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Overbeck History Press

In its tenth anniversary year, the Overbeck Project branched out into book publishing in order to bring to light a wonderful new book by Mary Z. Gray describing the Capitol Hill of her 1920s childhood and the family members who had inhabited the Hill for four generations before her. The book, 301 East Capitol: Tales from the Heart of the Hill, is available in local shops and on Amazon.com, and a few signed copies remain on hand here at the Overbeck Project. Please contact us if you're interested in a purchase.

In Remembrance: Mary Z. Gray (1919-2015)

Mary Z. Gray, the delightful writer and raconteur whose book 301 East Capitol: Tales from the Heart of the Hill made her a celebrity in our neighborhood, died peacefully at her retirement residence in Silver Spring on January 30. At 96, she had just started work on a new book in which she planned to recount the circuitous route by which she became a professional writer.

Volunteers from the Overbeck History Project contacted Gray in 2008 seeking to interview her about growing up on Capitol Hill in the 1920s and 30s. No recorded interview occurred, but the conversations prompted the author and essayist to start writing down memories of a childhood spent in an apartment above the family business, two blocks from the Capitol grounds. The resulting 301 East Capitol was published by the Overbeck History Press in 2012 and became an instant hit among neighborhood residents and others with ties to the community.

In the book, Gray tells moving and often comical tales of a family of musicians and morticians who had lived on the Hill for five generations by the time she was born here in 1919. Gray got her first byline in The Washington Post in 1940 and eventually served as a speechwriter for the Kennedy-Johnson White House. She wrote frequently as a freelancer for The Post, The New York Times and other publications for more than fifty years, and a collection of her essays was published in 1984 under the title Ah, Bewilderness! Muddling through Life with Mary Z. Gray.

301 East Capitol abounds with unforgettable scenes from Gray's early childhood -- being tugged away from Sherrill's Bakery by her family's maid (who would not have been allowed to eat there), frightening a nun at St. Cecilia's Academy with a story about the family business, and being taken to meet Charles Lindbergh, just back from his solo flight to Paris.

John Franzén, who coordinates the Overbeck History Lectures and served as Gray's editor, said, "Mary remained a radiant talent, a delightful companion and a devoted friend of Capitol Hill all the way to the end. We will miss her dearly."

Mary Z. Gray circa 1923 and 2011. Latter portrait by Alice Jackson.

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    The Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, Washington, D.C.