Grover Batts

Grover Batts came to Washington in 1951, after serving in World War II, and went to work at the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, a position he kept until retirement.

By then, he had finished his education at Wake Forest University. In this July, 2013, interview with Jim McMahon, he explains how as a non-driver, it made perfect sense for him to live near work; on the advice of a coworker, he bought a house on Fourth Street, a block from the Library, in 1959. For most of his career, he processed the Library’s acquisitions when someone of note donated papers; among those whose papers he organized were Alexander Graham Bell, James Michener, and Henry Kissinger.

Read Transcript
Interview Date
July 9, 2013
James McMahon
James McMahon

Full Directory


MCMAHON: My name is Jim McMahon. I am at the home of Grover Batts at 111 Fourth Street SE, and

about to interview Grover for inclusion in the Overbeck Project, having to do with Capitol Hill and its

environs. And the date is July 9th, 2013. Present are Grover Batts and Judi Cannon. Grover tell [telephone

ringing in background ] us what brought you to Capitol Hill? Tell you what. I’ll stop. [pause to answer

phone] It is recording now, I just turned it back on. Tell you what. Start off with your biography. Where

you were born and raised, and then kind of wind up with what drew you to Washington, DC, and then I

will proceed with more questions. Is that comfortable for you?

BATTS: Yeah, I think so.

MCMAHON: Fantastic, go ahead.

BATTS: OK. Well, I was born in Elm City, North Carolina. Which is a teeny-weeny dot on the map. And

it’s between Wilson and Rocky Mount and so I lived there for—until I was about, I would guess about 15

or so. And by that time I had lost my mother—both my mother and father. One year my mother died of a

… influenza, I think …

MCMAHON: What was her maiden name?

BATTS: Minnie Cobb. Cobb was common name down there. C-O-B-B, Minnie Cobb. And then my

father died. He died a year previous to her death. And so at the age of ten I was an orphan. And luckily—

and I had no brothers or sisters. But luckily I had this wonderful aunt and uncle who lived in Raleigh,

North Carolina, the capitol of the state, and so they took me in. They had no children and so they took me

in and raised me as their own child. And I couldn’t of had better parents. So … of course I was with them

up until I graduated from high school and started college at Morris Hill, up in Asheville, North Carolina.

MCMAHON: What drew you to Morris Hill from Raleigh? Did they have special education courses that

you liked at Morris Hill?

BATTS: No. I was going to Morris Hill just to get a college education.


BATTS: It was just an ordinary, very ordinary college. And … as matter of fact I think it was just a

junior college, I believe. And … but in any event I went there with the idea that I would in time graduate.

And I was there only for a very short time until—and the war was going on then. And so I was there a

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very, very, very short time when I got my orders to report for duty at Fort Bragg. [laughter] And so that

was the end of my college career for the time being.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: And so I went right into the Army, and was in the Army four years right up—well, I was up till

the—of course till the war was over. And then I tried again.

MCMAHON: Where were you stationed when you were in the war?

BATTS: In the war I was—well luckily I got a little job in the Army Headquarters, for the Ninth Army

which was—we were stationed—well, as a matter of fact the whole time that I was with them we were

stationed in Europe. We were just in France for a while and then we moved into occupied Germany.


BATTS: And so … and that’s where I was—I was in Germany until the end of the war. Luckily I had a

nice cushy job [laughter].


BATTS: It’s a good thing that I did because I wasn’t much of a soldier. But … so then, after I got out of

the Army I came home and puttered around for a little while. And … I decided I needed an education. So

then I went to Wake Forest and was there—got through I think in three years, going all year round.

MCMAHON: What did you major in at Wake Forest?

BATTS: Well … as matter of fact I don’t even think … it was kind of general college education.


BATTS: It wasn’t any particular … thing at all, really. And when I graduated I think I had a fairly good

education. But I wasn’t prepared for anything. [laughter]

MCMAHON: Shall we call it liberal arts?

BATTS: I just about prepared as I was when I walked in the first day.

CANNON: You enjoyed history.

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BATTS: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I enjoyed history. And so in time I wound up, luckily, in the … at the

Library of Congress in their manuscript division. And you had really, luckily for me too, I majored in …

history, you know, in government. And so …

MCMAHON: What—when you graduated from college there might have been a lot of employment

opportunities. But what steered you to Washington, DC, from Wake Forest? Or was there an intervening

time that you spent elsewhere?

BATTS: No. Well, I know, I think this sounds maybe kind of ridiculous but after my experience in the

Army I had this kind of feeling it was nice to be working for the United States government. I think you

are well taken care of and even … and if you work and do as you should you can retire with a nice little

retirement. So I figure I’m going to stick with the government. And so …

MCMAHON: I did that too. Yes sir …

BATTS: It was lucky for me that I did. And so I had this … I had majored in as I say, in history and

government in college, and so I wound up in the Library working in the manuscript division and since I

majored in history and government in college and so they had me organize papers that were given to the

library and … .well, I think I had a … well as I say, a general kind of education so I was fairly well

intelligent and had a knowledge of things in general. And so …

CANNON: What was your first job when you came to Washington, DC, and where did you live?

BATTS: Well let me think. I know where I lived all right. Yeah, I lived in a little room, teeny little room

in the basement of a house over in a … .about a block away, actually about a block away from the White

House. But a … little teeny place in …

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: I was thrilled to death to have it.

MCMAHON: How long was that after you left the army?

BATTS: Well … well after I left the army then, you know, went home and piddled around for about

several months and then went to college.


BATTS: Yeah, so I think college for three years. And then after college I went to Washington and …

MCMAHON: So your right up here after college?

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BATTS: Yeah, I came directly.

MCMAHON: OK. How old were you Grover at that time when you first came to Washington?

BATTS: Well …

MCMAHON: Approximately.

BATTS: Good heavens that was … Oh my …

CANNON: Maybe 1950.

