Donald Smith, Jr.
ABF: So, why don’t we start by talking about what it was like to grow up on the grounds here at Dumbarton Oaks.
DS: Well, it – you know, I didn’t know it was any different. I didn’t know it was a special place. And it really is a special place. But as a little kid, it was just a lot of different places that I could play and hide and do that. But, you know, living here you didn’t have neighbors, you don’t have Jehovah’s witnesses on the door. I had to walk up to the street to get the newspaper and get the mail and, you know, those kinds of things. It was kind of – it was different than the other kids that I played with. There were good things, there were things that I missed – it wasn’t like a neighborhood, because I was living kind of in the woods in the middle of the city. It was different, but I didn’t really know any different, and it was okay – and a lot of fun.
ABF: Do you remember – because your father was Superintendent, and so, in 1951, he moved into the house, and you weren’t around –
DS: I was born in ’53, so that’s right.
ABF: So, do you remember additions being made to the house for your parents – ?
DS: I remember the addition in the ’60s, there was an addition put on, but I think it used to be a dog kennel at one time. They kept dogs in it, and it was a running area for the dogs. They remodeled it, and I don’t know if they did that before he came here or just after, or right in that same period of time. I don’t think anyone really wanted to live there, because it was, it was in the woods and shady and, you know, mossy. And people didn’t want to live in the woods in the city. So, they offered it to him, and he moved in there. It was a small house, it was a kitchen and a few bedrooms and a living room, but, you know, it was fine for us. You know, I didn’t know at the time, but it turned out to be a great place. There was another addition put on in the ’60s some time. They added a bedroom – two bedrooms – and another bathroom, and expanded it a little bit.
ABF: Did you have siblings?
DS: Did I have – ?
DS: I had a younger sister. She’s three years younger. She got one of the new bedrooms when they remodeled the house, and I got one of the old bedrooms and my parents had their own room there. So, it was nice when they did that. I don’t think there was air conditioning still. It was whole-house fan, and in the woods it was pretty cool anyway. I don’t think I could do that today, but then I didn’t know any different. A lot of people had whole-house fans in the ’50s and ’60s. And somehow they stayed cool – I don’t know how they did, but I couldn’t do it now. So [laughing]. There was kind of like a gravel driveway that came down here, not where the driveway is now, and it was kind of like a dump back here where they just threw all the garbage, and all the, you know – just kind of buried it and left it there. There were no dumpsters then, there was no – they just kind of threw stuff there. And it was kind of near our house, and there were big piles of leaves back there, and the guys would cut wood in the winter back there, chop up wood for, I guess for something to do. There’s not much to do in the cold days here. I’d go hang around with them a lot, you know, and watch them chop wood. Or sometimes in the winter they would scrub the clay pots and clean those all up, and underneath the greenhouse there was a little place that was warm that they’d hang out in, in the winter, and do a little stuff just to keep busy. And I hung around with the crew quite a bit, probably more than they wanted me to, but they never let me think that I wasn’t welcome to come around, and I made friends with some of the people, and it was nice. This Fellows’ Building used to – I guess it still does have people to come down here and study work, and they live here for a period of time: six months or, you know, a season or something. And I didn’t become friends with many of those people, but there was a crew of cooks that cooked for them back then. And one of them was named – her name was Rosa, and she was a great, great lady. I used to come up to visit every couple – two or three times a week. She used to give me treats. Some of the stuff, I don’t even know what it was – some of it was good, some of it wasn’t so good. But she was always real friendly, and I’d come and talk to her and hang out in the kitchen and probably get in their way too; and I remember her as being a real nice lady. I think my dad went to her funeral when she died. I have no idea when that was, and I don’t remember what happened to her. There used to be a Catholic priest that lived, I don’t know if it was – is there another section right behind this?
ABF: Well, yeah.
