for a data storage company. Latisys it is called. And then Martin spent his career in the Navy and is retiring earlier than he would normally because he served twice in Afghanistan and once in Qatar. They give him a year and a half credit for each year that they spend in a war zone.
Q – Is there anything that we have missed that you think is relevant?
How about changes in the neighborhood?
WM – When we moved here, I had the feeling that there were few families with children. I looked around the neighborhood and there were more than most families George Thames, who lived 2 doors down from here, had five children. He was a photographer for the New York Times. They moved and went to St. Anne’s parish. He had five children. The Aregos had three children. The Forsyths had three children. The Slades had two children. So somehow or other I thought there were not many children, but they were. I think there are fewer children in families today. But there were a lot of kids in the schools at Lafayette and Blessed Sacrament.
Lafayette is an outstanding school. The parents do not have to spend $25,000 per year for a private school.
I think that many of the houses have been remodeled or additions added. There was only one house on Quesada that I can think about that was torn down and replaced. There were several on Chevy Chase Parkway, I think, that were torn down and replaced. For the most part, the neighborhood looks quite a bit the same.
There was an ambassador from somewhere like Bulgaria who lived in a big piece of property that fronted on Rittenhouse Street. That property went from Rittenhouse to Quesada through the block, and it was probably 15 or 20 years ago that they put three houses on the back of it. They were new houses that were built on the property that belonged to the Bulgarian Ambassador. The part of the wall from the back part of that Ambassador’s property is incorporated into the yards of those three new houses. For a while, the president of the University of the District of Columbia lived in one of the houses on Rittenhouse Street. That is next door to the house that used to have a very large property.
Q – Do you recall how you decided to come to this neighborhood?
WM – When we got married, my wife said that there were certain ambitions that she always had. One was to live in the Blessed Sacrament parish. So when we were moving back to the Washington area from New Jersey, we looked in this area.
One of my sisters in-law lived on Patterson Street. She was the mother of Olivia who used to babysit for us. She heard that this house might come on the market. A big-time lawyer owned the house, and we contacted them before the house went on the market. We bought the house from them.
I remodeled the kitchen. The house was very much as it is now. But the kitchen was in shambles. Since I was a person with architectural background, we redid the kitchen. It has been the same ever since. I didn’t do the electricity and plumbing. But I designed it and did the carpentry.
Q – You did not even look at other houses in Chevy Chase.
WM – We looked at several. We even looked in Takoma Park, because we could not afford a lot of houses. We were looking in the lesser neighborhoods, but I knew that Joan wanted to live in the Blessed Sacrament parish.
Q – What about that made you want to live here? Was it the priest – the school?
JM – I think it was the priest and the school. Father Corbet was here at that time. Father Duffy came sometime during the 80s.
WM – Joan and Father Duffy went to elementary school together at St. Anthony’s.
JM – He is a great guy.
Q – He is not at Blessed Sacrament anymore is he?
WM – That’s right. I just had breakfast with him. He is at Lady of Victory. He is a sort of chaplain at Sibley Hospital. He lives at Lady of Victory.
I worked as a member of the Finance Council at Blessed Sacrament for years. Dewey Heising worked with me on the Council. Dewey and I go maybe once a month or every three weeks to Bread & Chocolate for a cup of coffee and a cookie. We take Father Duffy with us every once in a while. He likes to go back and see people from the parish when he was here.
Father Duffy was a people priest – a wonderful fellow. They had a program to honor him about three or four years ago. They asked people to put things in the program about Father Duffy. I started off with my story that he not only knew the people in the parish, but he tried to relate to them.
I wrote one time I was coming down Quesada Street, and he said, “You left church early the other day” I said, “No I didn’t.” He said, “You left before the final hymn.” I said, “ You know the part of the mass when you say ‘go the mass is ended’? I said ‘thanks be to God’, and I left.” He did know his people, and he related to them just like that.
Q – I know the person who used to be the principal – Sister Rose. Was she there when your kids went there?
JM – Yes. We knew her.
WM – I think she was the one who said that Gib should not stay for the 7th and 8th grade, because he was not being challenged. He was very intelligent. They had 50 kids – huge classes. The nuns were able to control those big classes. I think now they try to hold them below 25. But Sister Rose’s presence is still there, because they have a fund that is used for helping people with tuition if they cannot afford it.
Q – Did Sister Rose have something to do with that fund?
JM – I think so.