BATTS: I’d been probably around 23 maybe or 24, I’d guess. [Subsequent research found that Grover

moved to Washington DC on Sunday, August 12, 1951, shortly before his 27th birthday.]

MCMAHON: 23 or 24. That sounds right. So you come up here and … .did you apply only to the

Library of Congress?

BATTS: Oh, no, no, no, no. That came way down the road. I kind of bounced around a little bit. Because

my education was in general. It was, you know, a little dab of this and a dab of that.


BATTS: And but I think I did have a fairly good general education.


BATTS: And so when I wound up at the Library of Congress and fortunately … wound up in the

manuscript division. And there they organized papers. That were given to the library.


BATTS: And to do that you had to have a fairly good overall education. In other words you—they didn’t

want a specialist in one particular narrow little part of history or what not.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: But they wanted someone with a common general education.


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BATTS: Kind of a smidgen of this, that, and the other. So that you could handle papers that were given

from various people who were in various jobs and what not. And so in other words if you had kind of a

general education you could pretty much handle, you know papers …

MCMAHON: With respect to living a block from the White House and then eventually ending up here

on Capitol Hill. What path did you follow as far as residences goes?

BATTS: Well, let me think. Oh yeah, I know. Well I continued living on Capitol Hill for a while and

then when I got a job at the Library then I decided that it would make more sense. Because I am one of

these rare people who has never had an automobile. I have always been going on either public

transportation or the transportation of my friends. They all carted me around and I never, ever learned

how to drive a car. I am one of those rare, rare people.

MCMAHON: Maybe that’s why you are in such good shape.

BATTS: I don’t know. [laughter]

MCMAHON: You look very trim.

BATTS: I don’t know about that. No, but that’s the way, that’s the way it was.

CANNON: You were over in your little apartment at what is it, G and 18th?

BATTS: Yeah 18th and G, I believe, 18th and G.

CANNON: And you were there and bounced around in jobs a little bit, and somebody let you know about

the Library of Congress, so you applied and got in?

BATTS: Yeah, I don’t remember now where I first. Well, I don’t know. I just, I think that what happened

was I, for some reason, thought that I would like to work at the Library of Congress. I don’t know.

There’s something appealing to me about … just the Library of Congress. This magnificent, you know,

structure here just crammed full of all these wonderful books. And … so I decided that would be … that

would be a nice place to work. Be surrounded by these wonderful books. Actually, it was kind of a stupid

way to approach it. But that’s the approach I had.

MCMAHON: An account for the record here that Grover Batts is a lover of books.

BATTS: Right.

MCMAHON: The room is chock full of books.

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BATTS: Too much so.

MCMAHON: And a born reader no doubt. That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful.

CANNON: So you were still over near the White House.

BATTS: Oh, yeah.

CANNON: Dr. McPherson came to you and said.

BATTS: Oh, that’s right.

CANNON: Share your story about Dr. McPherson.

MCMAHON: Dr. McPherson?

CANNON: From the Library of Congress, saying I think you and Roland should take a look at a house.

It’s up for sale.

BATTS: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

CANNON: It was for sale.


BATTS: Yeah, that’s right. Well … yeah I hadn’t …

MCMAHON: Is Dr. McPherson somebody that you worked for?

BATTS: Yeah, well … Dr. McPherson … she was one of the people I worked with, she was part of the

staff in the manuscript division.


BATTS: And so … of course in the manuscript division they get the papers of outstanding people in all

fields. And so the papers are given to the Library and they go to the manuscript division where they are

processed. Processing is organizing the papers. And each group of papers that come to the Library, there

is always a difference in them. The way that you get them and—they already may be organized a teeny bit

… and they’re all about … of course different people and different occupations and so you are dealing

with all these different things.

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MCMAHON: Well tell us about Kissinger’s papers. I saw that in the notice of the Kennedy Center, you

being a generous donor, they gave you a nice biography in the Kennedy Center website, and they said that

you worked in the manuscript division and you handled Henry Kissinger’s papers?

BATTS: Yeah, well I don’t, this is all news to me.

CANNON: You handled …

BATTS: [laughter]

MCMAHON: Are you being too modest about this?

CANNON: Whisper in his ear.


BATTS: Oh, yeah.

CANNON: You recognized Alexander Graham Bell’s little doodle, right?

BATTS: Oh, that’s right, yeah.

CANNON: You know your history.

BATTS: Well, after I got into the manuscript division for a while … and so the manuscript division at

that time they had a monthly exhibit. And I mean they had the cases within the manuscript division and so

they had these cases of one thing … usually the papers of a certain person or about a certain subject. Or

something of that kind.


BATTS: And so, for some reason they decided to let me organize the exhibits, and you know which

turned out to be a kind of almost like a full time job. Actually I was there organizing papers. And so I

continued doing that but then when I had this additional job I had to come up with a different exhibit

every month. And that …

MCMAHON: That’s challenging.

BATTS: Yes, it’s very challenging. Now in the first place whose papers do you choose? And a lot of

times of course it would do with the birthdate of a certain person.


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BATTS: And … or, it could be any number of reasons. And so …

CANNON: Can you share what it was like to go to Alexander Graham Bell’s papers? Where did they

come from?

MCMAHON: What about this doodle, as well. That’s one thing I would like to have the record … I

would like to know how you discovered something based upon your reading.

BATTS: Yeah, that’s right. Well yeah, the papers of Alexander Graham Bell are … you know, it’s a real

treasure. Because, believe it or not, the telephone is one of the major things that we have in our culture.

MCMAHON: It’s transformative.

BATTS: You were starting to say sorry but there are no more telephones. How are you going to


MCMAHON: Sure, right.

BATTS: So, telephone really is—and boy we take it—you know, just the thing, you know, oh sure and

we assume that we’ve always had telephones.

MCMAHON: Yeah, kids take it for granted today.

