[Location of interview: Mr. Taylor’s home, at his home, 6605 32nd Street NW, Washington, D.C.]
INTERVIEW 4, April 7, 1999
[Apparently some discussion about the flu epidemic of 1918 and an interview heard on NPR about the epidemic that included a segment on Frank’s memories was not recorded. Tape starts with interviewer Nancy Metzger saying, “But you wouldn’t necessarily want to go in the houses.”]
TAYLOR: But there are a lot of pretty wild stories told about people dying and just being left there. They couldn’t even call the police, but I never ran into that. I did work with my father very hard. We had the store open nearly 24 hours a day. I was there in the evening so he could go home to rest. I opened the store most mornings so he could sleep.
METZGER: You said in the article [Records of the Columbia Historical Society 50 (1980): pages 508–521] that he took you out of school. How long a period of time was that?
TAYLOR: I was trying to remember that today. I don’t believe it lasted very long -- at the most two months. And I think probably it was closer to six weeks. I had it the next year but it was a milder strain and people knew a little more about it. But I remember my father was very careful about letting me go out after I got up because a lot of people died as a result of the weakening of the heart muscles by the influenza. If they did any kind of energetic walking or work too soon, many people died of a heart attack that was caused by a weakening of the muscles of the heart. I’m just repeating what you heard [on an 1999 NPR radio interview about the 1918 flu epidemic in Washington].
METZGER: I think they are doing a lot of research now on why that flu strain was so virulent and hit people so hard.
TAYLOR: My brother had it in the army. He had enlisted rather early and was up in New York State in training. He lost a bit of weight. We were rather worried. He was with the French army most of the war -- he was an ordinance sergeant, which was pretty high ranking noncommissioned. He was just out of high school. He had an athletic scholarship to go to the University of Pittsburgh but he was a pretty well-read youngster. He knew that if he did his education would be interrupted by the war. War was coming and everybody knew it.
So he decided to go to work. He worked as a machinist. We both went to McKinley High School. He was a very competent machinist when he got out of high school and went to work for the Firth Sterling, a British plant that was over in the neighborhood near Bolling Air Force Base -- Giesboro Point, they called it. I guess you’ve heard of Firth Sterling.
METZGER: That explains why there’s a Firth Sterling street. I always put it into Scotland and thought there was an enclave of Scots.
TAYLOR: The Smithsonian had a lot of facilities out in the direction of Silver Hill and Suitland and every time, it seemed to me, when we’d cross that street someone would ask about it. He worked there.
METZGER: So they did mostly airplane engines or…?
TAYLOR: They were making projectiles for artillery shells, generally making the cast steel projectiles. They were sent somewhere else to be assembled into shells. They required some fine machine work within convention because they would have to put a ring on it that would have to fit somewhere else, so it would have to be precise. He worked hard at it. When the war was coming on and my brother was talking about going into the army, my mother began to worry even then. I guess before the war we moved from Massachusetts Avenue [N.E.] to a row of apartment houses in which my Dad had an interest. My mother worried through the whole war. My father made her go to work. She was working hard anyhow. She was choir director of two churches. The man at St. Stephen’s in the West End had gone to war so she was doing his job along with St. Joseph’s. She finally went to work with the fuel administration. I have the certificate that she was given at the end of the war for her war service.
METZGER: Did she think that helped her get through the war -- or at least did your father think it did?
TAYLOR: I’m sure it did because she had her mind on other things and other people around her. She was never home. Everything she did, she did hard. But it was a very cruel system. They had published the casualty list on the first page of the newspaper every day. Many people learned of a casualty in the family before they had been notified by the military. You would run your finger down the column hoping that it wouldn’t show up. It was very cruel the way they did it.
METZGER: Yes, you always read of a Western Union telegram or something being delivered. But reading about it in the paper was even more awful.