WM – At one time, there was a convent at Blessed Sacrament. Then there were not enough nuns to justify to have a convent, and it was vacant. So several years ago, they had a big construction project, and they built a new parish center, which is called the Duffy Center. They connected the convent to the school. They used the rooms in the convent to add a couple new classrooms and a new library. They managed to expand the school.
The other thing that we did was to tear down the big brick house on Patterson Street just before you come to the last alley. The property is now a playground for the Blessed Sacrament children. The people who lived in that house were Hungarians. He was at one time the ambassador to the United States from the Hungarian government immediately after the war.
His daughter, Mary Ann, wrote a book about living in that house. It was about the household and the people from Hungary who lived there and the intellectual conversations that went on there. The book tells about the romance between her father and her mother in Hungary. Her mother – Hannah DeKornfield – was from an incredibly rich family in Hungary. Her father, Aladar, was apparently a very able administrator but from a family not in the same league as the DeKornfields.
It is an incredible book. Random House gave her a contract to write the book several years ago, and she wrote it. But it has not been published yet. But it is story about the father and the mother and what happened when the war came. He was part of the negotiating team between Hitler and the Hungarian government that was trying to convince the Germans that they should leave Hungary alone. The problem was that the DeKornfields had a Jewish background, although they were Catholic at the time. So there was always this threat of the Germans hanging over the family.
Eventually, they gave away their great fortune to buy their way out of Hungary and they moved to Portugal. They couldn’t get to the United States because the United States government was dubious about their getting out of Hungary. They were allowed to get out by the Germans. A lot of people escaped. So they had to spend the rest of the war in Portugal. It is a fascinating story. If you ever hear that the book came out, you should read it. It is part of the neighborhood history. One of the people who lived with them there was Hannah’s older sister who was actually a countess I think in the Hungarian hierarchy, or whatever. He ended up working for the Voice of America after he came to this country.
Q – So that house was vacant for a while.
WM – The church bought it from them. Hannah and Anadar had both died. The children had moved away. Maria Dekornfeld was living in it by herself. The Parish bought the house and property. I was trying desperately to get them to leave the house as it was, because we could have used the space in the house . It wasn’t to be. They decided they wanted to relieve the pressure on the athletics at the school, and so they tore it down.
Q – The house was built in the 1920’s. So when was he ambassador?
WM – He was ambassador at the end of the war – 1946 or something like that. They set up what I would call an interim government that existed until the Russians came in. So at the end of the war, before Russia grabbed Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and so forth, they set up a government in Hungary, and they appointed him ambassador to the United States.
Q – Was that house like an embassy?
WM – No. I don’t think they even had an embassy. According to the book, many of the prominent Hungarian families in this area would gather at that house and have nice dinners and so forth. As soon as the Russians took over, they named someone new as the ambassador.
Q – Do you remember the ambassador’s name?
WM – Aladar Szedgy Mazak.
Q – So it was his daughter who wrote the book. Have you read the book?
WM – She sent us a copy of the manuscript, and so we had a chance to read it. I think we shipped that manuscript off to Maureen.
Maureen and Mary Ann Mazak were best friends through school and so I have a funny story about how my coin collecting intersected with the Mazaks, because when Mary Ann was getting married, I thought of the tradition that the Irish had of giving the bride a sixpence, which she wears in her shoe. That is supposed to insure that she always has money of her own.
Our daughter was in the wedding , and I thought about the sixpence. I thought that they are not Irish and so that is not going to make sense to them. So I fished through my coins and found a 6 Kreutzer coin from Hungary. It darned near ruined the wedding. I did not know enough Hungarian history, but it was a beautiful 1846 coin. That was the year of the Hungarian revolution when they were trying to get free from Austria. So I gave that to them, and the family burst out in tears. It brought back all the history of the Hungarians to them.
Q – Did she wear it in her shoe or not?
WM – I don’t know whether she wore it in her shoe. I sort of slunk off after that.
We had a remarkable woman who lived on Patterson Street. Her husband worked for the World Bank, I think it was. She was Liz Fennell. She was the one who got me started with the coins at Lafayette. She called me up and said, “ Think you know enough about coins to identify these things and price them.” So she got me in that first year to assist in selling coins at the Lafayette Fair.
She and her husband adopted two children from Thailand. They were twins. and they raised the children as their own on that house in Patterson Street. When her husband went back to London when his term was finished here, she and he traveled quite often to Africa because he was an African expert for the World Bank.