BATTS: Oh, sure, sure. But anyway the invention of the telephone is a very, very important thing.

CANNON: What did those papers look like when you got them?

BATTS: Oh, yeah, but the papers when we got the papers of Alexander Graham Bell … they had been

stored down in a basement somewhere. Very dank and wet atmosphere … and these poor papers were

there absorbing all this moisture.

MCMAHON: Oh goodness.

BATTS: So, when the library rescued these things, it was something of a job to organize them.

MCMAHON: When it received the papers, from where, what location? His home somewhere in

Baddeck, Nova Scotia, or some other place?


CANNON: They were stored in a basement in the Daughters of the American Revolution … .

BATTS: Oh, yeah, she knows more about it than I do.

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MCMAHON: The DAR basement.

BATTS: Right.

MCMAHON: Alexander Graham Bell’s papers.

BATTS: Yeah, were in the basement of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

MCMAHON: Right there on 17th Street.

BATTS: I guess.

CANNON: Library of Congress when they came in what did you need to … what were you dealing with

when you went to those papers?

BATTS: Well …

CANNON: Were they …

BATTS: Well yeah, but you see the papers had been stored in these, kind of, like I say, dank and moist

areas. And they really were in terrible shape and they had bugs, all kinds of beetles and everything else.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: Dead of course. And they left the shells behind them. They were really, really in terrible

condition. And so in fact they were so filthy that I couldn’t afford—I mean, not that I had on such

glorious clothes, which I didn’t, but just ordinary clothes that I wore to work, I couldn’t—you know, I

would sit down at my desk and the way I worked I would have the papers down beside me, a big box full

of these things and I would just reach down, get a handful of these papers, not knowing exactly what they

were and what part of his life they came from. But I would get this hunk of papers, then plop them in my

lap and then go through them one by one. But with Alexander Graham Bell’s paperwork was so filthy that

I couldn’t do that with the clothes I was wearing to work. I would look like a tramp in 12 hours time. So

what I did, I had to get me a huge apron … an apron that … you know this blue material … what’s this

blue material … sturdy stuff. And so I draped it around my neck and my whole body down to my shoes

were covered in this thing to keep me clean.


BATTS: And so … well … and so in the process of doing Alexander Graham Bell’s papers, though … I

would lift up one sheet at a time. Another thing I discovered, I had become a relatively fast reader.

Because otherwise you would be sitting here … some person’s papers for a year at the time, you know.

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And so you develop this kind of thing where you kind of zip through … you look at the sheet and you

automatically … oh well there is nothing particularly … you know important here.


BATTS: But any way you get to the point where you got to go and you kind a, at break-neck speed to get

through these things, because some of the larger collections would be up in the thousands and thousands

of pieces of paper.

MCMAHON: Grover, can you give us an idea of the bulk of these records of Alexander Graham Bell?

One box, two boxes, three boxes?

BATTS: Oh, well this would be a wild guess. But the papers are all put in the same type of box. It’s a

large blue box and it has two holes in it. A hole on each end and that’s to let in air.


BATTS: So that they won’t get moist inside and it was … so that the air could flow through them


MCMAHON: How many boxes like that?

BATTS: Well now I don’t know, I wish I knew the number. But I do know it would be up way, way past

a hundred.

MCMAHON: Goodness!

BATTS: Oh, he had a huge collection.

MCMAHON: That was a lot of work.

BATTS: It was a lot of work. It was a lot of papers believe me. But …

CANNON: What was the doodle you found?

BATTS: Oh, yeah. So among all these things you know and I am sitting there. And you have to try to

keep going as fast as you can you know. Otherwise you are going to be there forever doing one collection.

But anyway, I was going through these things you know and you look at a sheet and put it where it

belongs … in correspondence or whatever, and so here came a sheet that looked very strange, and it was

kind of like doodling with a pencil. And lo and behold, luckily … it’s as if some child with a pencil might

doodle-doodle-do, you know, just having fun with a pencil and piece of paper.

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MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: But luckily it dawned on me that what I was looking at looked like what might be what we now

call a telephone. And this was Alexander Graham Bell’s doodling in his process of creating a telephone. I

mean you can’t put a price on something like that …

MCMAHON: You’re right, yeah.

BATTS: It’s just … I don’t know … it brings tears to my eyes even talking about things like this. These

things are so important in our history.


BATTS: And … and here it was stashed away for years and years and years in some mildew … Oh, yeah

they were stashed away in the basement of the National Geographic Society.

CANNON: That’s where they were.

BATTS: Yeah, that’s where they were. Sitting down there in the dank.

MCMAHON: OK, not the Daughters of the American Revolution but the National Geographic Society?

BATTS: The National Geographic Society.

MCMAHON: OK. Great, great.

BATTS: That’s where they were rescued from.


BATTS: And so, when I looked at this thing and it dawned on me: this is, it looks like a telephone. I

mean the reason … these doodles, these two doodles, you know, wound up as being a telephone.

MCMAHON: Continue going.

BATTS: And so … but that gives you an indication of what it was to be a processor of manuscripts, when

you are doing papers of some, you know, of important figure in … in invention or what not as a writer or


MCMAHON: It’s history.

BATTS: It’s history.

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MCMAHON: It’s key.

BATTS: Some of it is extremely important and very interesting.

MCMAHON: Grover, Dr. McPherson must have liked you very much if she told you about the

availability of this house nearby work? Yeah, she wanted you nearby.

BATTS: She did, she did. Thanks to her, yeah, that I got this house. I hate to talk about this because it

sounds so, I don’t know … but this was way, way back of course.

MCMAHON: What year was that when you moved here?

BATTS: Good Lord, when was it?

CANNON: ‘59, in ‘59 you bought the house.

BATTS: When?

CANNON: He always says ‘60 he really moved in, because he had to redo.


CANNON: There are pictures date stamped ‘59 on them.

BATTS: Yeah, … back in ‘59.

MCMAHON: Has it always been rental or … ?

BATTS: Well no I don’t, I really don’t know because when I got the house it had been in … used as a

rooming house.


BATTS: And of course the house was in terrible shape. And of course it hadn’t really been taken care of.

It hadn’t been painted or really cleaned.

MCMAHON: Were most of the houses around here rooming houses at that time?

BATTS: Yeah, a good deal of them were. As a matter of fact the whole neighborhood was pretty much

rundown. And luckily the good thing about it was that the price of buying a house here was pretty low.

But to me it was a lot of money.


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BATTS: The price of this house was $15,000, and it was to me like I say wasn’t a pittance …

MCMAHON: A lot of money …

BATTS: … it was a pretty nice little haul …

MCMAHON: Were you on a GS salary at the Library of Congress?

BATTS: Yeah, I guess …

MCMAHON: Were you a GS 8, 9?

BATTS: Oh, down, way down the—almost to the bottom of the rung.

MCMAHON: [Laughter]

BATTS: No, I wasn’t making very much. But I may have made enough to help pay for a $15,000 house.

MCMAHON: At least a down payment?

BATTS: You just paid it by the month.


BATTS: So, that’s the way that I wound up around here. And the fact that it was a block away from the

Library, that was the selling point. Talking about going through these papers of Alexander Graham Bell’s,

and so you know, you shuffle papers. But it came up, and it’s almost like you made a major discovery.



CANNON: He knocked on the door and said … this door and said please come in …

MCMAHON: OK, here we are again back on track, tape 1, side 2. And Grover, I understand that as part

of your job you had to go and meet an author out in …

CANNON: Chesapeake Bay.

MCMAHON: The Chesapeake Bay somewhere and pick up the papers as part of your job. Could you tell

us the name of that author and what you did with the papers?

BATTS: I’ve got to think about it … My mind is gone almost …

MCMAHON: (Laughter)

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BATTS: (Laughter) It’s almost an empty shell.

MCMAHON: Oh no, oh no, no, no, …

CANNON: Maybe it will come back … You received special directions to go out and pick up the papers.

You and Roland went out to the Eastern Shore … going out and picking up so and so’s papers from this

… I am sure it was somebody who loved the water.

BATTS: It probably was … Michener. [Author James Michener]

MCMAHON: I remember it was Michener who did a wonderful book called Chesapeake.

BATTS: Oh yeah …

MCMAHON: And—boy if it was his papers, that’s—

CANNON: In the living room it was like windows. He invited you in to stay.

MCMAHON: You walked into the living room and it was like windows and the author invited you to

stay and chat?

BATTS: Yeah … [Subsequent research turned up this information: James Michener donated his papers to

the Library of Congress. Michener notified the Library that he had additional documents to add to the

collection, and Grover was asked if he could pick them up on this way home from Bellevue, MD. One of

the items was a sealed envelope. The Library was instructed not to open the envelope and reveal the

contents until 25 years after the author’s death, which occurred in 1997.]

MCMAHON: So OK, well listen. You are on Capitol Hill … you are now a Capitol Hillite.

BATTS: Right … I am one of the pillars of Capitol Hill.


BATTS: But this pillar is disintegrating. Rapidly …

MCMAHON: (Laughter)

BATTS: It’s beginning to crumble

MCMAHON: Oh well, you must remember things about like … the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.

Did you ever go to their zoning meetings?

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BATTS: You know I went to a few but I couldn’t really quite get in to it somehow. I mean they were

approaching history … I don’t know, in a different way from what we did at the Library. And … I don’t

know, I did maybe go to maybe a couple of the meetings but I didn’t really belong there.

MCMAHON: OK, OK. … You said you liked to cook, and where did you do your buying of stuff?

BATTS: Well, you know, just regular around the available grocery stores mainly, yes.

MCMAHON: The farmer’s markets weren’t popular at that time.

BATTS: Well, no, I think they were but …

CANNON: Magruder’s, you should mention Magruder’s …

BATTS: Oh, yeah.

MCMAHON: Good produce at Magruder’s.

BATTS: Yeah, so I did. I went to you know, got groceries from the market. And [unintelligible] on the

weekends. That’s where of course they just flooded with all fine fresh produce.

MCMAHON: Where, where?

BATTS: Down at the Market

MCMAHON: Eastern Market?

BATTS: Eastern Market.


BATTS: Yeah, that’s the thing if you are smart at all you did your major shopping for fresh vegetables

and meats and everything you want.

MCMAHON: Within walking distance for someone who didn’t have a car.

BATTS: Walking distance, yeah.

MCMAHON: What’s your specialty as a cook, what did you like to cook?

BATTS: Oh, my goodness.

MCMAHON: You must have been good at something. From North Carolina …

BATTS: No … actually I was really a very ordinary cook.

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CANNON: It’s time for recipes.

MCMAHON: I can imagine from North Carolina. Let me tell you barbeque, North Carolina barbeque …

BATTS: Oh, yeah, well that’s true too. Yeah …

MCMAHON: What is it red eye, something like that.

BATTS: Yeah …

MCMAHON: Well, I have a list over here of things … yeah … Oh, you know, since you are so close to

the Capitol, do remember much about Presidential inaugurals? You know how the …

BATTS: Well … it seems like I never really got into that too much.

MCMAHON: OK, all right.

BATTS: But I am trying to think of some particular … oh I don’t know …

MCMAHON: Of course ‘59 I guess, was that Eisenhower or Kennedy that …

CANNON: … was inaugurated … Kennedy … he was, yeah was assassinated because that was a major

thing during the administration …


CANNON: Kennedy and Johnson and then you know Nixon was in there … Carter, Bush.

MCMAHON: Well let me ask you this. What about crime on Capitol Hill. Were you ever burglarized or

held up … ?

BATTS: Thank goodness I was never held up … but no, I had … I was burglarized a couple of times.


BATTS: It didn’t amount to a whole lot. And whatever they stole it wasn’t …

MCMAHON: How did they get in the house?


MCMAHON: How did they get in the house?

BATTS: I … as far as I remember they probably just broke through the door. Yeah, yeah.

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MCMAHON: All right.

CANNON: Riots.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes tell us about … what happened during the riots? Do you remember the riots in


BATTS: Indeed, I do.

MCMAHON: Could you tell us something about that?

BATTS: Well, yeah. Well, the major thing, I was really kind of petrified. I mean to me what was

happening was unbelievable.


BATTS: I … don’t know why … shouldn’t have been so surprised as to what was happening but I

certainly was and I actually I can remember just standing in the window here in the living room and

seeing all these very angry people, you know, going up and down the street yelling and carrying on. I was

really petrified. It was …

MCMAHON: Did you stay home from work that day?

BATTS: Oh, yeah.


BATTS: I think we were told to stay home, I believe.


BATTS: But is was … well anyway to me, I am sure to a lot of other people … I just … really petrified

and to think of being afraid to go out your front door.


BATTS: I mean that’s saying a lot.

MCMAHON: You bet, and in the United States.

BATTS: Yeah, in the United States, afraid to go out on the street.

MCMAHON: Do remember soldiers coming by at all?

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BATTS: Oh, yeah, I remember, I saw soldiers, yeah, yeah …

MCMAHON: Jeeps and stuff of that sort?

BATTS: It was very, very frightening period.

MCMAHON: And how many days did you stay away from work because of those riots and were there

any fires on this block at all?

BATTS: No, I don’t believe so. Uh-uh, no.


BATTS: And luckily I do know that a lot of houses were damaged.


BATTS: But luckily I didn’t … I escaped somehow. But … anyway it was a very scary period that’s for


MCMAHON: Do you remember what used to be before the Madison Building was built over in that

block over there? Remember the Madison Building was built in our time? What was on that square, what

was there before the Madison Building was there? Do you recall, were there town houses, was there a

softball field or …

BATTS: Oh, no. That’s right. I remember now. No that was a street and as I remember it now. It was a

street that was covered from one, well … all the way down the block of shops. As I remember it, that’s

what it was.


BATTS: I mean there were shops you know on all the other blocks.


BATTS: And running up to it. And so that’s what was there.

MCMAHON: OK, so you do remember. How about Providence Hospital. Do you remember Providence

Hospital where Providence Park is now? [Reference is to the square between Second and Third Streets, D

and E Streets SE.]

BATTS: Vaguely, I do.

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MCMAHON: OK. They tore that down.

BATTS: That’s right.

MCMAHON: And there is a nice flat park there.

BATTS: Yeah, yeah …

MCMAHON: How about … do you remember the earthquake a couple of years ago? [Aug. 23, 2011]

BATTS: Uh … let me see. Yeah, I do … yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I was scared to death. I was standing

here in the very middle of this house.


BATTS: And I can remember that. I was standing straight up and just not moving at all and right in the

middle of the house, and I … it was as if I were waiting for a bomb or something similar to go off. And

… but it’s funny that that image guess kind of stayed in my mind, of me standing there of what I call my

library. Standing there perfectly still, petrified really. And while I was standing there, there was this

tremor, very decided swaying, actually swaying of this house back and forth.

MCMAHON: Yeah, scary.

BATTS: As if the house were made of rubber.


BATTS: It was very scary. And I was thinking how is this house moving without being crumbling and

falling flat, with me in the middle of it.


BATTS: It was a very scary moment. And but of course it was over, you know. And somehow I escaped.


MCMAHON: Well listen. How did you join Capitol Hill Village? What, who got you into it?

BATTS: Well … let’s see.

MCMAHON: Did they have a talk?

BATTS: I guess I—I had friends who were—became members early on.

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BATTS: Before I ever knew anything about it.

MCMAHON: Who were the friends you were talking about? Your neighbors on the hill here?

BATTS: Yeah, yeah, just some of my neighbors. [In 2007, Grover’s friend and neighbor Dee Seward

invited him to a gathering at Mike and Judy Canning’s house to introduce Grover to CHV. Both Grover

and Mike Canning were interviewed by Wren Elhai, and excerpts of those interviews are included in a

three minute segment about villages during a Marketplace Money broadcast on NPR on Sept. 7, 2007.]


BATTS: You know there are people who are very oriented to …

MCMAHON: Civic activities.

BATTS: Exactly, that’s what I was looking for. You know there are people that are very civic minded.

And … thank goodness we have people like that.

MCMAHON: Could you mention their names, give them some credit?

BATTS: Well, let me see.

CANNON: Dee and Bob …

MCMAHON: The Cannings …

BATTS: Not at the present time.

CANNON: The Cannings maybe.


CANNON: The Cannings, Judy Canning and Mike Canning.

BATTS: Yeah, Judy and Mike. And even the Bucks were involved in it …

CANNON: Dee and Buck are on the Committee.

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BATTS: Yeah Buck Waller [spells it], Buck Waller, he’s an active person in the community too. You

know there are a number of people, surprising number of people who are very concerned about … well …

CANNON: … called our elderly people … need help

MCMAHON: Right … right sure. With respect to the Community Foundation, I guess you know the

Cymrots and the store over there. As far as being civic minded as well and their activities. You know the

donation they makes …

BATTS: I know of them. I don’t really know them.


BATTS: But I do know they are very active and very, very important people in the Village.

MCMAHON: I agree, I agree.

BATTS: Oh, indeed, they are.

MCMAHON: Are you familiar with the Hill Center now?

BATTS: Yeah.

MCMAHON: The Old Naval Hospital. Now we have the community center. Have you been there yet, at


BATTS: Yeah, I’ve been there. In fact I’ve been to the very tip-top that is the headquarters for the … at

least when I was there, it was the headquarters.