TAYLOR: He was over a long, long time. He was over before the Expeditionary Force. He came back late because they needed him. He was in charge of a mobile repair shop -- two or three trucks with a lot of lathes and other machines. They were right up in the forward position where the small arms the French were using that were American in origin -- American owned. The small arms would be passed back to them and they would repair them and put them back into service. They were always close to the front but were not in the trenches. After the war there were so many troops over there that Pershing knew there would be a lot of dissatisfaction of the men that would be the last to come home. So he organized a small arms shooting contest to keep them busy -- rifles, pistols and so on. Everybody in the military was urged to participate -- contests within the company, battalion and so on up to the finals. So my brother’s machine shop was ordered to Le Mans to repair all the arms. That didn’t please him very much.
METZGER: Was there a big parade or anything when they came home?
TAYLOR: There was a parade, but I don’t think he was in it.
METZGER: It was over before he got there!
TAYLOR: Well, he wasn’t with a unit -- First Army or the Second Division -- he was just with that small group of men with an American officer over him. But he was not with any unit that would be organized into a parade. I don’t know where he was when it occurred -- I guess at Catholic University.
METZGER: Was there any feeling that the District didn’t have a vote -- and that our boys, men were being sent?
TAYLOR: I don’t think so. I don’t remember any of that. We were all Americans.
METZGER: Was there much talk that the District didn’t get the vote?
TAYLOR: I don’t think we thought much about it. We thought we were getting what the Constitution set up for the District. As far as we were concerned the government was reasonably representative. Nobody voted. It was a long time before we even voted for the president. For most of my lifetime we had the commission form of government -- three commissioners appointed by the president, one of whom would be a high-ranking officer in the Corps of Engineers who would be in control of the highways, police and fire departments. I have a photograph of my father receiving an award from Guy Mason, who was the last surviving commissioner. They were down to one commissioner at that time. They had done away with the three commissioners and were planning to have a mayor. Of the final ones he was selected to oversee the transition.
METZGER: They named the recreation area in Northwest for him. I always thought Guy Mason was one of the Revolutionary people -- I guess because of Mason Neck and all of that.
TAYLOR: He was a pretty good man. I remember he was very much interested in the building we were finishing on Constitution Avenue that opened as the Museum of History and Technology. He heard that we were moving a locomotive across town and put it in the building. He came down and spent the whole night with us. He got a big kick out of it.
METZGER: I have some questions from our other interviews but I see you have some notes so why don’t we go through those first.
TAYLOR: About schools -- one of the great disciplinary tools in the elementary school system, particularly with boys who were out of order, was to threaten them with being transferred to the Gales School. I don’t remember where it was. I don’t remember having seen it, as a matter of fact. I think it was down in the neighborhood of the Printing Office -- Massachusetts Avenue, New Jersey -- down that way. If a boy was out of line he was threatened with being transferred to the Gales School and Gales had all men teachers. I think it worked to a degree.
METZGER: There weren’t too many discipline problems?
TAYLOR: There were some. I remember being kept after school. I don’t remember why, but there were three or four of us. This was in the old Hilton [School] -- it was new then. It was warm weather and the windows were all open. The teacher was presiding over the five or six that were being kept after school for one reason or another. There was one older boy in the back of the room. When the teacher wasn’t looking, or he thought she wasn’t looking, he stepped out of the window -- he could step out onto a shed roof and climb down. He just stepped out the window and was gone. “Well,” she said, “he’ll have to spend two more nights after school and if he keeps it up he’ll end up at Gales.” So the word got back to him; he was being threatened with Gales. That had a tendency to straighten them out.
The District of Columbia schools had a reciprocity agreement with the state of Maryland that persisted quite a long time. The reciprocity agreement was that the young people, even in grade school but particularly high school, could use the District of Columbia schools -- they could come in from Maryland and use the District of Columbia schools. In return the state of Maryland would enroll any qualified graduate of a District of Columbia high school at the University, which in those days was the Maryland Agricultural College. They would pay the same tuition as the state residents paid, which in those days was practically nothing. That worked pretty well and lasted quite a while. Right here, my daughter and Corriane Russell who lived up the street and Joan Friedman who lived on the other side of Western Avenue in Maryland went through eight grades together. It was right at the very end that Joan Friedman was told she was in the last class that would be coming from Maryland. That would have been 1953. I thought it was pretty good.