DS: He lived in a little apartment right there, and I would go visit him once in a while. Father Dvornik, I think his name was. He was real nice to me, and friendly. And he’d do his rosary or his prayer walks and stuff. And I’d probably go interrupt those and bother him doing that. But he wasn’t nasty to me or anything. He was a really nice man and he was friendly to me and treated me real nice. So, I made a lot of little friends around here, and I guess they put up with me, and I was always in the way and always around at night. And I hung around gardens quite a lot, you know. I’d walk up through and see the different guys: Larry and Donald, and there was a guy named Chuck who worked here. I don’t remember most of their last names, but they always treated me well and, you know, in fact, you could hang out with them as well as hanging out with my dad. It was kind of the same kind of thing.
ABF: So, were you allowed to roam around the gardens?
DS: No one told me I couldn’t, but I did pretty much roam around the gardens. And back in those days, there were no security guards, there wasn’t much of anything, there was maybe a little string of barbed wire on top of the wall on R Street, but there wasn’t much else going on here security-wise. I think there was a guy that might have checked on the pool once or twice a night, or something like that, where people would sneak in and go swimming in the pool. But other than that there wasn’t much security, so you could pretty much come and go as you pleased. And I did – I’d cut through the garden and go to play, or go wherever I was going to go. And so, yeah, I knew my way around here pretty much in the dark, I could do it to get around. You know, as a little kid, my dad would be the one that would close the gardens, especially on the weekend. And it was real low-tech. I mean he’d go down on the fence at the Dumbarton Oaks Park, and he’d just start hollering, “It’s closing time now,” and you kind of herd people back up the hill. And I mean, that was it, you know. And it’s five people trying to hide, and you’d chase them out. And I’d be with him most of the time doing that. I thought he was real important ’cause he was the one closing the gardens, you know, as a little kid.
ABF: He was important.
DS: Well, you know, he was my dad, he was running everybody out. I thought that was kind of neat. People obeyed him, you know. And he was just closing. So, it was kind of neat to be around for that. And I used to sneak into the different fountains. People would throw pennies and stuff in them. I was a little kid, and my arm was just long enough to reach the pennies that were kind of close to the wall. I’d get my arm wet and my shirt would be wet, and that would give away that I’d been in the pool. So, I’d say, “Un-uh, I didn’t get any. I wasn’t in the pools,” but my shirt sleeve was wet, so they’d catch me all the time. And I’d try to get it rolled up but – and then I’d get a stick and try to get the pennies over to me as a little kid. So, that was kind of neat. I don’t know – it’s just a different life to live here. But I didn’t know any different, you know. I didn’t really have – I had a few childhood friends around here that I met. You know, D.C. at the time was – I went to D.C. public schools around the time of integrating the schools and bussing kids from different parts of the city. And then 2:30 or 3:00 o’clock, they’d get back on the bus and go home, and I’d never see them. I wouldn’t play with them in the afternoon, I wouldn’t play with them on the weekends, and there was no interaction, pretty much – you know, like birthday parties, or something like that. There was none of that. So I never really had any school friends, until I got to kind of like – well, I had a few, but not a lot. A lot of the kids who lived around here went to private schools, or they were – you know, I didn’t have much interaction with them until I got to junior high and high school, when I made a few friends there. And some of the people did live in this area, they lived in Burleigh, or Glover Park, right around here. So, I made some friends there, and they lived in regular houses, and I lived in this secluded place in the woods. So, it was kind of different. Although it wasn’t bad, it was just different. You know, I didn’t say, “Well, they have this, and I don’t have that.” It was just where I was and that’s where they were. It was pretty much okay.
ABF: But then you got to show them the gardens.
DS: Well, young kids don’t care that much about that. But, you know, my dad – there were a few relatives who lived in this area. My dad is from Maine, and he moved down here when he got out of college, and then they had me a couple of years later. And then my mom moved down here. She really didn’t want to come down here, I understand, because she’s from a small town, and this is a big city – and traffic, and buses, well, streetcars and busses at the time – and she was from a small town, and that’s what she liked. But she finally got used to it, with the museums and the canal and Great Falls and all the wonderful things in D.C., she kind of liked it down here. You know, they took me to all those places, and it was pretty nice. But we did have a few relatives around here, and they would come and visit on the weekends, and sometimes they would bring their kids. And my dad would always take them for a tour of the gardens – every time someone came over: tour of the gardens. He was very proud of Dumbarton Oaks; he was very proud of the way it looked, and he had a lot of history that he could tell about the different pools, the garden, the tennis courts that turned into the – it’s called the rock garden, up there. And I got to watch the guys build that, and they put it together and they pulled it all out and they put it together again, and the old guys put the rocks in, in the different colors, and made the sheath of wheat and all the other little things. So, I got to watch those guys. It’s kind of neat to watch that. And they rebuilt the pool around where the ironwood trees are. I don’t know what you call it, over there – you know, where the trees ring around, with the pond in the middle.
CW: The Ellipse.
DS: The Ellipse area, yeah. They rebuilt that a couple of times, and it was neat to watch all of that stuff. One of the – I guess it was a traumatic day, in ’63. I was going to Jackson Elementary School, which is kind of like over on R Street, right across from Montrose Park. And President Kennedy got shot. And we, just coincidentally, had a half-day of school that day. And I came back from school, and they were just building the museum up here. It was just a mudhole up there, with some two-footers. And my dad and a few other guys were standing up there. And I came up and told them the president had been shot, and they couldn’t believe what I was telling them. And the whole day was kind of like September 11, the day that just kind of stopped. It just kind of stopped that day too. Everybody kind of scurried to see if I was making up some – how could you make that up, you know? And they checked it out, and then, you know, everybody got real sad, and it was just a kind of traumatic day, a little bit, when something like that happens. At the time, I was going on ten years old, and I wasn’t real sure who was the bad guy, who was the good guy, what people had done. I couldn’t understand that stuff – people shooting a president, how could you do that? And it was just a huge mudhole – there was no museum yet – there were big holes, and I liked looking down the holes, and all that stuff. But I just kind of remember, it was one of those kinds of days.
ABF: Do you remember when the museum was finished, and the opening?
DS: You know, we weren’t, I wasn’t involved in that. I don’t really remember that. I remember going through it a lot and seeing the neat stuff in there. But I couldn’t really figure out what Pre-Columbian and Aztec stuff was. I didn’t really know what that was until I’d gone to junior high and high school, and found out really what it was, and Byzantine stuff, and found out really what that meant. And by that time I was ready to move out and be on my way, you know. But it was a neat place, it really was a neat place. When I first was kind of getting to know people, the Blisses were here. I don’t remember Mr. Bliss, but Mrs. Bliss was here, and she used to have her limousines sit up in front of where the thing was – I guess it’s where the museum is now. I don’t remember. It was exactly before they built the library and museum. But she used to be there, and I made good friends with her limo guy. She only lived about six blocks away, on 28th Street, I think it is. But I made good friends with him, and then she’d come out and she’d pat me on the head or something. And she knew who I was, kind of, but, you know, there wasn’t really a lot of interaction with her. But I think my dad liked her, and they got along real well. But I was kind of young then, when she was around here. You know, I always thought it was kind of neat, that they buried her and Mr. Bliss in the gardens – always thought that was kind of – once again, something was different, they weren’t buried in a cemetery or something but it was on their estate; her and George Washington were the only ones I know buried on their property, you know?
DS: So that’s kind of –
ABF: Do you have a lot of memories of seeing Mrs. Bliss around in the gardens?
DS: She was kind of an older lady when I did that, so – she liked going to the Rose Garden, I remember seeing her there – but my dad didn’t want me to bother her too much, or my sister and I to bother her too much. Probably we weren’t supposed to be running around the gardens like we usually were, when she was – she’d walk through after hours, after they’d closed it around 4 or 5 o’clock, and we kind of got scared, and I guess he didn’t want to get in trouble either [laughing], so he kind of kept us away from there. She was an older lady then, but she was nice to us.
CW: Do you remember, did she throw Christmas parties at all?
DS: No, not that I know of. I don’t think so. There were a lot of things that were going on here, that as employees – that, you know, they didn’t allow employees to come to. There were a lot of concerts that were done. And my dad would take flowers over and set it up. And at Christmas, I guess they had Christmas parties, and would decorate the Music Room with a lot of flowers, poinsettias, and all that stuff. Maybe as a kid I wasn’t invited to go, but I don’t remember him going to much either. It’s like the swimming pool: we weren’t allowed to use the swimming pool, as a young kid. And then they changed those rules after awhile. I think, I don’t know if a lot of people weren’t using it, or what was going on, but they changed the rules after a while and then they allowed employees to use it too. But most employees, when you got off work, you kind of went home, you didn’t stay here and use the pool; but we lived here, so we did use it quite a bit after that. But, you know, my dad would close the gardens and we would see these people that have, you know, a towel and flip flops and they’d have the little bags of carrots and shaker martinis and they were going to go up and have a nice time at the pool, and we said, “How come we can’t go there,” you know, and he said, “That’s just the rules, that’s what the rules are.” So, we never went in the pool until they changed the rules. And by then, once I had it, I didn’t want to use it too much anyway, at that point; I was off doing other things. But it’s a really nice, quiet pool, you know. I don’t know if you guys – do you go up there?
CW and ABF: Yeah, mmhmm.
DS: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to jump off the top [laughing]. But I never got to do that. Well, could be bad if you didn’t jump out far enough. But I think a lot of people have done that stuff. People who snuck in used to do that stuff, and they would throw furniture in the pool and stuff like that, so – folks like that. You can’t get away with that now.
CW: So, there weren’t – I guess not many of the Fellows who came here had children, who you would have known, right?
DS: Nope. There were usually, pretty much, single people that came here. And I didn’t really have much interaction with them. I think there were some people called Ševčenko. Do you know that name? My sister babysat for them. Were they Fellows or were they – did they work? I don’t really know what they did, but they were pretty good friends. My sister babysat for them quite a bit, so she had a pretty good interaction with them.
ABF: Did they live in the building that is now security?
DS: Uh-huh. At the end of the corner? That was a duplex. Matt Kearney lived on one side, and somebody else lived on the other side. And it probably was them. My sister babysat for them quite a bit. And Matt Kearney was my dad’s boss for a number of years. Matt was the superintendent, and my dad was the assistant. And he was always real nice to me too. He had a dog named Ringer, that was a beagle. The dog used to lay – the backyard used to be the top of – there used to be a tool shed down there – I don’t know if that’s there – I guess it’s still there. It’s a little tunnel you walk through and to the right there used to be a little – there’s a skylight on top of it, and the dog used to lay on top of the skylight. And it broke through one day, and the dog was – they had to put him to sleep after that. He broke both legs, or his back or something. And I went up and told Matt. I had walked through and heard the dog whimpering in there, and he came down and he was crying, he was so upset that his dog had fallen. It was probably a fifteen-foot drop. And then they buried him. It’s a little animal cemetery, I don’t know if you’ve seen it. They buried him in there. I used to go in there and look at all the – I think we had a dog that got buried there, and Matt buried his dog, and my mom had parakeets, so she buried her parakeets there. Just a little pet cemetery.
CW: Down in the Hollow?
DS: It’s down – they used to have orchids. Yeah, it’s in the Hollow, kind of, maybe about a hundred yards east of the house, maybe, where it starts to come back up towards the greenhouse. Just kind of below – if you look at the greenhouse, just kind of to the left, down the hill, maybe fifty yards from the fence. I don’t know if it’s maybe overgrown now – but, yeah.
ABF: So, who were your parents’ closest friends of the people who worked here?
DS: I don’t know of anybody. It’s pretty cramped here. You know, a lot of people came and went. The directors kind of came, and they only stayed a few years – three, four, five years, some of them, maybe longer. I think Mr. Thacher stayed quite a while. But some of the others came and went, and we didn’t really have much interaction with them. They may have, but it doesn’t seem like they were ever really social with any of them. And the rest of the Fellows came and went. And the employees kind of went home; a lot of them lived in Virginia, so they weren’t around here at night or weekends. They went home. We had some friends in the neighborhood. My dad was a Mason, so he had Mason friends through the Masonic lodge. And so, I guess some of those people came around, and they got the tour, you know. They came over on the weekend. And some of them had kids, and we’d hang out with them. Some of them – we still talk to a few of those people, but not too many people that were associated with Dumbarton Oaks, that I remember. There may have been, but I don’t remember them hanging out with anybody from here too much.
CW: Do you remember any big projects in the garden, besides building the Pre-Columbian Museum?
DS: The Pre-Columbian, and then when they built the rock garden. I think Ms. What’s-Her-Name [Ruth Havey], she was involved in that quite a bit, picking the stones. I think the stones came from Mexico or somewhere. They put them in, and she didn’t like them, they took them out, and they put them in and put them in sand, and the rocks were still on the edge. And they made these pretty designs, and she would go up by the pool and look down and she didn’t like it, so they took it out. They built another thing, and she didn’t like it, so they’d take it out. Finally, she found something she liked, and then it rained one day on the stones, and the color came out of the stones. And I warned her they were wet, and she said, “We’ve got to keep them wet.” So they built it as an inch deep of water – half-an-inch deep of water on the stones all the time to keep the color. So, they had to tear it all out and put the sprinkler lines in there to keep water in it. Of course it leaked –
ABF: So, that didn’t work, right? Because then it cracked –
DS: Yeah, it cracked, and the water leaked out, but it was pretty neat when it first happened. I mean, there were articles and pictures of it. Then they put some fountains at the end and those icicle things. I don’t know if this counts, but there was an old guy who used to be the sculptor here. He did like some of the lead stuff, and there were a lot of lead, little turtles and rabbits and stuff like that around here. I guess some of the little bowls of fruit that are around, and different statues. He’d make those. They’d make them out of putty first, I guess that’s what you do. I’d go into this little place – Mr. Coles was his name, I think. I used to hang out with him. I was like five or six years old, and I’d watch him do his little thing. I was probably a pest again for these guys, but they never made me feel like that. And I watch them make these different things, and I didn’t realize they ended up being the stuff that was in the gardens – that’s pretty cool. Some of that lead work was – you don’t see that too much. And he was a real nice man too. You know, you lose track of where people went, and that’s been a long time too. But he was a nice guy. So I was made to feel pretty welcome around here, you know. My dad started out as just a gardener, and then became assistant and then superintendent. It was pretty neat. He tells a lot of stories walking through here; and when we’d walk through, if he missed something, I’d say, “Well. remember this part, Dad? Because you told us before – ” and then he’d say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and he’d tell another part of the story, or whatever it was: the different borders when they tear them out, or the – I don’t know what other projects. They redid the Ellipse one time. And then one time they took the whole Forsythia Hill, and they chopped it almost down to the ground one year. Everybody was up in arms because there weren’t going to be any blooms and everything was going to die. And what it really did, it pruned everything and everything came back in places nice, and twice as full. But you just had to wait a year or so for it. I remember when that happened – everybody was in an uproar. You know, they cut all those bushes down, like a foot tall. Probably what they needed to do years ago, but just hadn’t. So, that was a big deal. And they used to haul all the leaves from Dumbarton Oaks. They’d get it in burlap bags, and they’d put it on the one truck they had, then they’d bring it all over here and dump it. So, these huge leaf piles I could play in, and do stuff, you know – and there was one that became a leaf mold. You know, it had been rained on for a year or so. We used to get worms out of there and go fishing, out of the leaves that were rotten. And, the fresh leaves, we could play in those leaves over there. So, it was kind of a little play area over there. And my dad built a rope swing. And we could climb up on the hill that was actually garbage [laughing] and if we’d climb up on it, we could swing out – but we didn’t know, at the time, that that’s what that was. Of course, they stopped that here not long after, you know, with dumpsters and incinerators and stuff like that. I think there was an incinerator over there for a while, and they’d burn a lot of stuff. But for a long time they just dumped it. I guess back then, you know, you have trash-trash and then you have garbage-trash, and you’d have to bring the garbage up to – there was a little, like an in-ground trash can. And you’d just throw your garbage in there, and the garbage guy would come and get just, you know, like the organic kind of stuff and the real garbage-garbage: eggshells and grease and all that. You’d put it in there, and he’d just come by and pick it up. So, you’d have to bring that up here and dump it here, and the other trash over there. And that’s a good decent – more than garbage disposals and dishwashers and stuff like that, so. That’s the stuff I kind of remember about that. You know, you couldn’t just go to the front door to get your mail. You had to get dressed and put a coat on and come all the way up to the street to get the mail or get the newspaper or whatever. And maybe it hadn’t been shuffled yet or a rain came in, and I didn’t want to do that: “I’ll do it later.” [laughing] You know, as a kid, but it’s okay.
CW: Did you move out of here after high school?
DS: I moved out after high school. I moved to Montgomery County, and lived out there after that. I’m still out in the Silver Spring area. We have a house out there now. So, I wasn’t around too much then. I was kind of living my life, and they were getting to the end of their time. They retired in, I guess, the early ’90s. They retired around ’90 or something and they moved back. And they’re really happy being back there, but my dad was just so proud of the gardens and all the stuff that went on. I’m sure there were a lot of politics I didn’t know was going on, but, you know, he seemed to be real happy here and he was so proud of all the different gardens and, you know, the different things that happened. You know, they have events here and put up tents and do all that stuff. And, you know, he was – my sister held a resentment for a lot of years, because on Christmas morning, before we could open our presents, my dad had to go up and water the Greenhouse and water the orchids up there. And then when he came home, then we could open our presents. So, she was kind of mad about that, that she had to wait all that time for him to come home before we could open our Christmas presents on Christmas morning. Of course, we’d been up since four am anyway, and by the time he went up and did that at seven or eight o’clock – you know, she had issues about that, but I guess she’s alright now.
ABF: He would water them after you – ?
DS: No, no, no before. He would have to go up before, and it just seemed like it took hours and hours and hours – it took like twenty minutes or something. He did that and he was religious about going up there on the weekends, he was up there all the time. And I’d go with him most of the times when he went to do that – close the gardens – and see what was going on. You know, they were so beautiful, and the chrysanthemums in the fall and the tulips and all that stuff in the spring. You know, this used to all be an orchard out here, from the Boys Club fence out to pretty much almost to the building was an apple orchard. So, they were blooming all the time, and, you know, I used to be up in here. And the Boys Club was real active then, and some of the bigger kids would be able to hit home runs into the orchard, and they wouldn’t come get their balls, so I’d collect all the hard balls they hit over the fence and never came over here. They really thought they weren’t allowed to come over here. I don’t know. But I got the balls and took them home. I never did anything with them, but I got the balls and took them home. You know, it was a gravel road that came down here, a gravel driveway. And I remember when they paved over the driveway – the first time it was over asphalt on the driveway. And it’s not even in the same place it is now. And the guy who was steamrolling was up there. And I was a little kid, and my dad took me up. And the guy was going to roll it out and had just put it out, and it was still steaming, and you know how tar smells. I wanted it to be smooth enough so I could ride my skateboard down this driveway. So, my dad took me up there and asked the guy – made me tell the guy how scared I was – a great big guy and cigars. I said, “Well, if you could make this smooth enough that I can ride my skateboard, mister.” [laughing] He said, “Well, how smooth?” and made me go into this long conversation. He just did it. Of course, I cracked my head a number of times riding up and down this little pathway and hitting curbs and stuff. And skateboards then are nothing like skateboards are now. They weren’t much more than skates nailed onto a board. But that’s the first time that the asphalt driveway was through here; and most of the other paths are cobblestone through Dumbarton Oaks, so that was kind of a neat thing. A lot of the big different trees that fell down: there was a big beech tree in the middle of the circle by the front of the greenhouse. I don’t know what’s in there – probably nothing in there. There was a big tree there. My dad knew a motorcycle cop, and he’d come in and, you know, I guess he patrolled around here. There used to be precincts back then, not districts – police districts – there were precincts, little areas. And he’d come in and see my dad and see the greenhouse guys. And he had a motorcycle with a sidecar. He let me take a ride around in a circle, and on the motorcycle, he raised me up in the air and the sidecar went up – and I was never so scared in my life, as when he did that. [laughing] One time around, I got out and I was crying. [laughing] It was pretty dramatic, that was. [laughing] I don’t want to do that again, but it was pretty, pretty neat. And there were a lot of greenhouse guys, and I’d go in and talk to them, and they were all real nice people. I would watch them pot plants. They did a lot of that then, and they put a lot of plants in the museums and stuff. I don’t know if they still do that now, but they probably do some. The orangery – they had events in there, I think, and they put all the tubs outside and made them look real nice. So, it was pretty neat. My dad used to try to keep goldfish in – there’s a little pond. There’s a fountain garden, and then there’s a little – you call it the herb garden or something there. I don’t know. There’s a small pond with a face up against the wall. My dad used to try to keep goldfish in there, and he tried, and tried, and tried. Raccoons would get in and eat the goldfish, and there would be dead goldfish on the – and I used to cry because the goldfish were dead when I was a little kid. But he’d keep trying, and then he finally gave up. He couldn’t keep ahead of the raccoons. I guess that’s it, anyway. So, there’s all kinds of little stuff going on, you know. I can’t remember the name of the reflecting pool up here, up by the bamboo, where they used to have concerts.
ABF: The Lovers’ Lane.
DS: Right, right, in that pool. The benches were made out of just – they were built-in benches. And they’d have concerts up there. And once in a while he’d take me up there, but I wasn’t interested in classical music concerts, and that’s pretty much what there was here – you know, violin solos and stuff like that that. I could care less as a little kid about that; but it was kind of neat to see how fancy it looked and everybody dressed up. It was just kind of neat. I’d just kind of look over the hill and look down and see that going on.
ABF: Do people just kind of sit on the rocks there?
DS: They sat on the rocks. There was, I guess, rock benches or brick or something. They’d sit up there and the musicians would be down in the – there was an empty pool. They’d be down in there, and I guess they had some lights up or something.
CW: The musicians sat –
DS: They were at the bottom, they were in the pool themselves. People would look down – a real mini amphitheater kind of thing, no covered thing, so, but all neat stuff. Lovers’ Lane was where – I would sled down in there, and Montrose Park, I kind of grew up around there. There were a lot of people around here. You know, across – John Warner used to own that house, he was married to Elizabeth Taylor.
ABF: Did you ever see them?
DS: I saw them coming and going. But one time, she decided she wanted the shutters painted. And she didn’t know what color she wanted it painted. So, every one of those shutters – and there’s probably thirty shutters on those windows over there – every one was a different color for a couple weeks. She’d go out and stand and look and decide what she wanted. [laughing] She picked out one she wanted, and they’d paint it a color; she didn’t want it, and they’d come back and repaint everything again. But I saw her, a few times, and, you know, as a little kid, I just waved; and she maybe waved back or she maybe would just get in her limo and go. When Kennedy was a senator – Jacqueline – Jackie Kennedy would bring Caroline to Montrose Park to play. I think she’s probably fifty or so now, so she’s three or four years younger than I was. I couldn’t – I didn’t know who those guys were, these Secret Service guys – see there were, because he was a candidate for President then and they lived down here in Georgetown and would come up to the park. I guess she was too young to play with my group of kids, but I’d go up to the Secret Service guys, and, about every ten minutes, I’d ask them what time it is, because he had a gun and he had a little clock in the handle. He’d pull his gun out, look at the handle and tell me what time it was. So, I’d pester the guy to death to find out what time it is because I wanted to see him pull out his gun, you know. And they didn’t have all this talking to your sleeve, then. They had walkie talkies, and stuff; but it was kind of something different, you know? And all the history that went on after that – you know, all the stuff with the Kennedys. And I was in the park playing with them – being around them, at least, not really playing with them. But it’s just another story to tell from being around here, around Dumbarton Oaks. Even now, I work a lot in this area. I used to work for a caterer for a while, and when I’d go to different places and I’d tell people – you know, we’d get in conversations and, “How long have you been in this area?” Because a lot of people come and go. “Oh, we’ve been here thirty years, blah, blah, blah.” And I’d say, “Well, I grew up in Georgetown.” I’d tell them where I grew up and they’d say, “Dumbarton Oaks, oh that’s a fantastic place. We love that place. We go there all the time” It really breaks the ice and it’s just another connection. It’s pretty cool to be able to say – and I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s pretty cool to have grown up here and lived here and, you know, gone through that period of time here. It was really neat, looking back on it. It’s just where I lived, you know, that was my house; but it was good, and I’m proud to have been a part of it, whatever my part was. I can’t remember any bad times here. It was all pretty good stuff.
ABF: Do you remember any other story you would like to tell? Or your dad’s favorite story – ?
DS: Well, I don’t know, I used to follow him around a lot. And this used to be – this whole area here used to be just kind of – they put some trees in. If the tree died, they would dig one out of here and put it over there. There really wasn’t much going on in this little area. There were a lot of rabbits out here and stuff. My dad had – he made a mailbox, just a box with a hinge, and he painted it green; and that was our mailbox. And so, he got a new one, one day, and he was going to throw the old one out. And I’d been watching cartoons and stuff on TV, and I was going to catch rabbits. I took the mailbox and I put leaves and stuff over it and stuck a stick under the lid; and my mom gave me some carrots, and I got this rope and went out behind some lilac trees and curled up in a ball, and I’m watching this thing for hours and hours and hour. [laughing] I’m going to catch a rabbit. I just laid there on the ground [laughing] with this rope and when I pulled the stick, I was going to catch a rabbit in the box. I probably spent two days doing that. No rabbits ever came. I don’t know what I was going to do with it when I caught it, but I was going to catch a rabbit; and, you know, they’re all around, but, it was kind of little things like that we did. My parents had friends over and they had kids and we’d play all around here. It was just a real nice place. Now it’s just – if I’d known then how wonderful it was here, well, I’d still be the same kid, probably, so – [laughing] Kids are kids, and you only appreciate so much, but it was pretty neat to live here. I don’t know, my dad did a lot of stuff around here, and I’m real proud of him, and we always go up and look at the little plaque they’ve got up that’s got his name on it; and he’s so proud of Dumbarton Oaks and the gardens, and how well they looked then, and to know that he had a part in that stuff. He’s having a wonderful retirement; he’s healthy now – both my mom and my dad are healthy now. They’ve moved from here, but they like to get the news and see what’s going on here. Sometimes I come by and take a few pictures once in a while, and send it up to then, especially when they were doing all the building a few years ago. They’re pretty interested, and times change and move on, and other people come in and, it’s just a different time now. You know, my dad has stories about different trees, and there are some old pictures of him standing next to a tree about this big he just planted, and now the thing’s huge and a hundred feet tall and stuff; and he’s got stories about all this stuff, and, you know, I’ve heard them over and over and over again. The orangery, up here, where the fig tree is, there’s a story about when they redid the – I think all the wood was rotten in the ceiling of that. They had to redo that and build all this scaffolding and tied the fig trees to the scaffolding, and then they built a tent or something to keep water away – whatever it was, they rebuilt all the frame of that room. And that was a big drama one summer when all of that happened. I remember him talking about that a lot: “They should do this, but they’re doing that.” You know, everybody’s got an opinion about stuff; and, I don’t know, just that kind of stuff was going on. I heard about a lot of the good stuff, and, like I said, I wasn’t really involved in any of the politics. I don’t really remember him not liking somebody or not being able to work with somebody. He never came home, you know, frustrated about a person or something here – any of the directors or any of those people. He seemed to get along with most of them, and they came and went, and, it seemed like it was okay. Good?
ABF: I think, yeah, this was great. It was so fun to hear about it.
CW: It’s such a great perspective on it.
ABF: Yeah, there’s nobody else who, you know, grew up here – tied to the place like that. It’s really special.
DS: Yeah, well you can talk to my sister. She’ll give you her perspective. You said you might call her or something.
CW: Yeah. She’s in the area also?
DS: She’s in Maine.
CW: Oh, Maine. Well, then Gail might go up to interview.
ABF: Yeah, Gail Griffin will do that. She’s looking for a time to do that.
DS: Well I hope she does it. Everybody has their own take on it.
ABF: Yeah, now hearing about it from you, it makes sense. I think that’s really wonderful. We’ll have to warn your dad, too.
DS: Yeah, he’s got funny stories.
CW: Thanks so much. It was a pleasure.
DS: Thank you, thank you.
ABF: Thank you so much.
CW: Thanks so much. It was a pleasure.
ABF: Bye, it was really nice to meet you.