MCMAHON: Of what?

BATTS: Capitol Hill [Village].

MCMAHON: We have our community center, who knew.

BATTS: Exactly, we are becoming important.

MCMAHON: Have you been down to see the restaurants on Eighth Street [SE]? And how that has


BATTS: Oh, yeah, yeah … Oh yes.

MCMAHON: So, let’s see, have got any more of those notes you have taken? OK, right over here.

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CANNON: He had a poetry group on the Hill.

MCMAHON: Poetry group, tell us about that.

CANNON: Tell them … explain about the development of your house and who ended up living

downstairs in the basement.

BATTS: Oh, yeah. Well, you know I bought this house with a friend, Roland Lambert, and he has

unfortunately has passed away.


BATTS: But … and um …

CANNON: You were both young and $15,000 …

BATTS: $15,000 was a lot of money.


CANNON: So you …

BATTS: Oh yeah … and so here was this … to me it was a great big house and it is still a big house as

far as I am concerned. And … but … so … but it was bought, and of course it was in bad shape of course

when it was sold. And so it took a lot of sprucing up.


BATTS: Repairs all over the place and being painted and all this type of thing. So I finally got it really in

good shape.

MCMAHON: Now did you do that yourself or did you have contractors come in?

BATTS: No mainly it was done by contractors. Really, yeah …


BATTS: And in the basement when it was bought it just a dirt, dank, kind of wet, kind of a basement.

And so we decided to have it all dug out down, very, quite deep and to make it into another part of the

house. Which took quite a lot of work.

MCMAHON: I can imagine.

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BATTS: Oh, and another thing. It skipped my mind. That when the process of them digging and it

happened that this one particular day that I was here at the time that the people who were doing the

digging downstairs were just—taken aback is not the right word. But in this digging, they dug up this box.


BATTS: And … they opened it up and there was dead body buried …

MCMAHON: A dead body in a box in the basement?

BATTS: In the basement. Well then I … and then I … for somehow I had heard, you know how you hear

tales … do you know about … and they tell you this little spooky … story.


BATTS: Well that had been a little tale. I didn’t think … as I had heard about after I had bought the

house from the neighbors who knew about it apparently. And they said, oh by the way did you know that

there was supposed to be a woman’s body buried in your basement? No, of course not. I didn’t pay any

attention to it. How ridiculous can you get. So here I am with this mystery on my hands and so dumb me.

I mean I—in a situation like that my mind just evaporates completely. But after telling me that … saying

that they found this dead body in the coffin. What shall we do with it? Stupid me, I said take it off to the

city dump. Can you imagine, not even a cemetery mind you. That’s how stupid my reaction …

MCMAHON: You must have been shocked.

BATTS: I was shocked. Here I was living on top of a cemetery.

MCMAHON: Well what eventually happened with respect to the remains?

BATTS: What happened, they, I don’t know who they were but they took the box and body and took it

out. Well I guess out to wherever they take the trash, unfortunately. And they just got rid of it, how, I

don’t know. I didn’t want to know what they did with it.

MCMAHON: So, I mean the police weren’t called. I mean …

BATTS: No, there were no police called there.

MCMAHON: You just took it out there. OK. And took it out to the … all right. Amazing, amazing, boy.

That ah … that’s a revelation.

BATTS: It’s a revelation.

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MCMAHON: How long, how long did this … what year did it occur?

BATTS: I have been terrified of ghost stories from the time I was five years old, I guess. And here I am

living on top of a cemetery.

MCMAHON: A cemetery, wow, oh goodness.

BATTS: Oh Lord …


CANNON: Did you ever see a ghost up in the hallway?

BATTS: I can’t remember now.

MCMAHON: No ghosts in the hallway. Huh?

BATTS: No, I don’t think so.

MCMAHON: OK, all right. That’s fascinating. That’s really just amazing …

CANNON: Once it was finished downstairs, who came to live down there?

BATTS: Oh, yeah. Oh that’s right … that’s another thing … You know I worked in the manuscript

division of the Library and they had a … you know—this ah—the poets …

CANNON: Poets laureate.

BATTS: Poet laureates …

MCMAHON: Yeah, right.

BATTS: And, ah … and so they … and so forth … and I was working the manuscript division … the

poet laureates, that section of it was a part of the manuscript division.


BATTS: And so … and so for some reason the people where I worked, they knew that I had this empty

basement here. And so the chief of the manuscript division asked if I would consider letting my basement

being rented out to the poet laureate.


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BATTS: They had to stay somewhere and they figured I probably would rent the basement to them at a

very reasonable price. Which I did, at practically nothing. And so that’s the way I got started with housing

the poet laureates.

MCMAHON: Downstairs in your basement.

BATTS: Yeah, in the basement. And so it would be one after another.


BATTS: And it seemed—it turned out the poet laureates … and the poets of course … they were part of

the manuscript division. And they thought well … Grover’s basement and … available to our poets

wherever they may be. It was a nice solution for them, since they had to find some place for the poets to

stay. And so here I was, you know, willing to rent out the basement for practically nothing. And here they

were, poets are a block away from where they would be working.

MCMAHON: Could you name some of the poets you recall?

BATTS: Damn, I lose my mind.

CANNON: Stanley?

BATTS: Stanley Kunitz. [Named Poet Laureate in 2000.] He was one of the outstanding ones. But there

… I could say I cannot remember all of these …

MCMAHON: Many of them … for how many years?

BATTS: Well it was many, many of … .and … oh my gosh … oh Lord …

MCMAHON: That’s great …

BATTS: I can’t remember … but I do know it was quite a number of years that the poets did stay here.

MCMAHON: Stay here …

BATTS: And I was glad to have them …

MCMAHON: Yeah, sure …

BATTS: And uh … Kunitz. What was his name? Stanley … Stanley Kunitz

MCMAHON: Kunitz, yes.

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BATTS: Stanley Kunitz, he was I guess one of my favorite poets.


BATTS: You got to know them slightly, just by the fact that they were living here and so I would, you

know occasionally invite them up for dinner or something like that. So I did at least get to know them.

MCMAHON: To know them, yeah …

BATTS: And make sure that they were satisfied and …

MCMAHON: Great, you were just a gracious host with your southern charm.

BATTS: Oh goodness, anyway it was an interesting period. I think it was good for me and very good for

the poets …

MCMAHON: Yeah, uh-huh. OK. Other than the good commute and the great job you had, what did you

like best about Capitol Hill, about the neighborhood here? You know what made you enjoy it, what made

you want to stay?

BATTS: Well I … I would say that I guess the number one … thing on my list would be the fact that I

lived a block away from the Library where I worked.

MCMAHON: And without a car, yes.

BATTS: And without a car, never having had a car, never did have a car. And so that was, I guess the

number one thing I would think of. How nice it was to be living close to the Library. And how nice it was

for the poets. They have a nice place. It really was. I fixed up the basement; it was very comfortable. It

had its own little kitchen, nice little bath. Of course it was all very small. But they were very satisfied.

Everyone was saying it was very satisfying.

MCMAHON: And Grover, when you socialized where did you go I mean do you remember? Did you

have friends’ parties, or did you go to the beach on the Delaware coast or …

BATTS: Oh, yeah, well I finally … well I wound up with a … .we had … there is a picture of it there.

Wound up with a little house on the … on the …

CANNON: Bellvue.

BATTS: Bellevue, Bellevue …

MCMAHON: Was that on the Eastern shore?

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BATTS: Yeah, the Eastern shore. And ah … it was a little strip … what town was it now … that it was


CANNON: Bellvue, you remember Bellevue?

BATTS: A little teeny town of Bellevue [MD] and ah …

MCMAHON: For a poor North Carolina boy, you have done very, very well.

BATTS: I did very well …


BATTS: I say it was all due to circumstances and things that I had no control over. I was very lucky.

That’s what I would say. It certainly had nothing to do with my brains or me being smart.

MCMAHON: You are too modest …

BATTS: It had nothing to do with.

MCMAHON: You are too modest

BATTS: No I am not either … Oh gosh … I had a … very lucky in life I would say.

MCMAHON: And you bought that how many years after you bought this? I mean you bought this house

in 1959, when did you buy the house in Bellevue?

BATTS: Good Lord …

MCMAHON: Ten years later or …?

BATTS: No, I think it was small … I would say and I’m just guessing … probably around five years. It

wasn’t very long. [Further research indicates that Grover and Roland Lambert purchased their home in

Bellevue on April 29, 1963. They purchased the lot next door in November 1969. The home was sold in

2006, subsequent to Roland’s death].

MCMAHON: And how much did you pay for it? Was it reasonable?

BATTS: Well it was. It was $15,000.

MCMAHON: Oh, goodness gee whiz!

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BATTS: $15,000 and it has been sold not by me … But that very property has been sold for a million


MCMAHON: How many acres?

BATTS: Oh, I don’t really … it was quite … it was not immense, but it was a big piece of land.

MCMAHON: Was it waterfront property?

BATTS: It was on the waterfront.


BATTS: And it was on gorgeous … here was this house and this nice big lot. And right out … .you sight

out your window and here was part of this river going right past your house.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: And it stopped back … back here.


BATTS: And then the main river was over here you know.


BATTS: And right across from me you could look out the window and see it … it was that little … the

town of … what is that town’s name?

MCMAHON: Is it Chester?


CANNON: Is it Bellevue?

BATTS: No that little teeny town of Bellevue … I was thinking about the town across … you go … it

went back and forth on a ferry …

MCMAHON: Blackwater maybe?

BATTS: Oh God.

CANNON: Easton is north of it, so it’s not Easton.

BATTS: Anyway that was a …

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MCMAHON: That was a gem.

BATTS: Oh, it was.


BATTS: It was.

MCMAHON: Did you spend your weekends out there? I mean it seems …

BATTS: You spend every weekend there because … you know I had this … I mean I am trying not to

exaggerate but it was a large, a huge yard.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: And … .we had a lot of grass, it had to be cut.

MCMAHON: Cut. But without a car …

BATTS: And then I loved to garden because my whole background were plain old dirt farmers.


BATTS: We were dirt farmers from North Carolina.

CANNON: North Carolina tobacco.

MCMAHON: Tobacco …

BATTS: And I think I had it born into me.

MCMAHON: In your genes.

BATTS: Digging in the ground. I just love it.

CANNON: How many rose bushes did you plant?

BATTS: I planted 50 rose bushes.

MCMAHON: Beautiful.

BATTS: But try taking care of 50 rose bushes.

CANNON: … more flowers to … spectacular …

MCMAHON: Roses are fussy.

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BATTS: Just one rose bush is enough.

MCMAHON: Yes, but 50. Boy.

BATTS: Of course they did not get loving attention, not …

MCMAHON: I can imagine. Boy … Well how did you get out there without a car?

BATTS: With Roland. Roland had a car.

MCMAHON: OK, got it, got it. All right.

BATTS: If I had to go anywhere … If I had to depend on what form of transportation that I provided, we

would have been sitting doing nothing. Sitting twiddling our thumbs.

MCMAHON: Yeah, OK. Wow.

BATTS: Like I say, my whole background was plain old farmers and … around Elm City, North

Carolina. And so I was … it seemed like I had to be somewhere …



MCMAHON: One, two, three, four, we are back on track again.

BATTS: Good heavens.

MCMAHON: Tape 2, side 1, and we were talking about poet laureates staying in the basement of Grover

Batts’. And we’ve run through quite a few of them. Once again making a reference to the page of the

Library of Congress for the poet laureates and we have gone from 1981 …

CANNON: Is it ‘71 that they started staying here?

MCMAHON: But the important thing is to see that the number of poet laureates that have stayed in the

basement of this house because Grover offered to them a convenient located house at a very, very, fair


BATTS: That … very fair price …

MCMAHON: A very, very fair price, so …

BATTS: It was ephemeral as a price …

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MCMAHON: And the thing is that any poet laureate would have been out of his mind not to take it.

BATTS: Not to have taken it. That’s exactly right.


BATTS: It’s nothing luxurious but adequate.

MCMAHON: Adequate …

BATTS: Very adequate, very adequate, yeah.

CANNON: Tell about Stanley Kunitz.

MCMAHON: Did you get to know Mr. Kunitz very well?

BATTS: Yeah, I did … yeah, I would say yes. He, I think would be, I would say would be my favorite

among the poets.


BATTS: Some of the poets were—they’re none of them that weren’t very nice people.


BATTS: But some were more easy to get to know or …

MCMAHON: I see …

BATTS: But I think all together Stanley Kunitz might have been my favorite …

MCMAHON: Good, good.

BATTS: … as a fine person that you liked to be around and as well as being a very fine poet.

MCMAHON: Poet, oh great.

CANNON: Do you remember William J. Smith at all?

BATTS: Not really.

CANNON: Louisiana. William Stoppard from Hutchinson, Kansas … William Stoppard …

BATTS: No. You mean there were that were that many that came here?

MCMAHON: Quite a few, yeah.

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MCMAHON: Wow … so. Well, let’s see here. Good stories, a lot of great material.

BATTS: I am so glad—you know, when I heard when you were coming. I thought, oh my Lord what

have I got to … And I’m quite serious. What have I done … not done … doesn’t amount to a roll of pins,


MCMAHON: Tell you what: were you interested in any of the sports teams on Capitol Hill? Like our

baseball team, our football team, our basketball team?

BATTS: No, I am totally …

MCMAHON: OK, you noticed the … you went to the Kennedy Center quite a bit.

BATTS: Yeah, I love the Kennedy Center.

MCMAHON: And what is it? Is it the music, theatre, what part did you … ?

BATTS: Well you know I like them all.


BATTS: I really do, I mean I … I think the Kennedy Center is to me … I don’t know, it’s … I just like

everything about it.


BATTS: And the thing about it is … it’s so … such a variety. You look at it and see what’s happening at

the Kennedy Center, any time, any month, any day. You look and see what’s going on at the Kennedy

Center and you’re going to be surprised and made very happy.


BATTS: If you go … to whatever is there.

MCMAHON: So when you …

BATTS: I just love the Kennedy Center

MCMAHON: When you … you had a subscription to the National Symphony Orchestra.

BATTS: I think I did, yeah. [Further information verifies that he had Kennedy Center subscriptions to

both theater productions and NSO concerts until 2013, when NSO stopped offering a matinee option. He

subsequently attended NSO daytime rehearsals, but continued attending all the musical theater

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productions, with friends Dee and Skip Seward. They enjoyed "Lion King—the Circle of Life" just one

week before his July 20, 2014, death.]

MCMAHON: Any other subscriptions at all?

BATTS: Why … no I don’t really think so.

MCMAHON: So you go to the concerts?

BATTS: I guess, I like to go occasionally, now and then.

CANNON: He goes there …

MCMAHON: Do you go to the Arena Stage at all?

BATTS: Well I have … I would say not very much.

MCMAHON: Grover, do you play an instrument at all?

BATTS: I tried to play a pinkle-link-link on the piano.

MCMAHON: Oh, good, OK.

BATTS: Yeah.

MCMAHON: Talented fellow.

CANNON: Would you like to tell him …


CANNON: Share about your piano teachers.

MCMAHON: Yeah, piano teachers.

CANNON: What did you say, you were practicing piano, they were teaching you how to play piano.

BATTS: Yeah.

CANNON: And what did they tell you? You were incorrigible because …

BATTS: Oh … oh, that’s right. No … This is way, way back.


BATTS: Yeah, when I …

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CANNON: A child.

BATTS: A child really. And … yeah and so … people. They said you’ve got to learn to play the piano.

Well, I had a piano in my house …


BATTS: And so they figured they were going to get some use. And so … I started having to take these

piano lessons and that’s when I was, you know a … still quite young, I guess … I don’t the exact age I

was. And so I thought I’m not really interested in learning to play the piano.


BATTS: And so I went out of my way to make things tough for the teachers that I got.

MCMAHON: [laughter]

BATTS: They came on one after another because … they would get fed up with me. They were washing

their hands of this child. And I would do all kinds of terrible things, sit there and plunk, plunk, plunk …

you know … hit the wrong notes on purpose.

MCMAHON: On purpose?

BATTS: Yeah, and then I would do all these crazy things … pretend to be falling off the bench and land

up on the floor.

MCMAHON: [laughter]

BATTS: And stuff like that.

MCMAHON: Oh, goodness.

BATTS: Incorrigible.

MCMAHON: Yeah. In the manuscript division, have they improved their technology of scanning

material now so that it’s better available for researchers?

CANNON: … scanning was not done until a period of time after he retired.

MCMAHON: Oh, he retired, OK. So most of it was manual, all right.

BATTS: Oh, it was manual, absolutely.

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MCMAHON: Yeah, OK. So, you know that is about enough. You have given—we are on our second

tape now, and that’s on the high end of information.

BATTS: But looking back on it, I … you know I think I’ve had a very interesting life. And I had very

good luck.

MCMAHON: Uh-huh.

BATTS: I mean looking at my credentials … which aren’t all that stellar—really.

MCMAHON: And we thank you for sharing it with us as well. It’s kind of important.

BATTS: I am amazed that anybody would be interested in knowing anything about it at all. I really am.


BATTS: I am almost shocked to think that anybody would be interested. But …

MCMAHON: OK, I’m going to turn it off at this point. And it is 11:30.