It seemed to me that every year she would encounter some child that had a physical problem that could not be solved in the nation in which they lived. I think it was Malawi mostly. But they would arrange to have that child and a parent or caregiver fly to England, put them up while the medical treatment was to be performed, and then fly them back to Africa again. And she just knows how to play the heart strings of people so that they manage not only to have the physical operations done but also she got tours of England – the high spots – to entertain the caregiver while the child is in the hospital. She has done this I would say 15 or 20 times. They lived about the 4th house from the ally I think.
Q – Does she live here now?
WM – No. She and her husband now live in London. They still travel to Africa occasionally. But she has a daughter who lives here. She lives on one of those crazy streets that angle off 33rd Place. I think it is 33rd Place.
Q – Did she start in Chevy Chase?
WM – They were from England. Her husband was with the World Bank. They came here to live for a while. They lived on Patterson Street. When they got back to England, he got into a semi-retirement situation where he was writing and advising about African problems that were of interest to the World Bank. That is when she started doing the good works. They had a 50th wedding anniversary party at La Ferme for them. It was a big crowd of people from the World Bank and the State Department. They were members of the world I guess you would call it. There would always be people in African dress and fezzes that would be in and out of the house there. I just admire the work that she does taking care of people who have special needs.
Q – Anything else you would like to tell me about the neighborhood?
WM – When we bought our house on Broad Branch Road in the late fifties, the edge of the park across the street was an ugly cliff of red clay. Water poured over the cliff whenever it rained further eroding the embankment and flooding the sidewalk with silt.
A few years later the District recreated the original slope by moving in many truckloads of dirt. Most of it was good topsoil, but some of it was spoil from construction sites containing lumps of concrete and asphalt. They planted the bank with a ground cover and planted a number of holly trees. The ground cover was very effective and stopped further erosion, but it got out of control when it was allowed to grow up the trunks of the trees with which it shared the reconstructed area. They also planted a great number of azaleas, a dark red variety that have mostly disappeared but a few of them can be seem along the Quesada Street park line.
Shortly after this, Judy Goodman and Susanne Hurwitz began the garden between the stairways at Quesada and Broad Branch. They planted various shrubs and flowers at their own expense and did a clean up a couple of times a year. But they both had jobs that kept them from effective weed control. So when I was approaching retirement. I volunteered to combat the weeds. I didn’t know very much about gardening, and I am sure I dug up some things that I shouldn’t have, but the place looked somewhat better for my efforts.
Other gardens were being created around the tennis courts, along 33rd street, and in the alley behind the houses that fronted on Quesada Street. These were mostly due to the efforts of Merle Head and Molly Mckittrick. I know there are others but these are the principal ones.
The garden was not very visible from my house — the fourth house from the corner, so I began to replace the ground cover with shrubs and flowers directly across the street from where I lived. By that time the ground cover had climbed into the trees and was flowering and disbursing seeds all over the area. The cover didn’t flower while it was close to the ground. Stems of the vines got to be 3 inches in diameter. This garden has been gradually extended in both directions along Broad Branch until it now covers almost the full block from Quesada to Patterson Street. T
The mowers who mowed the grass in the park threw the cuttings into the garden. Since the cuttings included a lot of weed seeds, the task of weeding was unending. I sat for hours digging them out and enjoyed talking with passers-by – some of whom would bend to the task of helping pull a few themselves. From time to time I came out to weed and discovered bunches of them that had been pulled by helpful strangers. Unfortunately some of the helpers didn’t know their weeds very well so I lost a lot of flowers as well. One helpful soul pulled out all the alliums I had planted; thinking, I am sure, that they were wild onions. I hope he or she pulled some of the onions as well.
Most of the earlier plantings were paid for out of our own pockets, but the Friends of Lafayette Park has underwritten many of our expenses in the past few years. One of the irritations about planting in the park is the theft of some of the plants. In one case I had planted four Lantana plants near the North end of the garden only to have two of them stolen. In one of the holes left after the theft the thief had inserted a dried out Lantana that apparently had been allowed to remain in its pot too long. It was just shoved into the hole without even being back filled. Strangely enough that plant, with some TLC thrived as well as the two original plants the thief had left for me. Some shrubs and bulbs were also stolen, but I don’t remember them ever digging up any trees that we put in.
One of the things I most enjoyed about my garden was watching the school children climbing up the stepping stone path I created near my house. Often they would go up the path and come down another that I put in further along the street. Some of the more venturesome mothers and fathers would also negotiate the paths and that gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
Also, the heavy rains we have encountered in the last couple years have washed out some of my stones, and I am getting too old to keep up with repair. All of the gardeners are aging, so I hope that others will volunteer to take over maintenance of the garden and will enjoy the work as much as I have.
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