[Location of interview: Mr. Taylor’s home, at his home, 6605 32nd Street NW, Washington, D.C.]
INTERVIEW 3, March 15, 1999
[Discussing photograph of Taylor & Lamb pharmacy at 11th & East Capitol Streets.]
TAYLOR: This was an interesting block, as I recall -- some very pretty houses. That was L. Hoyt Lamb and at one time in my father’s life he was a partner with Mr. Lamb. They had this store and the store that we’ve been talking about. They built another one at North Capitol Street and Rhode Island Avenue -- about U Street -- and engaged a pharmacist named Lincoln Palmer to run that one.
METZGER: Did they also have tables outside?
TAYLOR: I don’t remember that. Right back of that was a grocery store.
METZGER: What is in back... is that a scale?
TAYLOR: Yes. There were scales outside of drugstores usually. They would be coin operated. You put a penny in and weighed yourself.
METZGER: And this was a pump?
TAYLOR: These pumps were all over. They were water pumps. I was going to tell you about the pumps and the horse troughs some time… The trees, of course, block out the end of the block. That was where my Uncle Stephen lived. There was a nice house in here that had an entrance like the Hay and Adams houses that used to be downtown -- with a curve and recessed entrance. Richardson designed some of them -- I don’t know that he designed any here. There was a family named Pickford. That was when Mary Pickford was popular so we always remembered that and wondered if she was family.
METZGER: And this one is a great photograph -- Do you remember this house? About Fifth and East Capitol. Mary’s Blue Room was torn down in the early seventies by the church that was behind it and used for a parking lot…
TAYLOR: I don’t remember it.
METZGER: This one looks familiar, doesn’t it? “A Motta -- First Class Shoe Maker”
TAYLOR: Well, I’ve certainly seen many houses that looked like these.
[End of showing photographs]
METZGER: So my first question was, what did these stores [pharmacies] look like inside? What did they sell?
TAYLOR: When you came in the door there were counters all around and a soda fountain along one wall. These counters were showcases that had items of stock in them. One wall would usually have a big mirror in it. I don’t know why, but that was fairly typical. There were slotted windows beside the mirror and behind that was the prescription department where the prescriptions were compounded. The pharmacist could look through these windows to the front and see if anyone was in the store. A feature of the showcases was that no matter what the floor was in front, behind the showcases the floor was always wood because that was easier on the feet. The people clerking in the store did a lot of standing and walking.
The drug store always had a coordinated set of fixtures that lined the back wall so that these fixtures and the space behind the case were always being walked to. They kept large drugstore bottles on the shelves with various kind of elixirs and tinctures and whatnot to be used in compounding. There was hardly anything displayed that people helped themselves to. Everyone was waited on. The clerk would take it back to the cash register. By the register there was a balance -- a scale -- that could be used for weighing loose candy, a stack of three rolls of wrapping paper (a wide roll, medium, and a narrow roll). My father only used white and he used red string. He was very particular about how his bottles and other things were wrapped. He always instructed his new help just how it was done. He could do this very quickly and he’d end up with a little loop that he’d put over his little finger and hand it to the customer.
A large element of the drugstore would be the tobacco cases filled with cigars primarily and the humidifying device that kept them moist. Then there would be the tobacco case or rack very much as you would see in a store today with all kinds of cigarettes, cigarette papers and so on. We sold chewing tobacco; that was very popular then. On the counter there would be a tool -- a cleaver hinged to come down on a long plug of tobacco to cut off a portion. I think the plugs we had were three portions long. The one we had was very ornamental -- a little black boy with his thumb to his nose. I don’t know what the significance of that was. Then there was always a little gaslight with a miniature glass globe to it so a person who bought a cigar or cigarette could lean over and light his cigarette.
METZGER: So that was always in flame?
TAYLOR: The flame was always burning. Usually it had a pierced or cut glass globe with color on the outside so that the flame would show through. They were rather pretty. I can remember time and time again as a man was leaning over to light his cigar or cigarette, saying “Frank, you don’t smoke do you?” I’d say, “No.” And he’d say, “Well, never start.” Neither my father nor my brother or I smoked. We enjoyed the aroma of tobacco and I think that was the reason we didn’t smoke. When you smoke you don’t get that aroma very much. It was a disappointment, really. I tried it a few times but I never enjoyed it as much as I did handling it.
The cigarettes all came in big boxes. They had to be opened and placed in the proper places for display. We always sold a lot of cigarette papers and tobacco. Cigarette tobacco was sold in bags and people would pick up a free package of papers and take it with them and roll their own cigarettes.
METZGER: But there were also ready-rolled cigarettes?
TAYLOR: Oh, yes. There were two or three brands that were very popular -- Piedmont, Chesterfield, Camels. Cigarettes cost a half-penny a piece, packages of ten cost a nickel. In addition to that there was a coupon for a cigarette. Some shops -- we called them fruit stands -- would break a pack of cigarettes and sell one or two. We never did that. We thought we were superior to that.
My father’s store had rotating fans that stood on posts seven feet, seven-and-a-half, or eight feet tall. They were propelled from the basement where he had a lot of machinery for making ice cream, for cranking ice for ice cream and making syrups for sodas. He wasn’t making ice cream when I was old enough to remember, although I made ice cream in the drug store for my own amusement. He was into it very seriously. At that time there were very few concerns that were making ice cream. Finally there were some firms who made wholesale ice cream. When they came along he stopped making it. But the machinery stood there a long time. It was powered by an Otto gas engine -- a very early combustion engine that is now in the Smithsonian, not because we gave it but because the owner of the building when my father moved away cleaned all that out and gave the engine to the Smithsonian... Shall we go on about the inside of the drug store?
METZGER: Sure. Because it is something that people don’t know unless they happen to walk into an old one.
TAYLOR: Well, in my father’s drugstore the soda fountain was in that alcove that had that window in it that I showed you [picture in Old Washington, D.C. in Early Photographs, 1846-1932 by Robert Reed, page 18]. It was made of marble and some of the fountains were even silver plated -- very, very handsome piece of equipment. My father’s fountain at the Second and Maryland Avenue store had a pedestal going up from the center of the marble counter which had a colored lamp shade on the top of it and it had several faucets around. These were labeled “ Vichy” and “carbonated water” and “Soda water”. All three came from the same machine in the basement. We made our own carbonated water -- from the outside under very heavy pressure and in very heavy tanks. This machine was operated on water power and was cooled by the city water that went through it. We would carbonate the water from the gas in the tank. Some stores bought carbonated water and had lower pressure tanks. We thought we were superior to that. There were all kinds of little class distinctions in the business.
I think I’ve told you about the people who came in and bought brushes and stationery. My father was always reading about where things came from. He was a skilled botanist for example. Plants were a source of many of the medicinals that were used in the pharmacy in compounds and medicines. Of course, we sold the herbs. He was very interested in biology and plants. The stages of medication were reflected in pharmacy or compounding or extraction of plants with some metals, like zinc and iron or other metals or salts. Then we went through the introduction of animal organ medicinals -- cod liver oil, for example, was one. Then there were the many liver products and there were a number of tissue products from quite a number of animals. Some of the packing houses like Swift and the others had pharmaceutical divisions where these came along. These sometimes required refrigeration so we had to keep up with that. And then doctors began prescribing cultures. Pharmacists didn’t have the equipment to make the cultures -- there were a great variety of them. Some of them were modern-day buttermilk cultures. So there were laboratories around town where we would take the prescription. My father never had vitamins in his store. He used sulfa drugs.
The drug store was also a first-aid facility. Being located where we were, I’ve taken many cinders out of people’s eyes. They’d come off the train from Union Station and would be sightseeing around Capitol Hill when they’d be bothered with a cinder. It would be natural for them to come in the drug store. We all knew how to do it. We had a roll of toilet tissue and we’d tear off a piece and fold it and have them lick the end of it. Then we’d grab the eyelid and lift it up and go around the eyeball. Then show them the cinder. Some of them took the cinder away.
There were also bites from squirrels. Many people were unaccustomed to seeing squirrels and thought they were tame. They would feed them and then they would make the mistake of trying to pet them. Many times the squirrel would bite them. If a squirrel bit you, it would make a deep cut -- many times it went right through the fingernail. So you’d put something on that for them.
We also removed warts. You don’t hear much about warts any more. We used to use nitric acid. Many parents would come in with children who were crying -- they had fallen, scratches and all. We’d fix them up and that would be the end of that. But sometimes the child would be bleeding. I remember many times holding the child while my father cleaned the wound, sterilize it with some antiseptic, wrap it up with a cotton wad and some bandage. Sometimes we’d send them to the clinic at Casualty Hospital where we would be sure they would be properly treated. If they showed reluctance about going, sometimes he would send another person with them to see that they got to the hospital.
METZGER: Did he charge a fee for the first aid? I guess I’m wondering why people would come to the pharmacist instead of the doctor who might live down the street.
TAYLOR: There were a lot of people who really didn’t have doctors.
METZGER: So the pharmacist was a person they knew.
TAYLOR: Right and you didn’t need an appointment or anything like that. You just came and you’d just be taken care of.
METZGER: But was there a first-aid fee... 25 cents for wounds, or was it just part of the business?
TAYLOR: There wasn’t a code or anything. He had a drawer of cotton and bandages. He might charge 25 cents or something like that.
METZGER: Or if they looked like they couldn’t afford it, it was free.
TAYLOR: There were all sorts of curious little kinks in the drug business. For example my father had a favorite expressman, as they were called. This would be a man who owned a horse and wagon and probably lived in the stable over the horse’s quarters and would carry large orders of materials for anybody who would hire him. This one particular man was named Frank (he always said I was named for him). He was just a one-man business. He didn’t have a lot of money. He’d go to an auction downtown where they would auction off horses. He couldn’t buy a very good one but he would buy the best he had money to buy but obviously something wrong with it. Then he’d bring it up Capitol Hill, leave it out at the curb and come in -- have the horse wait or tie it to the tree trunk -- and say, “Doctor Taylor, I bought another horse and I wonder if you’d look at it for me.” My father would say, “I’ll look at it but you have to tell me what’s wrong. I’m not a veterinarian but if you tell me what you think the horse needs why I’ll see if I have something that will help.” And he usually did. After a while, the horse would begin to look pretty good. We’d see it on the street and he would occasionally come and carry something for my father that was being shipped by steamboat down to some people in the country. It was not an unusual sight to see this horse casually leaning against a tree.
My father was also very proud of his circulating library. Circulating libraries came about in his time and he had one. I used to go to Union Station every Sunday morning to pick up a certain number of copies of the New York Times and the New YorkTribune and bring them back for people who had ordered them. He would always have a copy of each for himself. Immediately he would turn to the book section and decide what books would be popular, make a mental note to buy two or three that week or maybe none at all.
It was one of my favorite spots. He had a little seat tucked into an alcove with the books right behind you -- sit down, leaf through them and read. He had a couple of boys series like The Boys of ’76, which was a continuing long, long number of volumes of each war [battle] of the Revolution. These three or four young men –two of them would be heroes and one the villain -- participated in all these wars. I can remember sitting there one time reading one of these (I guess I had been sitting there a long time) when my father came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Frank, the sun is shining outside. Why don’t you stop reading and go outside and get some air, see who’s around to walk with you or ride with you.” I’d get absorbed with these things.
Another feature of our particular pharmacy was that we were very close to the Capitol. A number of congressmen would go by and sometimes come in to talk with my father. A few of them would ask him to sell something for one of their constituents in the country, for example, maple syrup. We always had four or five shiny tins of maple syrup on the end of the counter or soda fountain -- these tall rectangular tins, galvanized metal, very bright. We had a few other similar items. One that I remember that stayed around a long time was an embroidered spread for a double bed -- it was a big bundle when it was folded up. That was in a case close to the fixture that we had the stationery in. It would have the person’s name; you could see the pattern and the price they were asking. These people asked very little for these things. In those days a little bit of money on a farm was all that was needed to buy salt and things you didn’t produce yourself.
Did I tell you about selling a box of mistletoe? A congressman came in one day just before Christmas. He had noticed what my father was doing -- selling these things for people. In fact he knew some of these congressmen who were bringing these things in. He said, “I have a box in my office of mistletoe sent to me by a constituent. I could sell it to you for eight dollars. Could you sell it?” My father said, “Well, I’ve sold a lot of things but I don’t think I could sell a box of mistletoe. The store is very tiny and there is not much space.” Then he looked up and said, “Maybe Frank would do it.” I looked up and said, “Where would I get eight dollars?” He said, “Well, I’ll lend you eight dollars. We can buy it and then you can pay me back. It sounds like a bargain -- that big box and you can sell it by the piece for a quarter.” The congressman started out of the store but he turned around, came back, and looked at me very sternly and said, “But you have to get it out of my office.” So I got my buddy with a sled and we went over to the House office building, dragging the sled, which didn’t sound very good on the marble floors. The guard stopped us and said, “What are you boys bringing this sled in here for?” “Oh, we have an appointment with so-and-so.” “Okay, his office is over there; but don’t come back here. You can go out that side door.” So we went in and got the box.
[END SIDE 1]
TAYLOR: The selling was quite interesting. There were still many residences along the streets now occupied by the Supreme Court and the Senate Office Building. Many of these people I knew and it was just before Christmas -- you saw them at parties; you could smell the cookies baking. When I turned up and people came to the door I’d say, “I’m selling mistletoe.” “Let’s see what it looks like.” They would come out and look at it -- big branches of beautiful mistletoe. I would hold up a few for them. “How much do you want for this one?” I’d say, “Twenty-five cents.” Of course in the store you’d probably pay a dollar and a half. It didn’t take me long to sell the mistletoe -- two or three nights. I paid my father off and made about ten dollars -- which was very much. I can still remember the welcomes I got in many houses; people were partying and they would still take time out. Maybe I’d sell two or three at that one house.
METZGER: In that article you had written, you talked about your father making syrup. When did the idea of drug stores and soda fountains -- do you have any idea how that got connected? A pharmacy and a soda fountain don’t seem like a “given.”
TAYLOR: It was like a pay telephone. It attracted people. They came and then customers would buy things in the drug store. That wasn’t the sole purpose because the soda fountain did make money.
METZGER: So then, usually all drug stores had the soda fountains?
TAYLOR: Practically all of them. There were a few that were known as ethical pharmacies. My father was very jealous of them -- and fond of them. These were pharmacists who sold only prescriptions or medicines and compounded prescriptions. They hardly even went in for cosmetics or anything of that sort. They were known as ethical pharmacists. I don’t know that there were many. There was one somewhere in the vicinity of Seventh and U Streets that was owned by an African-American that my father knew very well and was very fond of him. He frequently went into his store to chat with him. My father actually lectured a few times at Howard University, so he knew pharmacists who graduated from there. My father was also a member of the Board of Pharmacy for over 50 years and for nearly 50 years he was president of it so his name appeared on all the licenses for pharmacists in the District of Columbia which had to be displayed in the store. There were quite a number of excellent pharmacists who graduated from Howard. I don’t know how many stores they had. I have a photograph of Commissioner Guy Mason, who was almost the last commissioner of the Commission form of government, presenting an award or certificate to my father for his service on the Board of Pharmacy for 50 years -- my father, Mr. Mason and one of his principal assistants. I don’t know whether he lived on Capitol Hill or not but he had a brother who was on the police force and he worked out of the Number 9 Precinct, which was the northeast Capitol Hill. My father, in addition to being president of the Board of Pharmaceuticals of the District of Columbia, was active in other pharmaceutical associations like the National Association of Retail Druggists and the American Pharmaceutical Association. He did a little of legislative representing when a bill was being considered. He was always available to give answers to any questions that might come up during hearings. He didn’t make a big thing of this. He was a little involved in the Pure Food and Drug laws and labeling acts that came along. Then there was always a bit of tension between the government and pharmacists over narcotics. I don’t remember when narcotics were unlicensed but I think the Narcotic Act (I can’t remember the name of it now) came along about 1904. Prior to that narcotics were sold –were used -- in medicine at the discretion of the doctor.
METZGER: How many people would be employed at a store like at Second and Maryland?
TAYLOR: At one time, we only had three people in the pharmacy part. When the counter would be open in spring, summer, and fall, there would be two soda dispensers and the porter.
METZGER: And the porter would be delivering prescriptions -- and picking things up.
TAYLOR: He would keep things clean and do some painting. In that picture that I have of my father outside of the drug store taken in 1906, one of the men in that picture is the porter. His name was Josh; I’ve forgotten his last name. He was with my father for a very long time. When he got to the point when he wanted to do something less physical -- to retire -- then my father was able to have him employed -- him and his wife employed -- as superintendent of a small apartment house at about Sixth and Maryland Avenue which had a very nice apartment in it for the superintendent. I remember that they used to visit us; they were very happy.
We had any number of immigrant customers, just learning the language. We were sometimes amused at some of the things that would happen. There were no set baby formulas in those days. Many of the mothers used the Eagle brand condensed milk. We carried several brands and sometimes we would be out of Eagle brand. These people, Italians, wouldn’t buy any other brand. After a while, it turned out that there was some connection between Eagle and milk -- they may have even thought it was Eagle milk. They thought it meant strength.
METZGER: Much better than Carnation -- where your child would be as weak as a flower or something.
TAYLOR: There were certain things that they always bought -- chamomile tea and small packages of herbs. They brought with them the use of taking chamomile tea as a mild laxative. When we had the store right across from St. Joseph’s, which was even closer to the Italian community, I remember they used to buy Jordan almonds to throw at a wedding instead of rice -- various customs.
Another part of the pharmacy was the counseling. The pharmacist was, for many people, the educated person available to talk to about problems, sometimes marital problems in addition to health problems. Sometimes he would talk to a person two or three nights in a row trying to calm them down, answer their questions, give them advice. He was also involved sometimes with the police when a boy or juvenile, young man would be picked up for something. The police would be anxious to get his reputation on file. They would talk to my father and many times he would get them off by standing up for them.
The telephone was an interesting part of the drug store. For many years very few people on Capitol Hill had telephones. Drug stores frequently took messages, sometimes delivered the messages. But we always took the messages. Sometimes we expected the person to come in and we would hold it. If there was anything urgent we could send it over to them. That seemed to be the local practice for many kinds of stores, not just drugstores. One service that we provided was having postage stamps. This was done at something of a loss because there were always torn stamps, some got thrown away -- but it was expected of drugstores to sell stamps. I think we went to the Post Office to get sheets of stamps, books of stamps. Sometimes people would complain if we didn’t have just the stamp they wanted. We always took things like that in stride -- never expected to be thanked or anything.
We sold money orders. In the article I wrote I told about the men who came from farms and were taught how to get along in the city, get jobs and so on. When they came in to send money home we knew they had made it, they had a job. Most of them would send part of their wages back home. We would hear about things; they’d talk to us, sometimes some one would be homesick and tell us about the people on his farm. For the people who lived in the apartment houses, the drug store was a relief between supper and going to bed. The boarding houses had parlors where they could socialize with guests but there wasn’t much else to do. They would come to the drug store, hang around the corner and talk with their friends there. They would wait for the Bulletin -- the single-sheet newspaper that was published three times a day. In the evening they were always anxious to see the baseball scores and stock market closings and that sort of thing. They would wait to see that and then go back talking with their friends...
METZGER: Did your mother ever work at the drug store or was her job to run the house?
TAYLOR: Her job was to run the house. My mother was very busy. She was a choir director, an organist and pianist.
METZGER: For which church? St. Joseph’s?
TAYLOR: St. Joseph’s. During World War I she had two churches. She was also directing choir at St. Stephen’s in the West End. Of course that meant that the choir director had gone to war -- she performed his job as well as hers. The churches had very little money to spend on choirs. If she wanted to buy music and didn’t have any money in her household account (and this would be a special selection for Christmas or a season of the year), she would cook up a recipe that she had for whole wheat bran bread with raisins. The recipe called it a health bread. She’d make two dozen loaves of that over a couple of days. My father would pile it up on the counter, three or four loaves at a time. It tasted good -- slightly laxative. She’d get the money and stop making the bread. My father would get so mad because people would come in and ask for the bread and he didn’t have any. She wasn’t about to make bread all her life. She sometimes played accompaniment to traveling concert people -- music clubs would engage concert people from catalogs. Some came with their accompanist but she would be asked to play for others. She was also asked to consult on the purchase of new organs and pianos. She had a very good appreciation of the qualities of different pianos
One time she sent me downtown to get some sheet music. The store’s name was Bruce -- they sold pianos and music. The music section was manned by a man with the name of Saul Minstre. She said, “When you go down there be sure to give this order to Mr. Minstre. He knows what I want. Don’t give it to anybody else.” I was quite small; I gave the order to Mr. Minstre. All of a sudden he reached over the counter and took my cap off my head and says, “You have a little of the Kubel look but you’ll never be as handsome as your uncle and cousins.”
METZGER: What a thing to say!
TAYLOR: Saul Minstre had a band that consisted of a couple of bass drums with his name across them and a lot of uniforms (that was his portion of the band). Whenever there was a parade he’d offer his band, then he’d line up the musicians to fit the uniforms. My uncle used to say, “He doesn’t pick them because they can play, he picks them because they fit the uniforms.” He was a real character. I don’t think he lived on Capitol Hill but he was an important person in the musical life of the town.
I can remember when my father moved his store down to Second and C Streets, right across from St. Joseph’s church. Many times while working on Sunday morning, I’d look up and there would be a horse-drawn Heredic pulled up in front of the church (11:45 or 12 noon, something like that, right after the last high mass had been sung in the church). This wagon -- it was like a bus pulled by a horse, you entered it from the back -- would have a couple of ladies sitting in it. My mother and maybe another member of her choir would come out and get in it and it would go trundling up the street. It was on its way to St. Elizabeth’s hospital to sing for the inmates there. And it would also go to the German Orphan Asylum, which was in the same general direction. This was customary -- she didn’t go every Sunday. I don’t know who provided this service that picked up choir members from churches so they would go out and sing. That was quite a long round trip. My mother would get back about 2 or 3 o’clock.
In that store there were quite a number of pastors and his assistants over the years who would come in to see my father and they would talk about people in the parish, people who would need help or had problems or whatnot. Soon after he retired he was asked by Dr. Quigley, who had the store down by George Washington University, to take over that store for a while. Mr. Quigley had arthritis very badly in his hands; he could hardly put up a prescription. My father had just retired and sold his store. Mr. Quigley asked him to take over his store until he was better. So my father did. The president of the University then was Marvin -- President Marvin -- and he got in the habit of coming in to the store and talking with my father. One night he said, “Dr. Taylor, why do you call me Father Marvin?” He had been talking to these priests for so long in the same way that he fell in to the habit. He got a big kick out of that.
METZGER: Did your father have any special things that just he made?
TAYLOR: In that article [Records of the Columbia Historical Society 50 (1980), pages 508-521] I mentioned the shed behind the house. A lot of things were started there. He had a phosphatic emulsion that had cod liver oil in it before cod liver oil was irradiated and made as strong as it now is. It was known that cod livers contained something that was good. People were closed in during winter and hadn’t gotten enough sunlight so they needed something to get them going in the spring. Phosphatic emulsion was made with egg yolks and the principal ingredient was cod liver oil, and the emulsion of the oil and egg was made to begin with and then you added whatever the other ingredients were -- phosphate, etc. That was made in a big boiler -- maybe a couple dozen bottles at a time. My father had a label printed; my brother who was very clever made a small rack from angle irons so you could put a bottle between the angle irons and fold the paper around it so it looked like a manufactured package, and that would sit on the shelf with all the other phosphatic emulsions. That was one that was very popular -- that was seasonal.
Then he made a cough syrup that was very popular. That was called Syrup of Attar and Irish Moss. It was a very, very good cough syrup. Most pharmacists on their labels identified themselves as manufactured pharmacist. People sort of expected them to have products of this sort. He had one called Grains of Health -- a laxative tablet. At that time the big pharmaceutical houses would make up a product for a pharmacist if the pharmacist had a formula. They would make the pill for him to his prescription so they were professional looking pills, coated pills.
Then he had a cleaning fluid which he called Restorelustre, made with benzene and carbon tetrachloride. It was very, very good and is still used. It’s called Carbona but gets its name from carbon tetrachloride. Ours was called Restorelustre. He had other products that people liked. He didn’t have a lot of space or time to go national with these things. I know my brother and I would say if everybody likes to have it and it does the job, why don’t you sell it beyond Washington? Then he would tell us how many bottles we would have to make to stock so many stores, and we’d have to do this, and have to do that, and so on and so on. Then we realized it wasn’t that easy.
METZGER: When was your father born?
TAYLOR: I don’t remember offhand; I think the late 1860’s. He owned that store in 1898 and was married then.
METZGER: And he had grown up on Capitol Hill too?
TAYLOR: He was born in Detroit. His father and grandfather were bankers; they were a prominent family in Detroit but in one of the panics like 1876 they were wiped out.
[End of side B]
Tape 2 -- March 15, 1999
[Some conversation not recorded] Many of the houses had basements that were not dry. They would get musty and so on. These basements frequently had white wash walls and he had a recipe for white wash which was paint. He added quite a number of things to it, to smell fresher and be a little bit antiseptic, to combat the mold. That became very popular. He’d make that up in the spring, I think, and keep a few jars of it on the counter. On the nitty-gritty side, bed bugs were a problem. He had a little kit that he made up -- it had an instruction leaflet in it, the insecticide that he made up and a brush that it could be applied with.
METZGER: Were there bed bugs because they re-used materials?
TAYLOR: They were spread by travelers; they weren’t the least bit uncommon. I can remember a story about the steam boat line. I enjoyed the steam boat rides on the Potomac and the Chesapeake. There was a very nice line that ran from Washington to Norfolk. My very first voyage on that was to visit the Jamestown World’s Fair in 1907. Later I was told about the bedbug problem on the boats. People carried them around with them in their suitcases and clothes I guess. The steamboat company had received a complaint from one of its passengers who said he had always enjoyed riding on the boat, sleeping and eating nice meals, but this time he had to tell them there were bugs in the stateroom. The people got back a nice letter from the president of the company, saying “I personally inspect the boats and we fumigate and do everything at every turn around but we can’t prevent people from bringing them in when they come.” People didn’t often get a nice long letter like that. As he was putting the letter back in the envelope -- you’ve heard this I’m sure -- he pulled out a memorandum that said “Send this person the bedbug letter.” I learned later that if you bring the temperature in the room up to 100 degrees and hold it there for a certain length of time, it will get rid of them.
METZGER: It would have been harder to do a long time ago than now.
TAYLOR: It could have been done in the summer. In the hot weather it wouldn’t have been hard to get it up to 100 degrees. We also sold sulfa candles -- big chunks of sulfa in a candle. If there had been illness in the room or infection the sulfa could correct, we’d close the room up and light the candle and let it burn day and night.
METZGER: It must have smelled awful!
TAYLOR: Yes, it did. They closed the door but, yes, it did. That was done for disinfecting as well as for vermin. There were all kinds of mold problems. In many of those English basement houses I'm sure the basement floor was put right down on the ground. I don’t think there was any shielding or anything; wood would rot. There were other candles that we burned to get rid of the mustiness. We knew most of the secrets of that sort of the neighborhood -- what people were having trouble with this or that. My father had a little black book that I still have in which he wrote his formulas for many of these things that he would be asked for. There was always a problem just before the Fourth of July. Little boys would come in with formulas -- basically black powder -- my father would say “That’s dangerous.” Then two or three boys would come in, each for one ingredient, my father would laugh and say, “You boys shouldn’t be playing with that.”
METZGER: Did they have firecrackers and all?
TAYLOR: Yes they did. They were usually purchased at the Chinese laundry. They imported them from China. You could buy small or big packages. We made one little cap pistol -- it made a little noise too. If there was anything you didn’t have you could always fire your cap pistol and make some noise. We had a toy that we made with a large door key that had a hollow end to it. We had a nail that fitted into that. The two were tied together with a piece of string. You take an ordinary kitchen sulfa match and break off -- not the heads –the chemical top and pack the chemical in and press the nail in. Hold it by the string and hit it against the curb and it would go off with a big bang like a cap pistol. I’ve never seen that anywhere else but we used to do that. Speaking of keys, I still have in my basement a box of keys that my father kept in a drawer. All of his customers knew where it was. They’d come in and say, “I locked myself out again, Doctor Taylor. Can I look through your keys?” He’d say, “You know where it is.” They’d get it out and look through this box and pick out a couple of keys. After a while they’d be back with a big grin on their face and say, “I found one and got in” and put the keys back.
METZGER: So it wasn’t marked with their names; it was a generic key.
TAYLOR: It was just a big box of keys. Many of the houses didn’t have what we call Yale locks -- they were just bolts. He also had a box of tools -- a couple of screwdrivers of different sizes, hammer, hatchet, folding rule, pliers, things of that sort. Many times men would come in and not even ask my father, just say, “Doctor, I’m going to borrow your hammer for a while.” They’d always bring it back.
METZGER: So he had a lending library, a lending tool set, a lending key... It was truly a community center.
TAYLOR: The drugstore was more of a community asset than is usually realized today. For example my daughter went to the University of Pennsylvania and she spent one weekend with a classmate who lived there. The next time we saw her she was still bubbling over with the idea that right on the block where they lived there was a grocery store. She said, “The man in there told you what to buy and what was fresh and he got them off the shelf. Here was a man who was waiting on you and there was a boy with a wagon who could take your groceries home for you.” I felt very sad. She grew up around here [ Chevy Chase, D.C.] and this is a very sterile neighborhood compared to diversified Capitol Hill. She never got the opportunity to see adult people at work. My favorite story is the man who saw me at lunch time and he was walking by and said, “What are you doing after school?” “Nothing.” “Well, come and stuff some envelopes for me.” Then when I got there to stuff the envelopes, he said, “I’m going to get a hair cut. If anyone comes in, write down what they want and I’ll get in touch with them.” There were all kinds of things you could do because people wanted you to do them. They were your friends.
METZGER: That aspect of Capitol Hill has remained -- diminished, it’s not as common -- but there are people who have small businesses in their home, maybe an art gallery and they get the neighborhood kid in to move things around. The same kind of adult-child part of your life.
TAYLOR: A lot of this was repeated over and over because the people who were artisans or mechanics who went to work on your house -- if your roof was leaking, the man would come from the tin shop. He had a push cart with ladders on it, blow torch and soldering irons, paint buckets -- all the things he needed to repair the roof. He and his brother -- the two of them would push this cart to wherever they had to work. They couldn’t spend all day pushing the cart so they all worked within a short radius. They were the tin shop of that neighborhood. Another tin shop I can tell you about was on Independence ( B Street, Southeast) between Second and Third streets on the north side. My mother went to school in that tin shop one class year because Peabody was so crowded. All those businesses were in every neighborhood because you either had to walk to them or they had to walk to you. They were repeated over and over again within a matter of five to six blocks at most. There was a drug store at Second and Maryland Avenue; another drugstore at Second and Pennsylvania Avenue SE; one at Fourth and C Street NE; a drugstore at Second and E Street NE The drugstores were less than four blocks apart.
METZGER: I read an article that talked of Capitol Hill long ago where there were “horse cakes” --- gingerbread in the shape of a horse. I believe it was in the northeast section. Were there bakeries or candy stores?
TAYLOR: I don’t remember bakeries. Did I tell you about Mrs. Castle that had the store next to Peabody School?
METZGER: You talked about the Castles that had the dairy.
TAYLOR: No. Right next to Peabody School there was a shop run by Mrs. Castle. I don’t remember any more about her name. She had everything a school kid could want -- pencils, pads, notebooks, all the other things. She also had a few tables where you could sit and have a piece of pie; I don’t remember ice cream but she had milk, I think. She made turnovers that were hot when you got them. They were hot at recess and hot at lunch time. They were probably a nickel or a dime each. They were fruit turnovers and very good. Whenever she had rhubarb I would tell my father because he loved rhubarb pie. My mother wasn’t very fond of it. She baked a lot but she wasn’t fond of rhubarb pie. So I would tell him and he would give me money to buy two of them and I would go back and buy them. We ate them in the drugstore so we wouldn’t offend my mother. She thought if you ate any baked goods outside the house you were disloyal.
There were many little things about the neighborhood life at that time. I’ve told this story many times about the telephone operator. If my father and mother were going across the street to play 500 or whatever card game was popular then with a family called Robey, before my mother went out she’d say to the operator, “This is Phinie Taylor. We’re going over to the Robeys to play cards. We’re leaving Frank and Elizabeth here. If they need anything Frank will call you and you can call us.” “Oh yes, I’ll take care of it.” I never remember having to do it. That was when we were living in the apartment across the street from the drugstore.
I can remember one time entertaining a group of kids. I don’t know why I was there alone. They came to the apartment. We were forming a baseball team or a club. We were probably 12 or 13 years old. There were about 9 or 10 kids. We went through all the business about who would do what. I thought it would be nice to serve them refreshments. My mother always made wine and we usually had a big container of red wine around. It was a sweet wine. I passed out glasses and passed the container. Some of these kids went home and told their parents that Frank Taylor had given them wine to drink. I spent a long time living that one down. My mother didn’t care. She didn’t object to my serving it but some of the parents did.
One amusing thing that happened -- I told you that the Roland Apartment House had been built by a group that my father was involved with. There was a dentist and doctor also involved. The pharmacy was close to the apartment -- right across the street. For a while he operated the switchboard; he operated that in the drugstore. He didn’t really have room for it but he had it there. Tenants would call him if anything happened. One time a man came over, very excited, carrying a slug out of a rifle cartridge. “This came through my window.” It was a 22-long cartridge. My father said, “Let me look. Where did it fall?” He showed him the hole in the window. “Where did you pick it up?” “Over there.” So my father sighted through this and hit the three houses that were between Maryland Avenue and B Street. There were just three houses there and he thought it was the center one. So he went over and knocked on the door. We knew the people. Their name was Grey. Russell Grey worked for my father one time and then got a position with the State Department. He hung a target in the window on a curtain string and got back across the room and was shooting target practice out of his window. As long as he used 22-short cartridges, they fell in that little park across the street. This rifle apparently would handle long cartridges as well. Somebody had given him some and he didn’t realize how far they would carry. My father scolded him and he was very sorry -- don’t tell his mother or something like that.
When World War I came along the government needed a lot of help -- enlarged activities of Defense and so on -- clerical and stenographic help. They advertised for this and many young women began to pour into the city. The government built a dormitory on this lot -- which later became a park between Union Station and the Capitol. A lot of these women had come from farms. Although they could do useful work, they didn’t know a whole lot about other things. They began to dress like other people they saw. Shiny white blouses were part of the costume of that day. They were getting ink on these. Some of them were our best customers. I can remember them bringing these blouses in stained with ink, government issue ink. My father would say, “If it’s silk I can get it out; if it’s synthetic the blouse won’t be any good after I try.” They thought it was silk but they couldn’t wear it that way anyhow, so they said, “Go ahead and do it.” If it was silk, the ink was gone -- no charge for that.
Then they began to discover hairnets. Goodness, the stock you had to keep for hairnets. Of course, there were all complexions, all colors of hair, all sizes of mesh. Each had their favorites. Then they got into dying or painting straw hats. There were products made for that. There were products made for tinting clothing. That line of things like hairnets, hat coloring were for the “government girls.”
Then they wanted to know about doctors. My father had in his mind a list of doctors and how he rated them. As a matter of fact, pharmacists at that time would see more patients than a doctor; get more different treatments for different things (sometimes the same thing would be treated differently by different doctors and he had a chance to observe how they worked). He loved the doctors who would take the time to diagnose -- take the time to really find out what was wrong. We had a lot of young women who were coming in; they were our customers and we appreciated them. One time I had occasion to take something to one doctor he liked and I went in. The stair case that went up the hall (he practiced out of his home) was just filled with these girls sitting on the steps -- some of them I knew. I was amazed at how many people were waiting to see him. But that was his first criterion that the doctor had to take the time to find out as much as he could. Doctors would be marvelous at doing this from observation and the few tests they had.
METZGER: At that time they had to use so much more of their own faculties because they didn’t have fancy tests.
TAYLOR: It was amazing how much they really could do without the benefit of research, or anatomy classes... Many of the doctors on Capitol Hill in my time had learned medicine by apprenticeship.
METZGER: Is that how your father learned pharmacy too?
TAYLOR: Yes, when he came to Washington he was about 14 years old. About the time his father moved them to Capitol Hill -- I guess he was about 16 when this occurred. The family was wondering what he would do. He had a cousin whose name was Barkley who happened to be there. He was related to a pharmacist in New York City, also named Barkley. He listened and said, “Well I’m going to New York with Gus and would like to be apprenticed to a pharmacist. I’m sure that Barkley would have a place for him. I’ll go with him and introduce him. If he doesn’t want him, I’ll see that he gets home safely. He can look around New York.” So my father became an apprentice to this man.
[Some of father’s story lost at end of tape.]
[End of Side A]
TAYLOR: I think it was for about two years, and he learned the pharmaceutical trade. Then he came home with a sore throat or something. He had some vacation time, but he wasn’t feeling well so his mother was worrying about him and said, “I wish you weren’t going back to New York. Can you write to Mr. Barkley and tell him you’re not coming back?” He said, “I’ve served my apprenticeship anyway.” So he stayed home and went to work at a very young age, 18 or 19.
METZGER: At a pharmacy in Washington, but not on Capitol Hill?
TAYLOR: Not at that time. One of them was as far west as Fifteenth Street. That involved making prescriptions for the White House, but that was after a few years. When he first came he went to a pharmacy nearer Capitol Hill and got some experience. He told a story about the first time he met the pharmacist. My father walked in and the pharmacist said, “I’m really glad to see you.” He handed my father the keys and said, “I’m just taking off and will be gone four or five days.” My father didn’t know where anything was or anything else; I guess he gave him some advice to call somebody to help him out.
His first customer was a man who came in and wanted him to pull his tooth. My father said he didn’t want to do that. The man said, “It isn’t hard. I’ll show you where Doc keeps the tools.” So they found the dental tools and looked them over and the man said, “That’s the one he uses. It is loose; it won’t be hard to pull.” So my father pulled the tooth for him. After that the man was carrying on and said, “The Doc usually gave me a drink of whiskey.” My father said, “How much did you pay?” The man said, “How much is it?” My father said, “How much have you been paying?” He said, “A quarter.” “Okay.” He gave him the quarter then turned around and said, “The Doctor usually gave me a drink of whiskey for a quarter to keep it from hurting too.” He told my father where the whiskey barrel was. My father went back to the barrel (it had a little dipper in it) and my father gave him a little drink. That’s the kind of drug store that was. That was his first experience. Then he worked for a number of druggists, some of them I knew in my lifetime. One was, as I said, on Fifteenth Street, one was right across from the Treasury, that was the pharmacist for the White House. One was around the corner. These were nice pharmacies, so when he finally went into business for himself he had some experience.
METZGER: So he opened that store at Second and Maryland in 1898?
TAYLOR: Yes, 1898, I think. I’ll look it up -- right after my parents were married.
METZGER: You mentioned in that article about the influenza epidemic which I imagine was just horrendous and one of those things that would live in your memory.
TAYLOR: My memory is strange about this. I never saw the horror stories that were told. And similarly, I never saw the race riots. I just seemed to miss these. I was involved in the influenza. My father took me out of high school to help him. We worked -- the store was open nearly 24 hours. I’ve seen him sleep in the store, on the floor. Our apartment was just up the street and I worked early and late, all hours. It got so the doctors were ill. In the meantime they had written so many prescriptions their wives knew what the doctors would do. They even had a code they explained to my father. As I said, we were open all the time. I told about taking food to the girls’ dormitory. I did that. The doctors told us what these people needed as much as medicine is food. Of course people who were getting their food were getting ill too. That happened in the boarding houses too. I never saw the cases where bodies accumulated or saw them being taken away. I never saw that in person but I knew that times were very, very bad and conditions were bad in some of the places I delivered medicines.
And then I told about the supply of drugs breaking down and my father sending me to Baltimore. [Records of the Columbia Historical Society article]. But I did that only once -- with two suitcases and a long list of manufacturers. One of the interesting things that I got then and that we were always running out of was a preventative for the flu that was a little gauze-enclosed square of camphor gum and a square of acetaphetamine. Those two squares were sewn into a gauze pouch and it was worn around the neck. This was supposed to ward off influenza. Doctors were prescribing it and we were asked for it. (We didn’t think it would be very effective; I don’t know if it ever has been proven effective.) Later on I read somewhere the tears of the eyes contain some antibiotics and I wonder if just the irritation of breathing this and sometimes inducing tears in eyes might have some something to do with it. That’s pretty far fetched.
METZGER: But when you didn’t have penicillin. What were they prescribing?
TAYLOR: Mostly cough and cold medicines, fever remedies. I learned my lesson the second year -- I had a very light case. I don’t remember anything startling that was given to me. One precaution that many people did follow was -- apparently the virus or whatever it was affected the heart to some degree. A lot of people died in the recovery stages. They went back to work too soon, took exercises to get back into shape. We did know that by the time that I got it. I can remember my father telling me to be very careful about walking around.
METZGER: I’m not sure it hit as hard here as it did in Europe, devastated by the war.
TAYLOR: It wasn’t hard for us to send a little food, soups and bread. Just a few years before World War I the Southern Railway had built its first office building in Washington on D Street between First and Second. The government took that building over and put some government agency in there. There was no place around for people to get an inexpensive lunch. They used to come up and get a soda or glass of milk or something like that and ask my father why didn’t he have sandwiches. So we were making sandwiches.
METZGER: Was there a difference between a boarding house and a rooming house? Did the boarding house serve a meal and the rooming house you just got a room?
TAYLOR: Yes, that was it.
METZGER: Was there any difference socially? Was one considered more respectable or just what you preferred?
TAYLOR: I think it was a matter of preference. A lot of people don’t eat breakfast or had some other quirks so they preferred to do their own. When they got downtown to work, they would get lunch and sometimes supper before they came home. I never distinguished between boarding houses and rooming houses. I knew they were particularly along that block between First and Second Streets on the south side of Maryland Avenue -- just solid tall houses with many rooms. Of course we knew the families that kept the boarding houses; they had children too. We expected a lot of people to live in boarding houses.
METZGER: There is one right across the street from where I live now, which I had never realized. I thought it was an apartment house, but apparently it was built as a boarding house and on the ground floor there is the owner’s apartment plus a very large dining room. The upper floors just have bedrooms and hall baths.
TAYLOR: There was one right across the street from Peter Powers on A Street. I remember going over there, seeing him a number of times. The men living in that boarding house would be sitting on the stoop, talking and kidding around. They had social rooms -- parlors -- people could go and read the paper, talk with other boarders. But if they wanted to see people at night the crowd on the drugstore corner was the place to go.
METZGER: Just as a reference point, your father’s partner was E. Hoyt Lamb?
TAYLOR: Yes -- and that partnership lasted a number of years. While they were partners, they were three of a total of nine stores that wanted to form a little chain. They called themselves the Nivestos (nine vested stores). Dr. Quigley’s store was one; Pearsons (which is a big liquor name or liquor dealership on Wisconsin Avenue, he was one) and Dr. Fuhrman who was on East Capitol Street at Eighth Street had a drugstore there (the northwest corner). We were quite friendly with the Fuhrmans -- the family -- because he was also on the board of pharmacy, secretary of the board of pharmacy. He also signed the certificates. So they formed this partnership, so to speak. It wasn’t really a partnership but principally a purchasing method that they could pool their purchases and get better prices from the wholesaler than they could by dealing with a wholesale druggist. That was the primary purpose. Then they could afford a little advertising. They got out a little flyer that was thrown around the doors. I remember delivering those one time for the North Capitol Street store. They would have their specials and they would meet frequently to decide what their next move would be -- what problems they were having with their supply, what problems they might be having with regulatory bodies. They just exchanged experiences. They were more or less independent but they were under this one name. They were forced by law to disband. It was said that the operation was an unfair business practice, and of course it wasn’t many years after that that we had chain stores. At that moment it was frowned on by the Federal Trade Commission, or whatever it was called then. So they had to disband. I don’t remember much more about the Nivestos stores than that. It never made any impression on me personally, that we were any different than before. With McPherguson and Mr. Lamb we were already one-third of the investors, so our life wasn’t any different.
I should say too, with regard to the drug store, my father’s sister was living in Washington and raising a family of three daughters. (She and her husband, a very nice man, had an amicable divorce.) She went to Columbia (part of George Washington) and studied pharmacy and became a pharmacist.
METZGER: Was that unusual?
TAYLOR: It was unusual. I don’t know of any others. She became very popular among pharmacists by doing relief work. When the pharmacist decided to take a few days off he had to arrange for a regular relief man. My aunt, whose name was Edna Taylor, or Edna Elliot at that time, was well known throughout the city. My mother was a member of a club known as the Cultist’s Club, where women met once a month and presented research papers on literature or whatever the topic happened to be. One time, I remember, my mother wrote on the Panama Canal and its construction, which was brand new at that time. My aunt, the pharmacist, was also a member of that club. They both were pretty women and were very popular, lively. They were very friendly together -- sometimes it doesn’t happen that a wife is friendly with her sister-in-law. They were always good friends and raised their families together.
If you’re interested in what happened to people who grew up on Capitol Hill and branched out. Those three girls went to Washington Secretarial School and became stenographers and secretaries. The oldest one was working for an attorney here in Washington, one of whose clients was the Royal Bank of Canada. One day an attorney for the bank came in to see this attorney and said, “By the way, do you know any young women who would like to work in Havana? The bank is having difficulty finding good people.” When he was gone, the attorney said, “Do you know anyone we could send to Havana?” “Why not send me?” They joked about it for a while. After a while he said, you know, it might be good for you to go to Havana. So she went to Havana and one after the other the other two girls went also. Two of them worked for the Royal Bank of Canada and married men in the bank. The youngest married the manager of the bank for the Caribbean area; the one that was my age married a man who worked for the bank and was a Canadian; and the third one eventually went to work for Shell Oil at a better job and went to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
METZGER: Did they all stay in the Caribbean?
TAYLOR: They stayed for a long time and they sent their children here. We had a couple of them here in this house going to university. Their mother didn’t go to Havana right away and she was here taking care of the children who came up here to go to school. They had all kinds of education. One of them went to Marjorie Webster School of Drama and went on the stage. This is the way Capitol Hill spreads around the world. They all had happy, successful lives. The youngest one, whose husband was reaching retirement age, built a retirement home in Havana but had not moved into it. They were living in Havana when Castro came in. My cousin told me about looking through slits in the venetian blinds -- they went right by their house as they came down out of the mountains, walked in carrying their shoes tied together hung around their neck, shuffling in the dusty road, just quiet, a stream of men going by. No noise or anything. They just walked in and took over. They started out as an improvement over the dictator there -- Batista was his name, I think. Only later did Castro introduce communism. The house they built that they never lived in -- they were informed by the government that if they ever wanted to come back and live in Havana the house would be returned to them. In the meantime the house would be used by the government. The Royal Bank of Canada sold its assets to the Cuban government, which made the manager a very important person in the Royal Bank of Canada because none of the other banks were able to sell. Castro just took them over. Because Canada had recognized Castro he was willing to pay for their assets. He retired soon after.
METZGER: What were the hours of the drug store?
TAYLOR: We opened at 7 in the morning, sometimes 6:30, and we ran until 11 at night. We weren’t always busy all that time but we were always open. The drug store at night was brightly lighted. We had those drugstore window bottles. Have you ever seen those, the red and green ones with the lights behind them. My father always “wasted” money on lights because he thought it was good business to do it. There was one corner lighted up and people coming and going. It was really a safety or security factor for the neighborhood. As you came out of the old Stanton Theatre you walked by Al’s Drugstore and then there was Taylor’s Drugstore.
[End of side B]
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This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck