Bill's memories include the youth athletic teams that were a significant part of life on Capitol Hill in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the bands and singers such as Jimmy Dean and Roy Clark who helped make the Navy Yard area one of the popular draws during the WWII era. Bill also remembers going with his father, a DC firefighter, to Anacostia Park to visit the Bonus Marchers in their encampment—and the day in 1933 when the U.S. Army came to destroy the camp and send the marchers home.
Interviews with William Boswell
Interview Dates: August 8–22, 2000
Interviewer: Nancy Metzger
Transcriber: Nancy Metzger
Editors Christine D’Alessandro, Bernadette McMahon
Before the Overbeck Project was created in 2001, Nancy Metzger interviewed long-time residents of Capitol Hill while she was chair of the Historic Preservation Committee of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. She graciously offered to allow these interviews to be incorporated into the Overbeck Project collection. Any use of this material should credit the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project website for making it available.
FIRST INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AT THE BOSWELL FAMILY HOME, 11 D STREET SE
AUGUST 8, 2000
TAPE 1/SIDE A
[Members of the Boswell family lived at 11 D Street SE for 160 years—almost as long as Capitol Hill has been a residential community. In 2000, as the Boswell home was put on the market for sale outside the family, real estate agent Hugh Kelly called Nancy Metzger to see if an oral history interview could be arranged with the last Boswell owner, Captain William H. Boswell, US Coast Guard Retired, who was 78 or 79 years old when interviewed.
Amid the bustle of packing for a move to Texas, Bill Boswell shared his memories of the Hill and his family’s life there. The interviews start out with Boswell’s response to some of the questions Metzger left with him during a pre-interview meeting.]
[Addresses in this transcript are in Southeast Washington, DC, unless otherwise noted.]
BOSWELL: The main source of food supply for us was the Sanitary Grocery (which became Safeway in later years). It is now Roland’s [333 Pennsylvania Ave SE]—half of Roland’s—but they had two butchers who butchered the meat.
METZGER: At the shop?
BOSWELL: Yes, you didn’t go in and pick up packages as you do today.
METZGER: So they bought sides of beef?
BOSWELL: They bought sides of beef and sliced it from that. Eastern Market—how is it different? Well, the best example I can give is that on Saturday the butcher determined what we had for Sunday dinner. Mr. Sherger [surname unclear] was his name—on the east side of the market. I would go up and there were several options. My mother would say, “Ask Mr. Sherger what’s the shoulder clod [a cut of meat] like?” Or, “How’s the lamb running?” He would determine what was the best buy and the best cut. So she gave me certain options, and he made the final decision, and I carried it home.
METZGER: Did you have a wagon?
BOSWELL: No, it wasn’t that much. I did have a wagon, but my younger brother was there to help me. Chicken we bought from Mr. Zambrini. Zambrini, as a matter of fact, I’ve read more about him lately because he went to Eastern High School and apparently was one of the early graduates after the school moved from what was Hine. Castell’s was there for the delicatessen. I can’t remember the fish people. As a matter of fact, I’m a little hazy on fish because most of the fish was purchased down on the wharf. There were fish markets—brick permanent structures all along the Seventh Street [SW] waterfront. There were a few boats as they have now. There were little fish places there—Naylor’s was one. Many of them went into the seafood restaurant business—Hogates. Herzogs was the big restaurant across the top and it was famous down there.
Of course the produce was brought in by the people who grew it. Along Seventh Street [SE] there were horses and wagons. The horses stood there all day long—facing outboard, backed up to the curb. The vendors used to come, many of them from over in Anacostia. Anacostia in the 20s and 30s was still very, very rural. There were farms over there with extremely limited housing. It all came in the 30s and after the war. They would just come across the 11th Street Bridge and go to the market.
METZGER: At that time was it mostly white, or black, farmers?
BOSWELL: The farmers? There would be some black farmers, but not too many, mostly white. There were no black vendors inside the market itself. There were some relatively recent immigrants to this country. Capitol Hill was a self-contained business community. I could list some of the old merchants from Second Street to Seventh Street. The various Greek restaurants. One name that still holds on is Mamakos, because they later went in with Sherrill’s. One of them took over from Mr. Sherrill. I remember Mr. Sherrill. He was a 1930 Colonel Sanders—flowing white hair, big man. It was the first [unclear] bakery. Every Sunday morning on my way home from St. Peter’s Sunday school, I would stop and get Sunday’s rolls—Parker House rolls. It became a restaurant in later years because I’m talking about the 1920s. But I keep telling people he moved his location. He used to be closer to Second Street—two doors down. Nobody else can remember but me. [More conversation about the location; hard to decipher] I’m very confident that’s where he was.
It was a tight community. People still lived where they worked. For example, I mentioned to you earlier John Donohoe, John F. I find—of course I don’t remember the time—I knew that he lived on Second Street, around the corner, right below what is now Independence Avenue. It was only recently that I found out he lived in the Watterston House. As a matter of fact I have a book upstairs, (I mention this as an aside) published about 1900 by the Washington Post. It had biographical sketches of Washingtonians, and he happens to be in there. It says he resided at 220 Second Street. [Other sources verify that John F. Donohoe resided at 220 Second Street SE; the Watterson House is at 224 Second Street SE.]
In those days the shop—his real estate office—was over next to where the bank is now. I’m quite confident. It could be where there’s a Mexican restaurant. I’d have to look at the structure. He, at the time, had pretty much a lock on real estate on Capitol Hill—back in the 20s and 30s. He did a lot of rental work, a lot of the apartments and rental houses, as well as buying and selling. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another—or as prominent—a real estate office on the Hill than Donohoe. The only bank in those days was the National Capital and later on, where Crestar is, another bank came in there. There was Perpetual Building and Loan; there was a building and loan down on the corner of Fourth and the Avenue [Pennsylvania Avenue]. The only other banks—there was The City Bank down at Eighth and G—a small little bank. That was pretty much it.
METZGER: There was a bank up on East Capitol and Eighth. I guess that was a City Bank too.
BOSWELL: That was there in the 30s. It’s a house now. I’m trying to remember the name of the bank. I had an account there when I was in high school, and I used to stop by there on my way home.
METZGER: It may have been the second City Bank branch.
BOSWELL: It could have been City Bank. I’m having trouble; it was a branch. I remember it was a small bank. I graduated from high school in 1939, so back in 1937–38 I’d stop in there to deposit my weekly paycheck. I had a part-time job in high school.
Along the Avenue, there were a lot of retail outlets. In every community, we had the funeral homes. Nalle’s was on Eighth Street, and there was a Nalle’s branch as well on 11th Street as well, which is an Art Deco building. He was bought out by Chambers, so they handled pretty much the funerals. There was Zurhorst that was over on Third and East Capitol on the southeast corner. I think the Library of Congress owns that, across the street from the Folger Library.
We got away from food! We did have delivery. We had Chestnut Farms. We used to get our milk from them every day. Holmes was the bakery [he spells the name]. They had a bakery over where Georgetown Law School is—over around New Jersey Avenue NW. They had every day delivery with bread, sweet rolls, and what not [indecipherable].
The Wakefield Dairy was another dairy we used—it was down Seventh Street between E and G on the east side.
METZGER: That was the bottling plant there.
BOSWELL: That was Simpsons and later called Wakefield Dairy. It was torn down; they later had a Safeway there, and there’s still some sort of building.
METZGER: It’s a Mormon church. It’s been a lot of things. Did you know the Simpsons?
BOSWELL: Yes, my family knew the Simpsons. I’m trying to think of his first name. He used to come to the house quite a bit.
METZGER: James is the one that’s on the Hill now. He’s across from that house you have a picture of [600 G Street, SE]— [in] the 1880s mansard-roofed house.
BOSWELL: He lives there? He bought it in recent years then.
METZGER: Yes, the last ten years.
BOSWELL: One of them was a good friend of my youngest uncles. They went to school together, grew up together. He used to be down here quite a bit. That’s funny, I can’t remember his first name. I want to say Harry.
METZGER: I don’t know. Robert is the one I think is alive now.
BOSWELL: This fellow, if he alive were, would be 100.
[More discussion continues about the other Simpson family members.]
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE A (ends at 14 minutes; SIDE B is blank)
END OF FIRST INTERVIEW
SECOND INTERVIEW, CONDUCTED ON AUGUST 14, 2000
TAPE 2/SIDE A
[Nancy speaks first and gives the date.]
BOSWELL: Here’s a book published by the Washington Post, I think it was 1900. It’s very interesting, aside from the factual parts. It was the centennial of Washington. There’s another book here called The Centennial of Washington. A lot of it is history, selection of the site, things of that nature, but also a lot of the people, a lot of the homes. I went through, picking out some of those that lived on Capitol Hill who were prominent people. I remember the Donohoes, because I looked them up before. They were very prominent. There were a lot of others in here; they lived on East Capitol Street—Dr. Kingsman, number 711 [711 East Capitol Street]. Another one who was a banker.
There were certain areas—East Capitol Street was particularly very prominent. I remember Grant’s Row because I remember when they built the Folger Library, in the 200 block. Some of the kids who went to Brent School with me lived around the corner on Third Street. My first sweetheart in the fourth grade—right behind the Library of Congress there. I remember those houses, when they were torn down. Then the house on the corner of Second and Pennsylvania Avenue which was a temporary Supreme Court when the Capitol was burned [206 Pennsylvania].
METZGER: The Caldwell House?
BOSWELL: I think Caldwell was the name. He was clerk or something of the Supreme Court. Apparently they used that for the Supreme Court; ultimately they moved downtown, Sixth or Seventh Street NW. I’ve read about it. I remember that house very, very vividly because one of my schoolmates lived in that house. A beautiful house. There was a lot of movement, particularly among the people who lived in Southeast, not to let the Library of Congress build that corner. They fought it but lost. Then they put up that god-awful building [Adams Building]. That is the worst architecture in the world.
METZGER: Well, I don’t know. We could put up the FBI building as the worst architecture … but it was a real shame.
BOSWELL: I remember that whole row of houses—exquisite houses, every house. If they were there today and done over they would be a million dollars plus per house. They were ultra, ultra, the whole row. I had classmates, people I went to school with, who lived in those houses, so I saw them. It was one of the better rows—comparable, if not better, than some of the rows on East Capitol. Of course New Jersey Avenue— Richards Row. I have a picture of that.
METZGER: I’ve never seen Richards Row.
BOSWELL: I was trying to get myself organized here for you. I have a big photograph taken of the whole row. It was all of them, including the end. I’ve also got a picture of the old Varnum Hotel that they tore down to build the Longworth Building. There was a 1928 bus in the background.
METZGER: What started you collecting the photographs?
BOSWELL: They were in the house—long before my time.
METZGER: So lots of your family collected photographs.
BOSWELL: Here—that’s the “before” picture of 22 D Street. That’s one of the houses in the American Building Survey. [Historic American Building Survey (HABS) documents and photographs are held at the Library of Congress.] These are some of the interior shots. This is what it started out as. Here’s the finish—the outside. Let me tell you. All these houses were done but were never occupied because the minute they were done, you know what that asshole architect [Architect of the Capitol] did? He took the property. I’d love to write an article some day on the heavy handedness of it. That’s when a lot of these were done. I’ll show you the photographs of the houses in that block.
METZGER: So this is where the empty lot now is?
BOSWELL: No, no right across the street. Where the garage is. [Reference is to the north side of D Street, where two blocks of garages were built during the 1960s.] Here’s 24 D Street. No, before. This is 26. See these two windows where the shutters are shut. They were really rooms of this house. This was the Fry’s house.
METZGER: So they had both houses and you just went in, or they took over the upstairs?
BOSWELL: These rooms were shut off. I’ve been in this house [pointing to photograph]. There was not access from this house to those rooms. You went into this house to get to those rooms. They built this house later I think and added these rooms. Very strange.
METZGER: That is very strange.
BOSWELL: Just to show you. There’s a house here. These are burned-out houses. They got as much money for those. They paid by the square foot. I’ll show you numbers 10 and 12 that we had done over, as well as number 24.
[Pointing to another photograph] That’s President Monroe’s house in Oak Hill. As a matter of fact we bought that chandelier and sold it to a doctor down in Alexandria who was a descendant of his.
That’s number 10 … [mumbled conversation about several photos] That’s the rear yard of number 10 and 12.
METZGER: What year?
BOSWELL: 1955. Those were the first decent houses done over on the Hill. Here’s the outside—that’s number 10 D Street; you’re in number 11. You know the garden you saw before—this is the way it was. This was the front living room in that house. Here’s number 12, number 10, and that’s McCollough’s Row—that was across the street. McCollough was the builder; I pass his tombstone every time I go to my grandparent’s site at Mount Olivet [cemetery].
METZGER: That’s a pretty block.
BOSWELL: They were small houses.
METZGER: They’re not real small—not big …
BOSWELL: But they were nice little houses. They never went black. They were probably built 1918, 1920.
This was the corner store. The old couple died and left it to my father. He was a fireman, so my mother and my grandfather … This was 1926. We had a big side yard that went up South Capitol Street and we lived over the store. My mother ran it Monday through Friday. It was mostly a lunch counter and deli. She had the whole Capitol Hill—the House Office Building—nobody would go to Ptomaine Row up on Second Street. [Ptomaine Row nickname also referred to the 100 block of B Street SE, later Independence Avenue SE.] This is that whole block. These are the only houses that were privately owned that were in the first HABS, other than Marine Corps [Commandant’s] house, Belmont House, and Maples.
This is the back of number 22—the little one I showed you a picture after it was done. Here’s the rear yard of it … [Conversation continues about his collection of unique photos; he agrees to let her copy them at some point, but it never happened.]
This is 28. They got as much per square foot for this house as they did for the houses that were done over.
METZGER: That’s just criminal, isn’t it?
BOSWELL: Oh, it was. It just killed my uncle, my oldest uncle. He died shortly after that, because he put a lot of money into it and never got it out. The only thing the government said was, well, you can take anything out of the house that you put in, like mantle pieces, chandeliers. One chandelier and one mantel piece went to Gettysburg in the Eisenhower house. I can’t remember which of the two—I think it was the chandelier my father and my other uncle—took it up there and hung it for them … [Some additional conversation about the time his father and uncle hung the chandelier for the Eisenhowers in Gettysburg. Additional undecipherable statements, presumably about the photos he was going through.]
METZGER: I talked to Bill Fleishell on Friday …
BOSWELL: Fleishell? I know his brother, I taught his brother at the Coast Guard Academy. He has a son too, doesn’t he?
METZGER: Yes, Will. I’ve never heard of his brother.
BOSWELL: He’s younger than I am. I didn’t know him [Bill] but I saw an article he had in the Hill Voice [Voice of the Hill newspaper] and it talked about Tune Inn. I knew this kid Jim Fleishell who lives up in Connecticut so I sent the clipping to him and asked if this is part of the Fleishell clan. He wrote me back a very nice letter. Yes, it was his brother. They lived over on Third Street.
METZGER: Well, they moved out to Northeast early but his grandmother had a very large house at Second and C Streets. [Correction: Fleishells lived at 100 C Street SE.]
BOSWELL: Oh, I know the house. It was on the corner. I’ll tell you the history of that house. One of the last occupants was Douglas McArthur’s first wife. Louise Cromwell (she later became Heiburg—her fifth husband). She lived there when she was married to Heiburg. I have a lot of newspaper clippings about some of the parties there. She was a very good friend of my uncle’s. As a matter of fact, in one of these collections I had a picture. She was a Stokesbury of Philadelphia—a very, very wealthy family. They were the last ones to live there. They did the house over. In my time it was a boarding house.
It was the first house on C Street, the northeast corner of First and C. I found a clipping the other day—there was a big society party there. She was a character. Her first husband was Douglas McArthur. That was when she was a Stokesbury. I had a photograph that I gave to my son that he donated to the Library of Congress. [Discussion about his son’s business and Bill’s getting a tax write-off for a donation of photos.] I gave my son all the photographs on Stokesbury’s mansion on Miramar. He and his wife donated the photographs. The other day I found a lot more photographs of Miramar. I think they may be in one of these boxes. These are smaller, 4 by 6’s. It was the start of the build-up in Miami. She lived there toward the end, but in my youth it was still a boarding house.
METZGER: That’s what Bill was saying, that his grandmother ran a boarding house. And at the time, surprisingly enough, it did not have running water. He remembers when water was put in which would have been 1926, 1927.
BOSWELL: 1927? Believe it or not utilities didn’t come to this part of the Hill until the 20s. I can remember, as I told you, when the lights were gas. Up there in the bedroom, we still have a gas jet. The lamp posts out front were gas. The sewerage didn’t come on this street until about 1910 because the outhouses were out back. My grandmother’s sister was here one day and she was sitting out there and my oldest uncle, who was born in 1900, went out (it was dark) and sat right on her lap. It was the family joke.
METZGER: The house that I live in got indoor plumbing in 1887—which I guess was early!
BOSWELL: The thing was, the houses here were older. They didn’t go into the older neighborhoods.
METZGER: Well, that’s an old neighborhood.
BOSWELL: Well, not as old as up around here—although the houses next door were 1892.
METZGER: Mine’s somewhere —probably Civil War. But the plumbing came in after.
BOSWELL: I gave a book to Milburn Donohoe. You know Milburn Donohoe?
BOSWELL: Milburn Donohoe was the dean, back in the 50s and 60s, of the real estate companies on the Hill. His last office was one of those new buildings that Barry Linde built right across the street from Eastern Market on Seventh Street. He was part of the John F. Donohoe clan. His father was one of John F. Sr.’s [sons]—John F. was his grandfather. It was a book published around 1870 of the whole city. They have one down in the surveyor’s office. And it was of this area. It shows where this house, what the original house was—[before] they added on to it. It’s got the old configuration.
METZGER: A Baist map?
BOSWELL: Yes, like the big Baists …
[Additional conversation about other people he knew; he gave some of his “junk” to some of those people. Also talks about the items he has that he is trying to find homes for.]
METZGER: Why don’t we try to get your family clear?
BOSWELL: But I’m not sure where to start.
METZGER: You mentioned that your great-great-grandmother was one of the first to come to Capitol Hill from Ireland.
BOSWELL: She was one of the group that came from County Kerry, from Tralee, southwestern Ireland. Their name was O’Brien. Her name was Mary. She was a widow when she came. She had a son and a couple of daughters. One of the daughters married a Connor. He ran a blacksmith shop behind 130 D Street in later years. I knew his grandchildren who were quite aged. But I don’t think there are any heirs now. Two girls never married; there was one son who was a West Pointer. He moved to San Antonio, Texas. I know about the 1950s my mother and father and one of my uncles made a trip across country driving and they stopped in San Anton to see him. I don’t know whether he had any children or not.
Then there were the Gradys, who lived around on North Carolina Avenue. These are some that I can still remember were around—from that County Kerry group. There were the Higgins; Doctor Riley, a dentist on North Capitol Street when I was a boy. They were all around. They were like cousins.
METZGER: Mary was your great-great-grandmother? She came over in?
BOSWELL: The 1850s. That’s my grandmother’s people. My grandfather’s people were in Washington earlier. I don’t know when they came. Well, my grandfather’s grandfather was definitely here and I think his father was here even earlier. All the Boswells—in the early days came up from Port Tobacco down in southern Maryland. They all migrated up into Washington. Many of them came over here and started working as overseers on the tobacco plantations. They were farmers mostly. If you go down to that part of the country now, you’ll find Boswells all over the place. In later years, the 30s, we had a farm down at Piscataway, and there were Boswells there. There was one of them still living in Piscataway—he was one of 17 brothers. They owned the old tavern down there, George Washington visited. They’ve been in that area for a long time. We traced back, we were related! Lot of similarity in names, but nobody has ever traced it. My son who’s in Texas now has done a lot of the genealogy. I haven’t gotten interested in it.
I do know my great-grandfather is buried out at Congressional [Cemetery]. Matthew Boswell. Most of them worked in the Navy Yard, as he did. Indeed I found just recently that all those people who worked in the Navy Yard during the Civil War were automatically put into military service—like reservists. They were all assigned to a company to protect around Washington.
Clement Boswell who lived down here on First Street was the city council member for this area, and [is] listed in the 1822 city directory. They always used to call my grandfather “Little Clem.” Clement Boswell was that other Boswell but what the relationship was, I don’t know. His real name was Ceylon; nobody calls anybody Ceylon [spells it]. My oldest uncle’s name was Ceylon—his middle name.
METZGER: It sounds like someone was a sea captain—or liked tea.
BOSWELL: No wonder they called him “Little Clem.” On my mother’s side, her father came from Pope’s Creek and her mother came from Old Town.
METZGER: What was her name?
BOSWELL: She was a Whittington and her mother was a Penn [spells it]. They lived in Old Town over in Alexandria. I remember when her aunts used to die, going to funerals over there. The last one was in the 40s, when I was home on leave. [Some inaudible statements about family he can’t really remember.] It’s hard for me to remember the ones that I knew.
METZGER: They’re the ones I’m particularly interested in.
BOSWELL: My grandfather and grandmother (on my father’s side) had ten children born in this house. This [his grandfather] was Ceylon. The children all called him ‘Ha-ha’. The first grandchild called him ‘Ha-Ha’—maybe she was imitating his laugh. It used to drive the other kids crazy when I talked about Ha-Ha. He worked in the Navy Yard—in the foundry.
As an aside, back before the war started, I had taken the exams to attend the Coast Guard Academy—the most academically prestigious of the academies. It was the only service academy that awards a degree that is academically accredited. As a matter of fact, USA Today had it listed a few years ago as the toughest school to get into in the United States. It was then too, because it was all competitive. There were no appointments or anything like that. They gave one examination and took in 115. The year I went in I think 18 of us were from Washington. I know 18 were from California. It was all academically how you scored on that test.
But we had college graduates in our class. We had one guy who was working on his master’s degree in engineering from Cal Tech. Anyway, I went to old Devit Prep School—a private prep school up off Connecticut Avenue. It was well known. They had quite a few athletic teams up there. They beat the Columbia freshman team that later went to the Rose Bowl and won the Rose Bowl. Back in the 30s, they took in a lot of football players. As a matter of fact, I had a scholarship; I played football, baseball and basketball. They de-emphasized sports up there but they didn’t de-emphasize their schedule. They still played tough teams. They told me to take every examination you could take.
[I learned about] the civil service exam for the Navy Yard. I remember it was done down at Seventh and E [probably NW] over top of the five and dime—the Civil Service testing was there. I remember going in there to take the test. I had finished prep school and taken the Academy exams and I was doing nothing. Ten days after I took this exam, which I had taken just to get the experience, they offered me a job. I got such a high mark they right away offered me a job.
So I had a couple of months with nothing to do. I went down and they gave me a job in the foundry. As soon as I walked in, the foreman of the foundry down there—the head man—as soon as he saw the name William H. Boswell, he said, “That was the superintendent of the foundry when I first came to work here.” Then I went over to the quarter man—the section where I was going to work—a toolmaker apprentice. [The word toolmaker was difficult to hear but most likely what was said.] Right away, he knew who my family was. I was treated like a king. He remembered my father’s uncle. My grandfather had left—he went over to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, somewhere along the line, as a special toolmaker. I still have his retirement papers upstairs. He retired in 1924-25. A lot of people on the Hill—young people—worked down there. [Some inaudible statements here.]
METZGER: So you had graduated from Eastern and then you went to the prep school?
BOSWELL: What I actually took was an Academy Preparation Course. It was a tough routine. For example, you went in every Saturday morning to take an exam but you didn’t know what the subject was. You walked in; you’d see who the professor was who was giving the exam and then you knew—this was ancient history, plane geometry, solid geometry, trigonometry, physics. You didn’t know! You weren’t allowed to study the night before; we had a four-hour exam every Saturday. Later, when I was at Harvard Business School, they had the same test policy. That pretty much was the schooling.
METZGER: Was Eastern a good preparation for that?
BOSWELL: Yes and no. I have my yearbook upstairs and my first year at Eastern, having left Hine, I was a pretty good student. At Hine, I was president of the student council, not only in the ninth grade but in the eighth grade. That was unprecedented … I went to Eastern and Eastern had ‘split shifts’. It was so crowded they had 8:30–12:30 and 1–5. My system just wouldn’t adjust to that 1–5. I’m an early person. Every day I get up early. I’m up at six o’clock every morning. When one o’clock came, I didn’t feel like going to school. That whole year I just goofed off so badly that Charlie Hart, who was the real principal of Eastern—he was a noted principal. As a matter of fact, over in Anacostia there is a school named for him—Hart Junior High School. He was a legend; he knew my family. He called me in. First he told me what my IQ was and my test scores just weren't up to my IQ. He gave me a little lecture. The next year I buckled down and for the rest of the time I got first honors. When I was in junior high school I was number one academically every year at Hine Junior High School. But I didn’t make the top ten at Eastern because of the whole year I screwed off. But Eastern was a good school. I took what they called the academic course. I even took extra English courses, extra math courses; I graduated from Eastern with more credits than I needed. Still I realized that to really prep for the exams, I got an academic scholarship up to Devit. So I went up there for a year and it helped me tremendously. But I was always a lazy student. I did as much as I had to do and nothing more … [More discussion about his academic interests.]
END OF TAPE 2/SIDE A
TAPE 2/SIDE B
[Starts with more discussion of courses he took.]
I later found, in doing graduate work, how well prepared I was. The math courses were sensational if you were in that academic group. As I said, what with my prep school, in that national test there were 2,000 people deemed qualified to take the test to go to the Coast Guard Academy, I finished number 66. I had classmates who went in at the same time from Cal Tech, one working on his masters. So the schools were good. No question about it. I graduated in the class of 1939. I don’t want to brag about it, but I give the credit to the education that I received in places such as Eastern and Hine in those days.
Of course I went to the Brent and Dent Schools. They were terrific schools. As a matter of fact I skipped the third grade in the Dent School and I went to the fourth grade. At the time, I guess it was the Star or Times-Herald, one of the papers then, used to have a student page for the city—accomplishments and so forth for the different schools. When I was in the fourth grade, taking short and long division, I had 100 in arithmetic every day for three or four months—never made a mistake. So they had my name in the paper. Of course my third-grade teacher who had skipped me was pleased because it made her look good; it justified her decision to skip me but I give credit to my mother, who was sitting there every night working on my multiplication tables. I had to know them before I went to bed—cold, hard, backwards and forwards.
My own personal experience indicated how good the schools really were. They were good. There was a time I did not capitalize on it, which was in the tenth grade, and I didn’t like the double shifts. It was one of the worst things they ever do to kids. They did it for three years at Eastern High School. After that they built Anacostia High School. In those days everybody east of the river came across to go to Eastern. Of course it was segregated schools. There were no Afro-Americans living east of the river. In Randle Highlands there was a covenant that you couldn’t even have a colored maid sleep overnight. I remember very vividly because I had an uncle who went over there and built one of the first houses—it’s now the convent for St. Francis, up the street and across from the firehouse. They had no children but built a big house there. Where the church is next door, they owned that lot. The church used to be down where the school is. We used to go over there and camp. As kids, we used to walk from here and go into what is Fort Dupont. It was all woods. Minnesota Avenue off of Pennsylvania Avenue was unpaved. It was a dirt road. Minnesota Avenue from Good Hope Road to Pennsylvania Avenue was paved but from there on up into Benning was a dirt road. Pennsylvania Avenue only went as far as Alabama Avenue. It was very rural.
METZGER: Frank Taylor, the man who grew up at Second and Maryland, was telling me about the hucksters who came with the Branch fruit from Anacostia. [Branch fruit was a term used for peaches, apples, etc. that came from across the Eastern Branch of the Potomac, an old name for Anacostia River.]
BOSWELL: Yes, I mentioned that the other day—the horse and wagons up at Eastern Market. But you had other hucksters. The history of New Jersey Avenue, nobody has even touched. The biggest, tallest building in Washington in 1800 was at the foot on New Jersey Avenue. It was an eight-story sugar mill. Have you ever seen a picture of it? I’ll show you an engraving. That section, when I was a boy, below M Street—the Navy Yard had not extended as it has in more recent years. During World War II, it extended down there. That was all hucksters down there—the Kendricks were down there. They would come through with their horse and wagons, and later trucks, selling produce. Their farms were south of M Street, between M Street and the waterfront. All that down there was farms. There used to be many Afro-American hucksters who lived down in that lower area—down in the Southeast section, near First Street and Half Street. They had horse and wagons, would also sell watermelons. They’d sing their little song. I wish I could record it. But the lyrics they used to sing when they came through, “Watermelons, red to the rind. We plug them every time.” In the winter time they would haul coal in the same wagons and even move people. As a matter of fact, New Jersey Avenue south of M Street was unpaved. Now if you go down New Jersey, you have to turn.
METZGER: But New Jersey Avenue also had a lot of old houses down there.
BOSWELL: Yes, when I was a boy. My mother lived down there. There is the one big house now and there were two or three others were in that same block north of it.
METZGER: She lived in one of those?
BOSWELL: No. My uncle had a tobacco business—a warehouse that is on the corner of New Jersey and K. Locketts—they were quite a family. They started with a tobacco business before the Civil War down by the Willard. As a matter of fact, he lived down there because he told me about the Willards and the Willard boys and going to school—the old Willard before the new one was built. [Discussion and viewing of old pictures, including the original Willard Hotel in 1900.] My uncle lived at 14th and F [probably NW].
METZGER: Did the boys go down along New Jersey Avenue and play along the Anacostia very much?
BOSWELL: No, I didn’t go down there, but I used to go with my grandfather down First Street SW, down to Buzzards Point and fish. It was all dirt. Those were dirt streets, unpaved. Its original name was Turkey Buzzard’s Point. I can remember when I was five or six years old walking down there to fish on the riverbanks. It was very interesting. In later years there was a black evangelist, Elder Michaux, who had a tabernacle across from the old Griffith Stadium up on Florida Avenue [NW]. In the summer months he would have baptismals down there. He had a radio show, and his song was “Happy Am I.” I can hear him clapping and singing that song. We’d go down and watch these baptismals—everybody dressed in white, out in the water.
METZGER: Did people swim in the water, down there?
BOSWELL: You didn’t see many people swimming—once in a while.
METZGER: It was pretty industrial up above.
BOSWELL: Every now and then they would have a drowning when I was a kid, there by the 11th Street Bridge. Young boys who tried to swim across the river and didn’t make it. Speaking of swimming … the kids around here walked to the municipal pool, which was at the foot of the Monument on 15th Street right in the middle of the Mall. I have to laugh about all the people opposed to the World War II memorial; they don’t know the Mall I knew. There was a ramshackle building; they had lockers. It was called Municipal Pool. There was also a pool over at Rosedale Playground over in Northeast. It was over where the parking lot for the stadium is now—in the area of Oklahoma Avenue. That was all open land then. Rosedale Playground had a pool. There was a playground up in Georgetown, around 30th and Q Streets. I think they had a pool. I don’t know where they had the Negro pool. [More discussion about public pools for whites and blacks, based on Nancy’s interview with Frank Taylor.] The first commercial pool in Washington was at the old Hoover Airport.
I knew the family—the Bassins. The Bassins father ran the grocery store here at First and D [SE]. Later on he bought a liquor store over on North Capitol Street and moved there. It was a very illustrious family. There was Max, who opened Bassins Restaurant down on 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue [NW]; he was also one of the last owners of Providence Hospital’s building. He got into real estate. Harry was the big athlete—one of Eastern’s best, basketball and baseball. He went to Georgetown, played basketball and baseball, and was later the property of the New York Yankees. Dave was quite prominent here in Southeast in business. He had a place up in the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue; I think he had a restaurant. He had a flower shop up above the business. Solly had a delicatessen down near George Washington University. Addy had Addy Bassin’s out on MacArthur Boulevard, a liquor store. They all grew up there, at First and D.
Across the street [across First Street from Bassin’s] was Zola’s (sp?). There’s a Thai restaurant now, right next to Bullfeathers [410 First Street SE]. Benny Zola was at Eastern ahead of Harry [Bassin]. He too went to Georgetown, was the captain of the basketball team. In other words, the local athletes were numerous, particularly on Capitol Hill, which is a whole new area we have to discuss—the various athletic teams. We didn’t have the Redskins or anything like that. We had all local sandlot teams that used to play and some even out at Griffith Stadium. Here on Capitol Hill one of the top-ranked tennis players in the world was Gil Hunt, who lived around here on New Jersey Avenue. He was an amateur. I can remember him. He was a very stand-offish guy, very quiet. He would go down and shovel the snow off of Garfield Playground’s tennis court so he could practice serving. He’d serve, hit those balls to one side, go over and hit them back. He was one of the top-ranked amateurs; he never turned pro. He later wound up at MIT as a mathematics professor [his obituary says he was a professor at Princeton]. The McVay brothers up on North Carolina Avenue … Locally you had the Marions, named after Marion Park. Marion ACs was really a semi-pro team, football. Most of them used to hang on the corner of Sixth and Pennsylvania Avenue. A lot of them were college players.
I saw recently where Hardy Pierce died. Hardy Pierce was director of athletics at the high school in the 1940s; he just died and was 90-some years old. I didn’t know he was still alive. He played tackle at George Washington. He had already graduated from some school (Harden-Simmons, I think it was) down in Texas. Tuffy Lemmons—he played at Oregon. There was a whole group that came to play at GW—they had all finished college. GW would pick them up and put them on their teams. GW played Tennessee, Alabama. [He names some examples of players like that.] In later years, we always wondered about these guys. They were a little old. Where did they come from? They were the biggest football entity in this area—the games were all played out at Griffith Stadium, prior to the Redskins coming to Washington.
The Marions were one of the teams—they took their name from Marion Park there between Fourth and Sixth Streets on E. They didn’t have any clubhouse, or if they did, they hid it. There was a smaller team called the Apaches, which is the 150-pound team. The others were of unlimited weight. They had some crackerjack football players. Without a doubt some of them would have been in pro leagues, had there been pro teams around. They had the RKO Keiths, named after the old Keiths theatre. They’d sponsor teams and boys clubs that played in the various leagues. Well, the Keiths were coached by the McVay brothers who were stars out at Catholic University. As I recall, they were about 135-pound team and used to practice in the local parks. They were very good.
A good many of their games were played on the old fields—Fairlawn—between 11th Street and the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge, on the Anacostia side. That was the first practice field of the Redskins. When the Redskins first came to Washington from Boston, that was their practice field. We would walk across the 11th Street Bridge and you saw all the stars. It didn’t cost you anything. Now they charge you …
METZGER: $10 for admission, $10 to park your car, and $5 for a hamburger. My son just went out to …
BOSWELL: You’d walk across the 11th Street Bridge, you could see Sammy Baugh, Turk Edwards kicking field goals, Will Millner, Charley Malone catching passes. You could see it all. They’d practice on the first field and then use the clubhouse to change clothes. You could walk up to them. There were no stands. We used to go over there frequently and watch the Redskins when they first came. They were our team; they were practicing in our back yard.
METZGER: Was that when you were in high school?
BOSWELL: Oh, no, no. Before I was in high school, just at the end of junior high school, 1936-37. I got out of junior high school in ’36. There were a lot of teams over there. I used to play for American Boys Club and also played for #5 Police Boys Club as well as coached one of their teams. They won the city championship when I coached them as a kid myself. As a matter of fact, I was too young, but the janitor there at the boys club was the coach in name. He didn’t know a football from a basketball. The backfield of the team was my brother, Billy Eslin, Neal Craig. I can’t remember the fourth one. But those three I named went to Eastern and were the starters of the Eastern backfield of 1941 that went on to win the Inter-High championship. Later on I would say that was the team I coached—it wasn’t that I was such a good coach but that they were good players. I did maintain discipline.
METZGER: So there were a lot of opportunities for sports for the guys?
BOSWELL: Sports oriented. There were the playgrounds—Garfield, Virginia Avenue playground up at Tenth Street (where the freeway goes through now), Hoover Playground down in Southwest, Rosedale over in Northeast. One playground played the other—basketball, baseball, and soccer. They didn’t have football, they had soccer. And the elementary schools had soccer teams and baseball (softball). But the primary sport on Capitol Hill—the individual sport—was boxing. Some of the best boxers in the area were off of Capitol Hill. American Boys Club had a good boxing group which many boys from Capitol Hill went over there. All the boys clubs had boxing. Some of the better fighters in the city and the country came out of there. The notorious Petro brothers …
METZGER: I’ve never heard of the notorious Petro brothers.
BOSWELL: Oh, they were quite a clan. They used to live over on Ninth Street, between South Carolina and Independence. You had Reds Barry, who lived across from the Marine Barracks. He was fighting heavyweight when he was 15 years old. He was fighting back in the days when boxing wasn’t even legal in Washington. His last bout—Joe Lewis knocked him out in St. Louis in four rounds. He had a terrific record. There was a fellow who lived near him—Walter Kirkwood was his name. Walter was a very interesting guy—a very sharp wit. He told me about the time he and Reds Barry hitchhiked. They were kids but they were big kids. Barry may have been 16 by then. They hitchhiked across the country to California and back—fighting in all these tight towns. He said, “Barry fought under his own name the whole time, but I had a different name in every city. Half of his wins were me.” He was an interesting guy. Reds later on lived with his sister across from the Marine Commandant’s house, in that block. He would have trouble walking across the street. His reflexes had gone so bad. To talk to him, he would keep you in stitches. He could tell you humorous story after humorous story, joke after joke. There was nothing wrong with his brain, but his muscular abilities were pretty bad—so bad that the most famous beer joint on Pennsylvania Avenue, Joe Boyles …
METZGER: Which is now where Remingtons is [637 Pennsylvania]?
BOSWELL: Yes, and before that it was Dargans, back before Prohibition. It stayed Dargans Pool Hall and Near Beer during the Prohibition days, and then Joe Boyle bought it out in World War II. I think that I mentioned to you that ….
METZGER: Right, that Jimmy Dean played …
BOSWELL: Well, he played down at Mr. Henry’s corner. He and the guy who played bass—Jimmy Clark—but they also used to play at Rowe’s, which is another beer joint on 11th Street, near the Navy Yard. That was a hot spot during World War II. You couldn’t get in them unless you knew somebody. It was so bad with Reds [that] the owner of Boyles, said, “Reds, please. I know there is nothing wrong with you, but I prefer that you not come in because people who don’t know you think we’re serving somebody who is already intoxicated.” It was that bad. He was a nice guy.
The Petro brothers first started fighting when they were 40 pounders. They were a little younger than I.
METZGER: You had said that boxing was illegal in the District.
BOSWELL: Professional boxing was illegal, but the boys clubs, the amateurs, could fight. The only fighting you had for a long period in the District were the amateurs.
METZGER: Why do you think it was illegal?
BOSWELL: They abolished it years ago, before my time. It wasn’t reinstated until the mid-30s as I recall. I think one of the first professional fights back in the District was when Buddy Behr—Max Behr’s brother—fought Joe Louis out in Griffith Stadium.
I was talking to George Mamakos (he lives over on Third Street). There, next to Peoples, is a building that used to be called the Little Tavern [655 Pennsylvania]. George used to live up in that block, around the corner. I said, “George, do you know what it used to be called before it was the Little Tavern?” “No.” “It was Goodacres.” The Goodacres used to have an athletic club—a boxing club. It was the same little building; they served hamburgers. They had a boxing club run by a man by the name of Bresnahan, who lived over in Hillcrest. I saw recently his son passed on; he was older than I. But he ran Goodacres AC, which was a team of local boxers, many of them from Capitol Hill area. He was a good friend of my father’s. He was taking a group of Washington youngsters down to Lorton prison to fight the boxers from Alexandria.
(I’ll deviate here a minute. You’ve heard of Generous George Pizza places? I’ve forgotten the name of the fellow but he was one of the fighters. He was fighting for the Alexandria Boys Club.) My father and I went along as spectators. I never will forget it—watching the Alexandria fighters and the Washington fighters. That was early 30s—late 20s. Anyway, they went up through the pro ranks, and Danny [probably Bresnahan] fought out at old Turner’s Arena, which was up at 14th Street and W [NW], where they had the pro fights. Later on, he knocked out Lou Transferini, who had been the featherweight champion of Baltimore. He knocked him out in the first round up there. It was the last time I saw him fight. Willy Papp, who was one of the best fighters in the country, wouldn’t fight Danny. He was very well known and he died not too long ago. I used to see him up on the Avenue, by Sherrill’s all the time. There was a little group there—the old crowd hanging around Sherrill’s. There were quite a few good boxers—too numerous for me to mention. They’re just names today. Danny was really one of the kingpins. I used to pick him up in later years and take him over to an ex-fighters meeting in Alexandria. He lived up on Third and East Capitol in recent years. [More conversation about the Alexandria boxers and others, also football mentioned again.]
Let’s move on to a new topic. Let’s talk about shops; I think that’s one of your questions. I think I mentioned earlier about the Ford dealership in the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue—the Donohoe organization. Today that is pretty much restaurants. In the old days that block wasn’t. It was the bank; Tune’s men’s haberdashery right next to it—a very good store, there for years and years. They sold suits; a pretty big operation. The Ford dealership, Sherrill’s Bakery; on the corner was a barbershop. That’s the second location of Sherrill’s. They only sold baked goods. Every Sunday morning, as I left St. Peter’s, I stopped and picked up Parker House Rolls for Sunday dinner. Mr. Sherrill would be there. There was another men’s shop in there; I’m thinking the name was Everett because I know the grandchildren’s name was Everett. It was either that block or the other block down around … But that was type of store you had—stationery store (in the 300 block where the cleaning shop is now, Lustre); and of course the corner was the drug store, originally it was O’Donnells, and next to that was a little fruit stand.
METZGER: Mr. Taylor remembered a drug store named Sprucebanks, which may have been ten or fifteen years before what you remember. But that could have been another block.
BOSWELL: Yes, that could have been before my period. But I think that was one of the original O’Donnell Drug Stores. I can show you the old 1890 City Directory when O’Donnell lived in the 700 block of D Street—the house I told you had been torn down. I’m sure that was O’Donnell’s before he went up to Georgetown, so there must have been another drug store.
Going on down [300 block] you had a Chinese laundry where one of the restaurants is now, next to Kinko’s [i.e., where Kinko’s was in 2000]; Kinko’s was Ryan’s Funeral. There was a little shop in there, I can’t remember the next one, and then we had Fineran’s Plumbing Shop, where part of the Hawk and Dove was, earlier was Fineran’s. Next to it was Hayden’s Gas Station. The pumps were on the street at the curb. The cars pulled into the curb and you pumped your gas. There were two pumps on the sidewalk right outside [what is now] the Hawk and Dove [329 Pennsylvania Avenue]. Hayden lived here on the 100 block of D Street, the odd side. His daughter’s husband used to do a lot of carpentry work for us. Then we had the Candy Kitchen—that was Mamakos’s—where the Tune Inn is [331 Pennsylvania]. Then as I mentioned before the Sanitary Grocery which became the Safeway. Then another little restaurant is the western part of Roland’s and where the gas station is was another restaurant, which was torn down in the 20s and made a gas station.
END OF TAPE 2/SIDE B
TAPE 3/SIDE A
[As of April, 2020, this tape (most likely labeled “August 14 & August 22, 2000”) is missing. Clues within the original transcript indicate that the missing tape was used to record the last part of Interview 2 on August 14, 2000, plus the beginning of Interview 3 on August 22, 2000. Because of the missing tape, this section of the transcript has not been reviewed to the same extent as the rest.]
BOSWELL: We’ve finished up to Fourth Street. Now let’s go down to the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Going down the south side of the street, the largest building was the old Avenue Grand Theatre [645 Pennsylvania] which has now been converted into shops. Up near Sixth Street (where Mr. Henry’s now is) the Laskans took that over and built that building in the 30s. There was an old building. And next to that was the hardware store of Capitol Hill—Alex Berlin, now Pardoe’s business office [605 Pennsylvania]. Alex Berlin was quite a guy. He was always head of the Southeast Businessmen’s Association. Every year they held a big picnic down at Morgantown, Maryland. Morgantown at one time years ago had been an amusement park. It’s in Charles County, Maryland. Today, if you were going down to the site, you’d go down as if you were going to the Potomac River Bridge, except that you’d cut off before you got to the bridge and head toward Rock Point. You’d go down to a little town called Wayside; there you would take a right and go down a few miles to Morgantown. Morgantown, at one time, had been a ferry dock and in those old days the ferries were tied up, rotting at the dock. You’d take a ferry across the Potomac to such places as Colonial Beach [VA]. In later years, not far from there, they put the Potomac River Bridge.
Every summer, they’d have the Southeast Businessmen’s Association picnic. It was really something to behold. The master of ceremonies was always Alex Berlin. They’d have the races for the kids. It was really an outing. I remember going to them. Every year they’d take the big photograph of everyone who was there and then they’d be posted around the various shops that had participated. I haven’t seen one of them in years.
Berlin ran a terrific store, and he was quite involved in community activities—one of the leaders. Then you went down and there was a German restaurant run by a German woman. She only served lunch and dinner five days a week. She drove up every morning and drove home every evening—a kindly old lady. I don’t remember her name. Then Blumenthal had LB, which was a men’s haberdashery. You went on down the line, you had Shaefer’s Florist, which was a well-known name in the florist business around here. There was one house in the middle of the block, which was owned by the Sextons. It was the only family-occupied building. Going on down there was a leather shop, a big shop, that sold what is called “findings”—all sorts of things of leather, shoe laces, and things to repair shoes. I never went in there much because I didn’t have much occasion to.
The next one down, although I’m skipping one in there because I can’t think what it was, was Sexton’s Music Store. As a matter of fact his grandchildren still own a couple of those buildings in there. Sexton’s sold Victrolas (the old crank ones), radios, records, and so forth. Going on down further, there was another restaurant in there and then there was Dargans. No, before Dargans, there was a shop with a front door and a little bay window. People lived there. There was an elderly woman, her daughter and her husband. In that bay window was a life-size horse head made out of plaster. At one time it had been a harness shop. They never took the horse out of the window. It was quite a sight. I think that horse head was still there in World War II.
There was another ladies shop—lingerie and so forth. The next shop in those early days was Kobre’s Radiator Shop. His son later opened a Kobre’s Radiator Shop in the 600 block of C Street, which is now an apartment on the north side of the street. There used to be like a warehouse there. Kobre’s moved over there and then in later years he moved down near the Navy Yard in the ten hundred block of M Street. Now you could go up the back alley, and they’d work back there, or they would work right on the street replacing and repairing radiators. When Prohibition was lifted, he gave his son the radiator shop, and he got a liquor license. Then you had the Avenue Grand. Next to that you had another Candy Kitchen type of place—I can’t remember the name of it. Then, of course the Arundel was in there.
BOSWELL: Oh, that was the ice cream place. Peoples Drug Store used to be where the Chinese place is now, next to the Little Tavern. Peoples bought that corner, tore it down and built that store, moved out of where the Chinese place now is [653 Pennsylvania]. That was Arundel ice cream—a very good ice cream parlor. It was big and very popular. A couple ran it, a nice couple—they really maintained order with us kids.
Across the street—before Kresge’s—I don’t remember too much over there to be honest with you. The principal activity was on the south side of the street. Cross’s had a plumbing shop over there—it was big plumbing shop. This is before the Penn Theatre was built. I’m a little fuzzy on what was torn down there. About 75–100 feet down from the Penn Theatre was Rickert and Davis’s DeSoto show window and lot. The Daily News had a place where the boys picked up their papers, a florist shop in there, small shops, little odds and ends. They were all torn down for the bank building.
On that corner was a very, very early house—an 1800s house that faced the Capitol. The front door was on Sixth Street, between Pennsylvania Avenue and C Street. I can almost draw you a sketch of what it looked like; I’ve never seen a photograph of it. It was a shame it was ever torn down and not restored. The setting—it looked straight across the two parks and right on down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Library of Congress and the Capitol. That was that block. I can’t think of anything unusual about it. Most of the stuff occurred after they put in Kresge’s and Sampan moved in. There was only one other Chinese restaurant prior to that on Capitol Hill, and it was down on 11th Street, below G Street on the west side. There was a school building.
This raises another subject; I want to mention it now. It is a subject of great importance—the Bonus Marchers. They had a newspaper they put out and they published it from a little building right near the Chinese restaurant. Their main encampment was right across the 11th Street Bridge. Another time, let’s talk about the Bonus Marchers and the influence on the neighborhood. I’ll tell you the reason I want to mention it. My father “adopted” a group of Bonus Marchers from Youngstown, Ohio. He ran into them the day they arrived in town. They were looking for material to build their camp and he was able to help them. The leader of it was a judge—Judge Heffernan, the leader of the Youngstown group. He was able to get a lot of material for them to build and he helped them out tremendously. Every evening he’d go over; my brother and I would go with him to visit the old Bonus March camp on the Flats. It was very entertaining because every night they had entertainment. They had a huge platform up there where performers would get up and perform for the entertainment. It was all amateurs. The thing I remember about it was there would always be a big barrel of pretzels. As a kid, you’d eat pretzels and watch the show. I remember that more than anything else—walking around the camp. He’d spend maybe an hour or two talking, giving them tips, things like that. They had a couple over to the house for dinner. They were not bums. They were educated people.
I remember the day they ran them out of town—led by “Dugout” Doug [MacArthur]. I was on 11th Street, watching it that day. The day it happened, I remember going with my brother and standing on the west side of 11th Street, below M Street when the tanks came down the middle of the street. There was no traffic. The Chief of Police at that time was an Army man. His name was Gessford. He went by in his sidecar. Then the troops came from Ft. Myer, with fixed bayonet and port arms. They came down both sides of the sidewalk, crossing the bridge to go over to burn the village. I went down as far as the bridge, but didn’t cross the bridge to go over to the other side. But how old was I? Twelve or thirteen years, at best. It was shortly after that that they ran them off.
I’ll try to put my thoughts together, particularly in this part of town. We were inundated. They were at a few other places, but that was the major headquarters. They had a newspaper they put out—it was well done. The supreme commander was a tall, gray-haired man from Oregon; I heard him speak a few times. They ran a very taut ship; it was well disciplined. They had their own people policing. You never went down in that camp and saw a uniformed Metropolitan policeman. You never saw any problems until they started to round them up. Crime? There was no significant crime attributed to them. There must have been a better way to handle it.
END OF SECOND INTERVIEW
THIRD INTERVIEW, CONDUCTED ON AUGUST 22, 2000
[Presumably the beginning of this interview continues on the missing TAPE 3.]
[The discussion about the Bonus Army continues.]
METZGER: I did review the tape a little. You told of your father bringing some of the marchers here for dinner and of standing at the corner of 11th Street when McArthur went down.
BOSWELL: All the troops with port arms—fixed bayonets
METZGER: really scary!
BOSWELL: It was a scary scene. They went down both sides of Eleventh Street—on the sidewalk.
METZGER: They had the tanks in the middle …
BOSWELL: Well, you know, that’s something that bothers me. I’m pretty sure they had tanks or armored carriers or some kind of vehicles.
METZGER: Did they have horses?
BOSWELL: Yes, they had horses then since it was 1932-33. But I’m a little fuzzy on that now.
METZGER: What was the reaction in the neighborhood when they torched it, because it sounds like many of the Bonus Marchers had made friends or supporters …
BOSWELL: They did. They put a little newspaper there on 11th Street, just below G Street. They had a little newspaper office in what used to be a little store. That’s where they wrote, published, printed, etc. and hawked them around the street. It was like the Hill Rag, about that size and folding technique. They’d sell that around, distribute them around town. You’d see them in groups, not 20 or 15, or anything like that except up by the Capitol. You’d go near the Capitol and there would be hundreds, milling around. You’d see them all over town, in the downtown section. They had other camps but the largest one was over here on the Anacostia Flats.
As I said, the men themselves were not bums. Some were well-to-do and joined their buddies and some were unemployed. That was the whole idea—give us our bonus now; we need it now; it’s a Depression. In today’s world, in a New York dime, it would have been there. In those days, it wasn’t. The feeling was, it was the Depression. Looking back in retrospect, times were tough but … I don’t know what the real impact would have been. How much money was it? I’ve never studied it. I was just a young teenager and saw these people around. They were respectable, never any crime or anything like that. If there was, it certainly wasn’t major. They had their own military organization. I think I mentioned the other day that the man who headed it up was from Oregon or Washington. He was the commander of the Bonus Expeditionary Force—the BEF. And they maintained order in their camp. For example, you didn’t see any police around there. If you went over to the camp on the Flats, there was no police presence. It was extremely well done.
The treatment that they got I can’t judge. But I’ll say this, even then, there was one fracas down Pennsylvania Avenue on Fourth Street [NW?] in which someone was killed. There was an old building down there that was being destroyed. I can’t recall just what the circumstances were. It happened on the day they were getting rid of them.
METZGER: So after they broke up the camps and everything, they kind of left quietly?
BOSWELL: Yes, those who didn’t leave, they marched them out to the District line. In the old days in Washington, if you had a “bum,” people sleeping in the parks, that didn’t happen. They were picked up and taken over to Maryland or Virginia and the Washington police would say, 'Go.’ They were just escorted to the District line and they were gone. We didn’t have any homeless sleeping in the park like we have now. None of that stuff was tolerated. The only thing we could do, was on hot nights, people would go down to Hains Point and sleep on blankets on the ground. If you drove around Hains Point, which we used to do on summer nights, you’d see families spreading their blankets. They were going to spend the night down on the Point. Never any crime or anything like that. Hains Point on a hot summer night was a very popular place.
METZGER: Were there any public facilities down there?
BOSWELL: I never spent the night! There was something down there about where the golf course was. There were some buildings down there—the Hains Point Tea House, down near where the hands are coming up out of the ground [reference is to The Awakening sculpture].
METZGER: How did you personally feel about seeing this Army marching down?
BOSWELL: I didn’t give it much thought. I guess I was just impressed that it was being done. MacArthur headed it; he rode down in a motorcycle sidecar. He was right up front. The police chief at that time was a fellow named Gessford, who had retired out of the Army. He was a good police chief. It was very orderly. There has probably never been a march on Washington in my time that was as orderly as that.
METZGER: You touched on—because of the time period—the Depression. What was your life like then?
BOSWELL: Personally, it had no impact of any note. My father was a fireman, and he remained employed. I had an uncle who lost his job; he was a printer. It took years for him to get a job. But I had schoolmates whose fathers lost their jobs, and many of them didn’t work for years. What happened to many of the families here on the Hill was that the mothers went to work and were the main support. I can remember other occasions, if there was an older sister who could type, she’d get a typist job. I think I may have mentioned I knew one family—a mother, father, boy and a girl—who came down from Michigan. They lived up on Seward Square. The sister got a government job as a typist and she supported the family. This is the way it was in those days. Those were the jobs that were still available, but those who were plumbers, mechanics, or engineers, work wasn’t there. There wasn’t any construction going on. If they could do clerk work, they could get a job as a clerk.
METZGER: Were there people opening boarding houses, renting out rooms?
BOSWELL: Oh, that was very common, very common on Capitol Hill. You’d find that many times some men would come from out of town and board and then spend a lot of time going back home. I remember talking to a well-known carpenter here on Capitol Hill—he’s dead now—but he came up from down in St. Mary’s County. His family landed there in the 1700s. He lived up in the 500 block of Seward Square on the south side of the Avenue – all those big red houses that are there, many of them were boarding houses. He stayed up here, married. He came up in the early 30s and told me that the whole house was filled with carpenters. The Navy Yard was still one of the main generators of employment. The Navy Yard was thriving—and it had been for over 100 years. So it was still bustling. There were still quite a few jobs in the Navy Yard. Of course, in the latter part of the 30s and just before the war, it opened up even more. At that time, many families moved from other parts of the country to Washington. They were employing machinists, people in the foundry, and others. On the Hill here, there was a whole new influx of people who went to work in the Navy Yard—areas like Kentucky Avenue.
METZGER: That’s when a lot of those houses were built further out Independence Avenue?
BOSWELL: The houses were there. All of the ones out Independence to the Jail were there; 18th Street was a dirt road. Where the auditorium …
BOSWELL: is, the whole eastern part of Eastern High School was just fields. It was all undeveloped there. A lot of houses were built over on Constitution and Maryland—some were started before World War II but a lot were built afterwards. But here on Capitol Hill, there wasn’t much building; usually it was where something was torn down. Barry Linde who had a office there on Seventh Street opposite Eastern Market. He’d find a place and build a couple of houses.
There used to be a little church up in the 400 block of First Street—a beautiful little church, very small and set way back, like a park setting—opposite Bullfeathers, that’s where it was. Today there are two townhouses with garages, that you can drive in. The church wanted to sell. One day my older uncle was home. Everybody knew Curley by name but they didn’t know him and he was the one that got Curley started. A knock came on the door and two real estate people were looking for Curley. “We thought you might be interested in buying that lot—the old church up there,” they said. To make a long story short, he bought it. He was taken ill and he wanted to get out. What killed him was when they took those houses across the street; he never survived that. [Reference is to houses that his uncle renovated on the north side of D Street SE; see discussion during the first interview.] That was one of the most criminal things. Going through those pictures the other day made me think, this was a low, low blow. I still curse the then-Architect of the Capitol and his high-handed techniques. I can show you pictures that will curl your eyelashes at what a travesty of justice. I am very much opposed to the high-handedness of some of the past Architects of the Capitol; the current one I don’t even know. They feel that this is their own fiefdom and they can control it. This overlay district out to Sixth Street—that is a travesty. I sat through all those hearings. It was the biggest joke and I told you before how that was voted.
I’d like to show you some of the before and after photos of real restoration—not this “restoration” that goes on on Capitol Hill today. Materials were available then and they aren’t now.
METZGER: You had mentioned, when you were talking about your guest house, that that had been a stable. Was it built as a stable?
BOSWELL: It was built as a stable. It took two years to get the permit because it was “too nice to be a stable.”
METZGER: Was there a stable there before?
BOSWELL: Oh, yes. My great-grandfather had a stable there. When I was a boy there was a stable. I have a photograph of it. It was a wooden building. My grandfather had a pigeon coop up on top of it and I remember as a young kid going up to the coop previous to a race. He was a real fancier. He raised pigeons and raced them. He was involved in a lot of that stuff.
METZGER: How late did you have horses here?
BOSWELL: The last horse went out of here in 1935-36. We had a farm and they went down there. She was a riding horse—a standard, a jumper … Living on the Hill was great; you could walk to the Polo grounds. They’re still there and they still play some polo. In those days you had about three polo grounds and Fort Myer had about three or four teams. There were a lot of polo teams in this area. I don’t know who plays down there now but a lot of the embassies would have polo teams. You could go down there and see two or three games on a Sunday afternoon. And of course bridle paths and jumps were around the polo grounds. You could watch the young fellows ride people’s horses and take them over the jumps. I know my uncle was getting too heavy and said he wasn’t going to jump anymore. He’d give some kid a couple of bucks to exercise the horse.
We were very fortunate living here and I don’t think a lot of kids used it to their advantage. As I said, we could watch the polo matches and at Third Street on the Mall, there was a football field, called Third and Missouri. (That was where Missouri Avenue was there in those days before they moved it to northwest. Ohio Avenue was near 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue. There’s a little bit of Louisiana left over by the Capitol.) It was run by the Park Service and different baseball and football teams would get permits to play. But also the museums, we’d get together and walk down to the Smithsonian. That was when they just had the two—Natural History and the Arts and Industries. The first thing when you walked in there was Lindbergh’s plane, hanging from the overhead, and they had all the old cars off to the left —things that were attractive to boys. We used to know that place like the back of your hand when you were 12 or 13 years old. If anyone came to town, you could show them and be their guide. Outside they had all these pieces from World War I (tanks, different artillery pieces). There was one thing that fascinated all of us. It was a round cylinder that was called an observation tower. It just sat out there and you could look around the horizon. It meant nobody could shoot you because you were inside. It was great to go down and play on the equipment. For us, living here, it was in essence a ten-block walk down the Mall, although the Mall didn’t exist in those days. It was just a lot of greenhouses, botanical gardens building, temporary buildings. Living around here meant there were a lot of interesting things to do.
I noticed one of your questions was about Lincoln Park and whether they had band concerts there. I don’t remember any band concerts there.
METZGER: What about Garfield [Park]?
METZGER: I heard that they had some there.
BOSWELL: I’d like to talk to the person who thinks they went to a concert there. Where would they have held it? There [were] two Garfield Parks back in those days—one in front of Dent School was black. The other one was Garfield Playground. The greater part of that park was tennis courts, a wading pool—that was between New Jersey and Second. The 100 block of F Street, which was very small, smaller than the other one. I used to go to Garfield Playground quite a bit. I can remember that Miss Suzie ran it. She was there for about 30 years. Miss Suzie was the playground director; Dean (I’m trying to think of his first name) was the male who was there; Benny Zola was there for a while.
METZGER: The tennis courts now are up at Third …
BOSWELL: That was a latter change. You see, Second Street was cut through all the way to Virginia Avenue. The tennis courts were at Second and Virginia.
METZGER: Where were those train tracks then?
BOSWELL: They were across the other side of Virginia Avenue.
METZGER: They moved those too. …
BOSWELL: I think the brick [stone] wall from the old playground is still there. The office/house where they kept the equipment had a boys room and a girls room. It was a nice little building. It wasn’t much of a playground like Virginia Avenue and some of the others—Rosedale. Left field down there was Virginia Avenue. Half of the time you hit the ball (softball) it was going out on Virginia Avenue. The basketball court was a decent size. I’m thinking there was only one tennis court. There was a wading pool behind the house.
METZGER: But the black part of the playground had no equipment?
BOSWELL: No, they had other playgrounds but it [Garfield] was truly a park. It had grass, benches, walks and things like that. It was a park.
It wasn’t much of a playground but they had a lot of good athletes come out of there—particularly basketball. A lot of good basketball players started out at Garfield. Gil Hunt used to live around here was one of the nationally ranked tennis players. I think I mentioned to you before that he would go down there in the winter time, shovel the snow off the tennis court and practice serving. There used to be teams that would play the other playgrounds. There would be tennis teams representing the various playgrounds. There were a couple of brothers who lived over near First Street (their name was Brown) who came up here from the Panama Canal. Their father had been working down there. They were all suntanned and they played a lot of tennis. They were good. We used to call them ‘Panama Brown.’ The oldest one was a tall, lanky fellow; he was a good tennis player.
But as far as activities – of course in the later years there was the Police Boys Club in the basement of the police house.
METZGER: In the substation?
BOSWELL: Yes, that was number 5. They had good teams, very good athletes. The basement down there was really terrible. You couldn’t play basketball. The ceilings weren’t any higher than this ceiling. But they had pool rooms and ping pong. They would always practice football and what-not. They attracted good athletes. They more than held their own with the other Boys Clubs of Washington. They always had a good boxing team. As one of the juvenile delinquents said to me in later years, ‘That was great. They put a club there so all of us juvenile delinquents from all the different neighborhoods could get together and plan.’ By god, he was right …
There was no serious juvenile crime in those days. There wasn’t much. It wasn’t looked upon as crime, it was having fun, mischievous. Some of the worst things they used to do then, they got chased for. Today they wouldn’t even bother. There used to be a kid who lived around Kentucky Avenue—had one leg, a wooden leg. He had an Irish name, red hair. He was great for hopping on the back of a truck. I’ll never forget, for good reason. He was on the back of a truck and the police were kind of chasing him. He got off right out front here. He jumped off and comes down that side yard and scaled right up over that wall. He had one leg. He was a daredevil, always hopping on something. How he lost his leg, I don’t know. He was younger than I was by a year or two. I didn’t know him because he lived up on Kentucky Avenue. The police kept a pretty tight control … I can remember when they didn’t have a police car. The only vehicle at that stationhouse was the patrol wagon, the paddy wagon. The guy who drove it was undersized. He was in uniform. He must have been a jockey at one time. He must have gotten on the police force when they all had horses or something. He drove the patrol wagon. Everybody used to call him ‘Shorty’. Years later he retired and died and he left what was then a small fortune to a waitress in one of the coffee shops up along Pennsylvania Avenue. Every morning he went in there and had breakfast and coffee; he got to like her, and he left her a fortune.
METZGER: Dorothy Hawkins mentioned Shorty driving the paddy wagon, particularly during Prohibition when they raided the speakeasies. She lived across from the police station and her grandfather was a policeman stationed there. [Dorothy Hawkins’ interview transcript is also on the Overbeck Project website.]
BOSWELL: Shorty was there a long while because then they got two patrol cars. I can’t remember if it was before 1935 or after 1935. They had two vehicles—car 51 and car 52. They patrolled all over southeast.
METZGER: But you still had policemen on the beat …
BOSWELL: Every beat—you had the same policeman, every day and every night. You knew them. I remember one’s name was Abe and he used to start at New Jersey Avenue here and go on down to the Navy Yard, throwing his billy. They had sticks and could make them dance; they could make those nightsticks do tricks. They were real masters at controlling those sticks. That was their main weapon although they carried guns.
METZGER: You said you want to do Eighth Street during World War II.
BOSWELL: Eighth Street was a very, very viable district. There were shoe stores, restaurants, clothing stores. It was a total, complete community as was Pennsylvania Avenue down to Sixth Street. In the 200 block down near First Street, there was a sizable souvenir shop run by Epsteins, I think the name was. They had been in a building at New Jersey and C Streets, had been in this neighborhood for years and years and years. My family knew them quite well. Other than that most of the places on the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue were restaurants. The Rainbow Cleaner and Dryer was there; they had their plant down on Sixth Street. That was torn down. It was right by the alley, a yellow brick building. That later became a church. A terrific cleaner.
Now down on Eighth Street you had the same thing. You had tailor shops. I think I told you that Cafritz’s father had the pool hall down there. It was a total and complete community. You could buy anything. You had Miller’s Furniture Store, funeral parlors, movie theatre (the old … it was later called the Academy but they had another name earlier). I’ll digress for a moment. There was a fellow I met named Sidney Hoffman; I just saw him the other day. His father was in the motion picture house business and he managed the Avenue Grand, the Apollo down on H Street. I went to a crab feast down in Maryland and Sidney was there. He lives out in [Leisure World in Silver Spring, MD]. He’s a very vital man for his age.
At any rate down there on Eighth Street, it was a separate community unto itself. There wasn’t any kind of service shop that you couldn’t find. It also serviced a lot of Marines over there. Later on when World War II came along, that’s when it became the night spots. They had the Farmhouse, Brinckleys, Jack Rowe’s (on 11th Street). People would come from all over Washington because of the entertainment. Roy Clark played there. Jimmy Dean was up on Pennsylvania Avenue (now Mr. Henry’s). Because of the concentration of the Marines, Navy Yard and the Navy facilities across the river, the girls would all flock. They would take the streetcars and buses down from up in Northwest—the government girls. This was one spot where there were lots of boys. They had top-notch entertainment. You name it, you had it there in the 30s. What ultimately they expanded and found a new industry—Prohibition was lifted, there were a lot of young people where they could hang. So then quite a few of the places changed over and became bars. Not too many restaurants—the Sugar Bowl was a few doors down from G Street. A Greek family ran that. A shoe store was next door.
METZGER: And there was a streetcar that came up there?
BOSWELL: Well, the streetcar went down to the Car Barn. Some streetcars came down Pennsylvania Avenue and turned right and went down Eighth Street to the Car Barn; others continued out to Barney Circle and turned around and came back and other cars went straight up Eighth Street to Florida Avenue.
METZGER: Then there was the Car Barn at 14th and East Capitol.
BOSWELL: That one went around Lincoln Park and down East Capitol, made a turn at First Street and went north. There were some cars that came up from the Eighth Street line and would turn at First Street …
Of course in the summertime, they put on the open-air cars with straw seats. You could get on here and go all the way out to Glen Echo Park.
METZGER: Did you do that?
BOSWELL: Frequently. Mostly for the ride—you’d go through Georgetown, M Street, turn up Wisconsin Avenue and then turn on O Street. That was great. The old trolley cars had weekly passes. Many government employees would buy a pass for the week for $1; they’d go to work all week and come home on Friday evening or maybe Saturday noon. (Prior to World War II, government employees worked a half-day on Saturdays. They’d put in 40 hours plus.) You’d stand at the streetcar line; and get the old cars. Some days you didn’t have enough money to go in but you got a great ride. [Discussion about cobble streets in Georgetown, O and/or P, in conjunction with streetcar line.]
METZGER: Did Capitol Hill have cobble streets? I know there are still a few alleys.
BOSWELL: I know New Jersey Avenue below E Street was cobblestone. One of the reasons was that there was a lot of District horses down there at South Capitol and K—trash, garbage and whatnot, a lot of carts. That was a pretty slippery hill as you go over the train tracks at Virginia Avenue. There were cobblestone streets elsewhere—back of the Eastern Market. Where you had a lot of horses there you had cobblestone.
METZGER: Your alley in the back …
BOSWELL: That was always concrete.
METZGER: So that kind of concrete—tan exposed aggregate—was put down in the 20s?
BOSWELL: All my life, that’s what it was. It is beautiful concrete. … We have never had to worry about snow because if it snows, all we need is an hour of sunshine and it’s gone. I’ll take a shovel and go down the center of the alley and push a path. It melts underneath and goes right on down to the gutter. I can clear that alley of any snow with just about 30 minutes of effort. …
METZGER: Your father was a fireman …
METZGER: Out of the Natatorium station?
BOSWELL: You mean Number 8? Back in the earlier days, where Eighth Street is now was Number 7 truck. It was a hook and ladder. See, most of the earlier firehouses (like where the swimming pool is, back of the Eastern Market) was number 8. That had been a horse affair at one time.
METZGER: Those buildings …
BOSWELL: weren’t adequate when we got to the larger hook-and-ladder trucks. So number Seven was built there on Eighth Street—that was the local station. The pumpers, hose wagons and the chief were at Number 8. Behind it was the training school. It was the fire department training school and they had a four-story tower. That was separate from the fire station—that was where all the firemen were trained. It’s now down below Bolling Field. But the initial one was down on North Carolina Avenue, adjacent to where the swimming pool is now. It was fun to watch because they had a four-story tower—they had a big net—jumping down into the big net and then scaling the wall. They trained not only new recruits but they would bring men back for retraining, new techniques. They did other things there (not just the climbing and so forth); there were the classrooms. There was a chief in charge of that operation—the training. He [My father] spent a lot of time at Number 8. As a matter of fact he started back in Number 18. The building is gone now; it was down really close to the Marine Barracks, where Virginia Avenue and Ninth Street—near the freeway there. The freeway went through there and they tore down Number 18.
Back in the old days, one of the biggest events was the Labor Day parade. … Every fire house would spend months decorating a float or doing something for the Fireman’s Parade. They would go down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was one of the biggest events—parades—in Washington. It was every year; the inauguration was every four years.
METZGER: And there were people who came in from Maryland …
BOSWELL: Oh, and other places too. It wasn’t just a bunch of fire engines going down. There were floats—serious floats, comical floats. Number 8 used to win the prize frequently. They usually went in with a comical float; they had clowns and things like that. A couple of firemen were outstanding; they were real performers. They would fix them up in the firehouse. They would also bring up, every year, Barney, Gene and Tom.
METZGER: The last three fire horses …
BOSWELL: I can remember, every year, my father would drive Gately and the other, (a German name, he lived out where E Street hits Pennsylvania at 11th Street) Brick Owens. They were two of the original horse drivers. They were still up at Number 8. He would drive them down to Blue Plains, which was the old poor house. That’s where the horses were kept. They would get on their backs and ride them, up through Anacostia and the old 11th Street Bridge (the South Capitol Street Bridge wasn’t in there then), up in to Congress Heights, Asylum Hill and on across. They used to keep them at Number 18 because they still had racks for the hay. They still had stalls in the rear and could house them for a few days. They were always in the parade. The photo that shows the last ride they made down Pennsylvania Avenue, Gately is the driver. I don’t have a copy of that. … Gately used to live down on Potomac Avenue there. He was the last of the old drivers. A lot of the old drivers, when they went to engines, didn’t have a driver’s license. They rode on the back. I remember Owens didn’t have a driver’s license. They all lived where they worked. They walked to work. Gately was a driver; he drove the hose wagon. My father would drive down; my brother and I would go because we’d see the horses down there. They would drive them [the horses] into Number 18. The fire engine for years was kept in the lower part of Eastern Market. That’s where it was stored. The machine shop (repair shop) was next to Number 8. It’s down in Southwest now. My father used to be in charge of that until he retired. He was the chief in charge of repair, equipment, location (where each piece of equipment was located around the city).
METZGER: He was William as well?
BOSWELL: Oh yes. But Barney, Gene and Tom I had personal contact with. As a matter of fact, I’m probably the only one alive who can remember why they were named Barney, Gene and Tom.
METZGER: Why’s that?
BOSWELL: Because there were three sergeants who, the day they were acquired, were made lieutenant.
END OF TAPE 3/Side B [Tape 3 is missing]
TAPE 4/SIDE A
So the new horses and the new lieutenants shared common names: Barney, Gene, and Tom. Gene was Gene Trainor (sp?); he was the lieutenant at Number 8 during this very period. He was a good friend of my father’s and used to live over in northeast near Stuart Junior High School.
METZGER: We did not get on tape; you were going to tell about the famous fires of Capitol Hill.
BOSWELL: St Peter’s. The fire I’m thinking of occurred about 1940.
METZGER: And it took out the interior of the church?
BOSWELL: I saw it afterwards and I heard stories about it because my father was at that fire. As a matter of fact it was Jimmy Petro who told me this. He said three firemen went up to the roof and came down. Your father grabbed an axe and went up and he chopped the hole in the roof. They had to go up and put a hole in the roof so the smoke could get out and they could see what’s inside. He said—my father wasn't any young kid then—I think he told me two of them went half way up and then came down. That’s a steep roof. My father could climb that; it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t climb that. I failed on the sailing ships. I couldn’t climb although I used to have to climb—to loose the gallants. I’ll tell you sea stories sometime … I said it was his church. They had services in the basement for many years. They lost a lot. They had a lot of paintings in there that had been done by the same artists that worked on the rotunda—Brumidi. I don’t really know if any of Brumidi’s stuff was there. A lot of Brumidi’s paintings were over at St. Aloysius, over in northeast. That was a pretty extensive fire. [Clarification: St. Aloysius is in NW, on the west side of North Capitol Street.]
The other was Miller’s [furniture store]. I think that was in World War II it started, because I was home on leave. My mother and I were standing there and we could see my father. A few minutes later the brick wall came down and landed on two pieces of equipment. We both crossed our fingers that he wasn’t under it. As a matter of fact, no one was. I think it did damage to fire engines quite extensively.
METZGER: That’s a huge brick wall …
BOSWELL: Oh yes, four stories. It was quite a sight to see that brick wall come down.
METZGER: It just completely sheared off from the front?
BOSWELL: It just fell off. That wall was pretty much rebuilt. I think it was pretty much down to the ground. It came down in a heap.
METZGER: I’ve never heard anybody mention that before.
BOSWELL: That must have been in the early years of the war [inaudible statements about the timing].
METZGER: Then there was the Capitol fire?
BOSWELL: Oh yes, that was a four or five alarm fire. That goes back to 1932 or 1933. It was the biggest alarm fire. Oh course, they always had alarms because it is the Capitol. They called everyone back to that one. (My father was called back; he was home; he wasn’t on duty.) It could have been 1933 or 1935. Those are the three biggest ones I remember on Capitol Hill.
METZGER: The other area I wanted to get a little more information on was that you had mentioned the industrial area down here.
BOSWELL: It’s lost. I may have a photograph of Woodard and Lothrop’s warehouse down here. That was at South Capitol and D, on the southwest corner. And then Gilpin’s Pharmaceutical Supply had a place on Pennsylvania Avenue and then they moved to the lower part of that block there on South Capitol Street. Kann’s Warehouse was over on the corner of Delaware Avenue and C Street—one block on the other side. Poor Delaware Avenue got all cut up. [Discussion of the sections of Delaware Avenue that remain after construction cut it up.]
It [Delaware Avenue] used to be a terrific street. We used to ride horses down in Southwest in particular. There was a little parkway—trees and grass. You could ride on grass down to what is now Fort McNair, the Army War College. I’m thinking that Hecht’s was down here at the foot of South Capitol Street, where the ramp goes up to go over the bridge. There’s a white building that says “Capitol something” now. The downtown warehouses, this was a convenient area for them. They didn’t have any stores in the suburbs. They all located right here—six or seven blocks away. No rail siding—it was all trucked in.
METZGER: You mentioned a hat something? No? I’ll have to go back.
BOSWELL: There was one other thing—there was another big fire on Capitol Hill. That goes way back. Down at the foot of D Street here, where Delaware Avenue would cross, on the other side was a factory that made caps for milk bottles, all over the country. We used to try to collect them. That burned and that was quite an extensive fire because there was a lot of cardboard. It never went back. They re-did the building over.
They used to hold dance marathons there. In the 1930s, there was a dance marathon craze, and Washington didn’t have a lot of places to hold them. The first one that was held in Washington was down there near the Delaware Canal. It was great to go down and watch them. It didn’t cost much. You could get in for a quarter. They had good music and you’d watch these people putting on their acts. Each of the people that participated would have to perform—they would have to dance or sing during breaks. It was entertaining. They held a couple of dance marathons down there and later were held in other places.
METZGER: I just want to make sure I have some of this straight. It was you and your brother. What was your brother’s name?
BOSWELL: Everybody called him ‘Doc’—that was his nickname. It was really Bernard.
METZGER: Your father’s name was William H.?
BOSWELL: Yes, the same as mine.
METZGER: He had many brothers?
BOSWELL: Two brothers and six sisters.
METZGER: Curley was the youngest.
BOSWELL: Yes, he was born when my grandmother was 47 years old. He was close to nine years younger than my father.
METZGER: Then the older brother was …
BOSWELL: Ceylon. My grandfather’s name.
METZGER: Who was the aunt who stayed here?
BOSWELL: Camille was the last one here. As the sisters married they left home but two didn’t marry—Camille and Lorena (sp?). They stayed here and lived here all their lives. Lorena died in the house. Camille went to a nursing home; her death wasn’t as sudden. The others all married and moved away but they never left Washington. They all moved up to Northwest. But we had other relatives living here on the Hill. My grandmother’s sister …
METZGER: your grandmother—meaning Ceylon’s wife?
BOSWELL: Yes, her sister built the house at 160 North Carolina Avenue but they lived else where up in that area. She had another sister who lived up in Northwest. She had a couple of brothers, whom I didn’t know. My grandfather’s people were all down around the Navy Yard. My grandfather’s father worked in the Navy Yard. In those days the Navy Yard was recognized as neighborhood other than Capitol Hill. The early directories used both of those names. But my grandfather’s people … My son knows more about this than I do … He has spent a lot of time out at Congressional Cemetery. My great-grandfather is buried there. They’re all buried out there in one little area no bigger than the first floor of this house. A lot of them died before I was born—or after I left town. I found my great-grandfather’s grave. That was interesting. I didn’t know this but when reading his tombstone, he was one of the Navy Yard militia during the Civil War. Everyone who worked at the Navy Yard was automatically in a militia and drilled. They were so afraid of the Confederates coming up the Potomac. Apparently it was a very active force, particularly in this area of Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard. There’s a book—Reveille in Washington by Margaret Leach—that I recommend to everyone. In there, there are a few references to this militia. It was a very important factor on Capitol Hill and around the Navy Yard area because they used to drill, march, congregated. Primarily it was a force that was to be nearby to protect the Navy Yard in case of invasion. It was, I think, of note.
TAPE 4/SIDE A (ends at 20 minutes; SIDE B is blank)
END OF INTERVIEWS