One of the notes I was going to make as far as Capitol Hill was concerned was that there were a few youngsters in my elementary school classes who came from Maryland by railroad. Their father or someone worked on the railroad and lived near places like Terra Cotta and all the stations between here and Baltimore. It was very convenient for them to get on the train (they had a pass) and they would get off at Union Station and walk over to Peabody or Carbery or one of the nearby schools. One youngster was in my class -- his family name was Busey -- his father was a locomotive engineer. I got to know him pretty well. My parents asked him to spend the weekend with us; his parents let him do it, and then his parents asked me to come out on the weekend. I remember they lived right on the railroad. His father was an engineer and he was so important that the trains would stop or slow down so he could hop aboard and ride into Union Station to get his locomotive. That impressed me that the trains would slow down to pick up this boy’s father. That was interesting to me, but that would happen only on that part of Capitol Hill closest to Union Station.
METZGER: Where was Hilton?
TAYLOR: Hilton was on Sixth Street. Peabody was on Fifth. They built the school right around the corner, called Hilton. It was a brand-new school and I guess I went there the first year.
METZGER: So it was on Sixth and Massachusetts?
TAYLOR: Sixth -- between B and C. That would be just off Stanton Park. It was a school that was designed largely for classroom space. It didn’t have any of the amenities like an assembly hall or anything like it. It was just a big square building. They tore it down, I think, and then there was Carbery and Edmonds farther east. I went to Peabody and then Edmonds before I went to high school.
METZGER: They made Carbery into condominiums -- very nice ones.
TAYLOR: There was a great rivalry between Peabody and Carbery. It’s amazing how much pride we could invest in that -- and the neighborhoods too. We were proud of our neighborhoods.
METZGER: Did you have a favorite teacher and what was the day like? Did you have one teacher for the entire day in elementary school?
TAYLOR: Yes, one teacher taught a grade. I told you about the fifth grade teacher who slapped me. She was one of my favorite teachers. I must have tried her pretty much. All of the teachers I had were good. I can remember some of their names like Thorne; Mrs. Aukward, who was a teacher my mother had at Peabody, was the principal when I went there; Yoder (I don’t think her immediate family but a part of the family lived right next to my father’s drugstore). We knew the Yoders. I think that was the beauty of the schools in those days; the teachers lived where they taught.
METZGER: Not only that they had a relationship with the parent but they could also see the children outside of a classroom setting.
TAYLOR: We weren’t afraid of them or anything like that. They were friends, neighbors, and in our case, customers in the store.
METZGER: My mother used to talk about school in a rural community and how it was a problem to have money for paper and things like that. Was that a problem here in the city?
TAYLOR: I don’t think so. I read about these problems now but I’m sure we didn’t have them. Our books always looked clean and there were always plenty of them. I have no way of judging how good they were but I assume they were adequate. There was never any real want of anything. The janitor responded to every request the teachers made of him. He took pride in keeping the place looking good. He knew everyone by name. Sometimes he would point a finger at a boy who would stop whatever he was doing.
METZGER: And they always came down the hall with the push broom with the shavings in front of it?
TAYLOR: I remember even when I was there thinking that with the wood floor so saturated with whatever oils they used for cleaning, it must be a terrible fire hazard. Probably still is.
I mentioned the Hilton School and the Edmonds School, the railroad children, the reciprocity. That was important. When my sister graduated from high school she had a scholarship to Syracuse. She was relatively young -- a year or so younger than most graduates. My mother and father didn’t want her to go so far away. She decided to go to Maryland Agricultural College. This is interesting. I mentioned it before but when she went there she lived at home (the apartment at Second and Maryland Avenue). The bus ran right up Maryland Avenue to College Park to Baltimore. It was easier for her to go to College Park than for her to go to Georgetown. They were nice buses -- very modern -- gasoline electric. I don’t know enough about them to be very accurate but the gasoline engine ran at a more or less constant pace and turned the generator which in turn supplied electricity for the motor’s crank shafts of the driving wheels. The theory behind all that was that the noisy gasoline motor didn’t roar up, accelerating and all that sort of thing; it just ran at a steady quiet pace, generating current. The motors in turn took the acceleration. They were very quiet -- very nice municipal buses. I don’t know who ran it -- whether by the railroad or an independent bus.
METZGER: There was a trolley line that went out.
TAYLOR: It didn’t last very long.
METZGER: The trolley line?
TAYLOR: No, the bus. [Some general conversation about buses and trolleys.]
The next year she lived at the college in a very unusual situation. One of the professors there was known as the farmer -- the university farmer -- who actually operated the experimental farm, the teaching farm. He had four daughters and a son. The name was Blanford. My sister was very fond of the next-to-youngest daughter. She practically became a member of that family, although she did belong to the AOPhi sorority, which was one of those that built those first buildings in the revival of the campus. Before she graduated it became the University of Maryland.
METZGER: She was probably going through at about the same time my father was. He was born in 1907.
TAYLOR: She was born in 1906. I thought of a few things that were street sights that you would see. There was a lamplighter who came around and lit the gas lights. There were two brothers -- Italian origin. The older brother always dressed in a dark suit and the younger brother was always informally dressed and he carried the ladder. They would come up to a lamppost. The second brother would put the ladder up against the post and the boss would walk up the ladder and light the gas lantern.
METZGER: Did they have a torch that they used?
TAYLOR: I don’t remember. They probably used matches -- the big ones we called kitchen matches. They were employees of the gas company and they worked all day doing other things. I’m pretty sure they used manufactured gas -- a lot of vapor and liquid that came through that had to be drained out. There were little sumps in the mains where this would collect. They would come around and empty those with a little stick that they put down. It was foul smelling -- just terrible.
METZGER: I imagine. I ran into someone at the bank and somehow it came up about this oral history project. He said, “I wished you had talked to one of my old neighbors before he died. He used to tell me these stories about how when they would go around after the lamplighter and blow out the lamps. Then they finally got caught and were put in jail for two hours and lectured sternly and they never did that again.”
TAYLOR: Oh, kids would do anything. That was a sight you saw every evening. You knew it would be dark pretty soon.
METZGER: They must have quite a few lighters to get the whole city lit within a two-hour time period.
TAYLOR: Yes, they started fairly early. I don’t know who put them out. I guess I was never up that early to see but I was up pretty early and I never saw anybody put them out. This reminded me that there were other brother combinations where there was a smart one, then one less bright. I know that at the tin shop in the neighborhood there were two brothers. My father brought ice cream from a wholesaler and there were two men on that truck -- one was a strong back and the other took the order, made out the invoices, told the other one what to do. After he had settled all that, he would work too putting the ice down around the containers. That was before mechanical refrigeration; I guess they had salt and ice. Those three -- it was a good idea. Sometimes the man with a strong back probably didn’t get along with anybody else so his brother would be there to tell him what to do. Better than having a person on relief.
METZGER: You talked about the house at 909 Massachusetts Avenue. It had a reception room on the first floor. Was that room used for anything? Were there chairs in there?
TAYLOR: It had a sofa in there. It was not much wider than the hallway, wide enough to have the stairs going up and the closet beside the stairs and under the stairs was a place for rubbers. I said that wrong -- that was the old house. Actually the steps went up out of the reception room.
METZGER: It was one of those “S” stairs -- started this way, then turned, then turned again. But did it have furniture in the room?
TAYLOR: I remember the sofa. That was where my father treated our dog when he broke his leg. The dog slept on the sofa when he was being treated.
METZGER: Was the room used for relaxing or did people actually “make calls”? You read about that from earlier times.
TAYLOR: I don’t think we had much of that formality. It was a good place to take off your coat. The dining room was back of that. It was like a spare lobby that was halfway back so you passed the parlor on the way back. Then there was a door from the reception room to the parlor.
METZGER: Was the parlor used -- like in winter evenings -- did the family sit in there, your mother doing sewing? She was probably busy doing other things.
TAYLOR: No, the family was in the dining room -- around the big table. That was universal. I remember my wife remembered her childhood -- studying at the dining room table. The radio was going while she did her lessons. And we sat around the table while we did our lessons. That was common practice. The dining room in the First Street house was downstairs. There was a couch there. My father would come home for lunch and after lunch he would take a nap on the couch. Of course he worked long hours.
METZGER: I guess your family was a little different in that respect, but for a long time people did come home for lunch.
TAYLOR: Did you ever read “Life With Father?” It was an old New Yorker series. Well, the father came home for lunch and he had a couch he slept on. It was a long room so there was room for a couch.
METZGER: So the dining rooms were actually well used, the heart of the house?
TAYLOR: I can remember going by it after we had moved and it had been rented. I don’t remember if it had been divided into two or not. I knew one family -- this man was a pharmacist, a relief pharmacist for my father. He was German; his name was Laubaker. I was walking along the sidewalk. You could look down and see the Latrobe [stove] in the back. Mr. Laubaker would be sitting at the window, with a dachshund on his lap, and the two of them would be looking at a German newspaper. I knew all this because once in a while we’d wave me in and I’d go say “hello.” He convinced me that the dog could read German.
METZGER: The other question was similar -- was the “hall bedroom” just a pass-through area?
TAYLOR: That was usually on the top floor where the stairs didn’t go any further so that the area of the hall that would have been taken by the stairs going up was made another little room and used as a bedroom. It was often in the front of the house -- just the width of the hall in width and a little bit longer than it was wide. There wasn’t a lot of room in it; it was all right for a single man but there was talk about men doubling up and living in it for financial reasons. There were songs about it and vaudeville skits.
I think I forgot to tell you about the coal vault under the lawn in that First Street house. Much of the area under the lawn was a vault -- like a manhole in the lawn would be opened. Coal would be delivered by a wagon that had a long chute -- a telescoping chute that could be extended from the wagon out to the manhole that led into the coal vault. The wagon was built onto a chassis that could be raised by cranking. The whole wagon body would go up at an angle and the coal would begin to slide down the chute into the vault. That would be on the same level as the kitchen and dining room. The area way -- when you went down six, seven or eight steps into the level of the dining room -- had a door in back of you that went into the vault. That door was not used by company -- they went up to the first floor.
[END OF SIDE 1]
TAYLOR: I think the ash man would actually come into the house from the alley. He would come into the house end of the yard and pick up ashes there. The ashes were always stored in metal cans.
METZGER: I had never known about those coal vaults until recently when a house on Fifth Street was being renovated for apartments. The owner got the brainstorm to use these things as storage. These weren’t waterproof so he cemented over the front yard. He did a beautiful job of restoring the house, brickwork, the Italianate cornice -- and then it’s sitting on this cement platform. But the real reason is that he’s using the vault as a basement. I had never known that they existed -- I don’t think there are many left on the Hill like that.
TAYLOR: I was trying to remember how the coal was delivered at the Massachusetts Avenue house. I think the coal bin was right up against the east side of the house. There was a basement window so coal could be delivered by chute. In fact there was a vacant lot when we lived there so the truck could actually bounce up over the sidewalk and get pretty close to the house.
METZGER: When were most furnaces converted, do you think?
TAYLOR: My father and I bought our last house on Upshur Street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets, Northwest. We had coal there -- hot water heat with a coal-fired boiler. That worked moderately well. My uncle who lived across the street at 908 had his coal furnace rigged up with all kinds of weights, levers, and alarm clocks that would open the damper and light the fire up before anybody got up so the house would be warm. I took a lead from him and put a fan that was controlled electrically by the temperature of the water -- they call it a hydrostat. If the water that came out of the boiler got cool, it would start the fan and raise the temperature in the fire box. That would relieve you of going down occasionally and doing the same thing manually. Of course you still had to shovel the coal in.
METZGER: Was that a task that was assigned to boys in the family?
TAYLOR: Yes, when they got big enough, they always had to take the ashes out, put them in a can and take them out into the back yard for the ash collector. It was different from the trash collector. I guess the ashes were used for filling masonry products.
METZGER: Do you remember when the radio first came into your home?
TAYLOR: I remember before that because my brother was a wireless fan before there was a radio, before the telephone and the wireless were combined to make radio. He was always sending me downtown to buy foil to make condensers and buy batteries for his radio. He had a little primitive wireless station. Across this vacant lot he had, with the help of the boy next door on the corner, strung an antenna -- quite a long antenna for those days -- across that vacant lot. When the Naval wireless station gave the noon time signal, it almost knocked me off the chair it was so loud. He was onto other things before radio came along. I guess I was the radio person in the family.
A radio is a very simple thing to make. You had an oatmeal container, a round box, and you’d wrap a wire coil around that so that you could scrape the insulation off and have a slider that would go across different parts of this, tuning in to different lengths of the coil. The catch was the little piece of equipment that held a crystal that was used to rectify the incoming signals down to the audible frequencies in the hearing range. The most expensive part of all this was a pair of earphones so that you could listen. My brother had used earphones, so there were earphones around when I came along. It was a very simple instrument to make -- you didn’t need batteries or anything like that, just crystals (called cat’s whiskers) and a little coil to select station frequencies. My father in his drugstore had one of the first phonographs. He had it where people could play it when they came in because it was a curiosity. He thought he wanted to do the same thing for radio, but unfortunately at that time he didn’t have any money to do a really good job. We did get a radio that you could barely hear without the headset. The Naval Air Station had a radio studio and they broadcast every once in a while. You never knew what was going to be on the air because it wasn’t until about 1922 that I think KDKA in Pittsburgh became the first broadcast station in radio. Some churches had them. I collected for the Smithsonian a whole radio station on top of a kitchen table about as big as that dining room table [4 feet x 6 feet] with all the apparatus so that a church could broadcast the lectures from the pulpit. That one was from Church of the Covenant on Connecticut Avenue on M Street or N Street.
METZGER: It really sounds like it was longer until you could sit around and just be entertained.
TAYLOR: This Naval Air Station had a little studio and they would invite violinists or pianists to come and play, invite someone to sing. They just did that for training in the use of a radio.
METZGER: That was down on the other side of the Anacostia? It wasn’t Bolling Field but right across from the Navy Yard? I think there is still a remnant there where the helicopters go out from.
TAYLOR: As I say, there were a few little business stations and church stations. One of the call numbers today is WMAL. MAL are the initials of M. A. Lease, who was an optician in Washington. He got interested in the radio -- before there was radio, he actually got interested in wireless. In addition to having his optical shop he began to sell parts that people could put together to make a more sophisticated radio than the one I was talking about being done on an oatmeal box. Growing out of that he started broadcasting himself; he got a license. The call numbers are still used -- WMAL. I don’t remember now where the shop was downtown but I remember the big trays of parts that kids could go in and take this and that and tell him what they were going to do to make a radio. The cashier would add it all up.
METZGER: And the telephone. Your father had an early one -- about when did he have a telephone in his store?
TAYLOR: I don’t really know. It had to be very early. I think the annex to the Roland Apartment House was built in about 1904 or 1906, I believe. The main part had been built at the end of the century. But I think they, at that time, were installing equipment for the telephone and he had the switchboard in his drugstore, which was right across the street. As early as I can remember, the store had a switchboard in it.
METZGER: Of course, you wouldn’t have necessarily had anyone to call, as most people didn’t have telephones?
TAYLOR: The apartments did have the phones, and soon after we did have the Lincoln exchange on Capitol Hill. But one of the things that interested me was at the time the communication was by word of mouth mostly. Baseball was a very popular professional sport when I was growing up. Men knew a lot about what was happening in the major leagues and they wanted to see the scores. These scores were published in the last edition of the WashingtonBulletin, which was one sheet that was brought around and hung up in stores. During the day there would be a noon edition, afternoon edition and an evening edition. Well, that wasn’t quite enough for some people. There was a boy in my neighborhood -- about my age, I guess. He was known as Scoreboard Willie -- his name was William Hagelman. On his front lawn he had a scoreboard (these box scoreboards, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one.) There was a fruit store over on Pennsylvania Avenue SE about Third or Fourth Street that had a scoreboard above the show window. The proprietor or whoever worked for him would get the score over the telephone at the end of each inning and climb up there and put the score in for that inning. People who were going by would get in the habit of waiting to see how the game was going. So Scoreboard Willie made a scoreboard to sit in his front yard and he would ride his bike over and get the numbers off of that and come back and put the numbers on. You would be surprised how many men got in the habit of walking by to see what was going on. That was on A Street between First and Second, nearer to Second.
METZGER: You mentioned one time about making the soapbox scooter in your basement. That was another thing the guys did too?
TAYLOR: I remember, of course, when you were a small boy nobody would buy you a bicycle, they bought you a tricycle -- with a big wheel in the front and two small wheels in the back. When you got to the point where you really wanted a two-wheeler you converted your tricycle to a two-wheeler by taking one wheel off the back and pushing the forks together, and saving only the one wheel by bending the two struts in the back. Well, I did that and wisely got aboard and started to ride. I hadn’t ridden very far when I remember going down into a depression in the street, like the ones that lead into sewers. I hit that when I wasn’t really expecting to go down. It threw me off and I cracked my head on the curbstone. I’ll never forget that.
That reminds me of some scenes that might be of interest. Where I did this was on B Street at Ninth Street NE, which would be the corner of the square that our house was on. There was a barroom in there. It was not unusual to find a barroom in a residential area. They were spotted through the Capitol Hill area pretty generously. We never patronized it as far as I know; I don’t even know the name of the person who owned it. It wasn’t that we didn’t approve of it; it was a very quiet place, never caused any problem at all. I guess by that time my uncles were making their own beer during Prohibition and after. They made wine as well. There really wasn’t much reason for us to deal there. For a kid it provided quite a bit of activity and amusement.
This is not a very pretty story. Once a year at least, maybe more often than that, the owner of the bar would hire an exterminator to come and get rid of his rats. They did this with ferrets and rat hounds. They would send the ferrets through the holes, which would drive the rats onto the sidewalk. The little rat terriers would chase them and snap their necks. It was quite a bit of excitement for a kid to stand there and watch this happening. That was very entertaining.
And the hurdy-gurdy came along. They usually played outside of barrooms because there was usually someone generous enough to send them out a nickel or dime.
METZGER: Did they have monkeys?
TAYLOR: No. There were organ grinders with the monkeys too but these were about the size of a large upright piano -- I think they were called hurdy-gurdies. They were on two wheels -- two big wheels on the back and two small wheels on the front. They had shafts on them so the man who turned the crank could pull it from place to place. He always managed to come by this particular barroom just before lunch. He would play and play and play and then he would go in with a little can called “growler.” The bartender would fill up the growler -- he always gave him a lot of foam, they had ways of doing that. He would come out of the barroom and I would be standing there waiting for him to come out. He would stand on the curb, take a deep breath and go “whoo” and blow the foam off the growler, then drink the beer.
METZGER: Did that barroom have food too?
TAYLOR: I don’t think that one did. It was a place where you could go in and have a drink, standing at a bar or at a couple of tables. They all had what was called a ladies entrance, which was not an entrance but usually a sliding window that could be opened. Anybody could go there, children or a cook with a pitcher, and get a pitcher of beer for dinner. That was a typical small bar. It was not uncommon to see well-dressed people go up with a pitcher. It was very quiet. As far as I know, it never caused any problem. On East Capitol Street, about Fourth or Fifth there was a barroom on the south side -- I’ve forgotten the exact location. When people were getting ready to turn in, the older boys who hung around in the crowd on the drugstore corner would say, “Let’s go up and get a blossom.” They would go get a beer and a blossom, which was a limburger sandwich -- limburger on a roll. I never liked limburger. They thought it was great and called it a blossom.
METZGER: How were deaths handled? Were the wakes at funeral homes or in houses?
TAYLOR: There were funeral homes. For instance, a family by the name of Lee had one at Fourth and C Street, diagonally across from Peabody School. There was one on East Capitol Street called Ryan -- in the general area of Third or Fourth on the south side of the street.
METZGER: Did they still have all the mourning cloths?
TAYLOR: Crepes? Yes, they still hung crepes on the door. They were different shades to indicate the age of the person. A child would be white; there was lavender. I’m really not sure. Most funerals, even then, were from homes. They had the viewing in the home. My grandfather, the instrument maker, his funeral was from his home on First Street. That was in 1898. The service would be in the church.
[Discussion about timing of grandfather’s funeral and government’s purchase of the building for Capitol Park, etc. Difficulty in finding deed in D.C. Government.]
Wakes were modified by the background culture of the people -- German or Irish or Italian. I was interested in recent times, some people held the wake in the church right before the funeral. The family was there and people went up and talked to the family before the service.
That reminds me, have you found anybody who knows if the history that Father McAdams compiled on St. Joseph’s...?
METZGER: I haven’t. I talked to a woman active at St. Joseph’s and she promised she would get me the name of somebody who might know.
What national event do you remember most vividly?
TAYLOR: When I was very small I witnessed the crowds coming in to attend the inauguration of the president. I would have to calculate which one it was -- it would have been 1906 or somewhere in there. [Note: Taylor would have been two years old for Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural in 1905, or six for Taft’s in 1909.] From our front window we could look right out to Union Station down the street, because what is now the park was just one big vast clay surface where they had spread the soil from the tunnel. Nothing was done for a number of years. In this particular inauguration there was a fairly deep snow. I can remember the streets were plowed around Union Station -- the snow was piled up maybe waist high. The various political clubs were coming in their uniforms intending to march in the parade. Some of them were wearing white trousers, sports coats, straw hats, canes -- very dude-like. Others were dressed like Indians. There may have been Tammany Hall, I’m not sure about that. Some came in with their bands that would strike up a tune. They’d march off to their hotels.
[Discussion about consumer use tax on the books since 1949]
METZGER: My husband said to ask you how people courted. When did teenagers start dating? I guess a lot of people got married at 18 or so.
TAYLOR: One lovely woman, the oldest daughter of the Robey family lived about two doors from us. Mr. Robey was the station master at the Union Station, a very responsible job. My father and mother knew the parents very well. They had four daughters; the oldest was Marie. She used to meet a man coming home from work every evening when the weather was good. She would get dressed up in the late afternoon and walk down to the street car line to meet him. He was, I think, the head of the Washington AP wire service. They went together for the longest time but I don’t remember if they ever got married. A lot of courting was done in the movie houses. There were certain activities where you could meet people -- I think I told you about being in the Children of the American Revolution -- and carry on a correspondence. Everybody had sisters who attracted your sister’s friends. My brother and I married sisters. He was six years older than I. The courtship went on quite awhile because there were so many interruptions -- she was in Boston and I was here. When my brother married her sister, she would frequently come down to visit the family at Christmas or Easter.
[END OF TAPE]
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This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck