Ellen McDowell Keyes: A Glover Park Childhood in the Twenties


Ellen McDowell Keyes was born in 1920, and lived on Hall Place until she was nine. Her reminiscences were originally published in the Glover Park Gazette, September-October, 2003.


When I was a girl milk was delivered right to your door. In winter it would freeze in the bottle, and the cream would expand out of the top, which had a paper cap. A truck from the Jewel Tea Company brought tea, cakes, cookies, sweet buns, and pies. There was also a laundry man, a honey man, and a scissors grinder who had a monkey with him that wore a little red cap. The vegetable man had a horse and wagon. (One time, when he wasn’t looking, I bit into a red pepper, not knowing what it was, but thinking it might be good, and burned my mouth!) People on Hall Place got their eggs from Mr. Fuchs, our neighbor who kept chickens.

People kept food in an icebox cooled with a block of ice, and they would put a little sign in their window to tell the ice man when they needed more. The ice man had a horse and wagon, and when it was hot the children would follow him down the street, to suck on the ice chips that flew off when he cut ice blocks to carry into the houses. That was good, but even better was when our neighbor bought a large piece of ice, scraped it to make snowballs, and served them to us with different flavors poured on top.

There were stores, too. Sometimes our neighbor, Mr. Bailey, would walk us up to Pearson’s Drug Store for Wilber Bars and ice cream, or the newest thing, which was sherbet. At Dacey’s Deli, we bought one-cent Tootsie Rolls, or mints: if you got a pink mint you got a prize. At the Piggly-Wiggly store, there were punch-cards: if you were lucky you could win a red wagon.

We played in the street. My friend Irene Sachs and I, and the other kids we knew, played jump rope (single and double dutch), dodge ball, and Mother-May-I. The gas lamp post in front of my house was “home” when we played Hide-And-Go-Seek. [Ellen’s house, with the streetlight directly in front of it, was originally numbered 2525, and probably corresponds to the present 2237 Hall Place.]

Hopscotch (both regular and “snail”) was played with markers that were smooth flat rocks that we had collected in the woods between Hall Place and Tunlaw Road (where we also had a cable swing). On very hot days we walked down to the swimming pool in Georgetown. To be taken to Glen Echo Amusement Park on the trolley was a particular treat.

I recently talked with a playmate of mine from those long ago days, and he still remembered that once we were playing marbles, and he got hold of my favorite aggie, and never gave it back. Although we valued those marbles highly, I have been told that some people in Glover Park still turn them up in their yards, and in the park, so maybe we lost a couple here and there.

When it rained, or was too hot to play in the street, we played on the porch, or in the house, with paper dolls cut from catalogs and magazines. We played all sorts of card games, checkers, dominos, as well as Jacks, Tiddlywinks, Pick Up Sticks, and Parcheesi.

One neighbor had a porch swing, and we would sing “In a Little Spanish Town” keeping time to the song. My friend Irene Sachs’s family had one of the newest radios, one that didn’t require head phones! I remember listening to Kate Smith, and to Ruth Etting (my mother knew her). Or we cranked the Victrola, and listened to Enrico Caruso, or Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland”, or “Yes, We Have No Bananas”. Our older sisters, wearing short, fancy “flapper” dresses, would dance the Charleston.

There were sometimes band concerts up at Mt. Alto Veterans Hospital (where the Russian Embassy is now) for men wounded in the first World War. They also showed movies there, which were silent, and sometimes scary. I remember Rin Tin Tin, and “Wings” with Clara Bow. The kids from the Industrial Home School were allowed to go to these movies, too, but the boys who had been bad had to wear dresses as punishment when they walked up Wisconsin Avenue. I also remember that there were some cherry trees on the hospital grounds, and when those cherries got ripe, they tasted so good!

The grounds of the Naval Observatory were also open to the public in those days, and at Easter children were invited to roll Easter Eggs there. I wore a hat tied under my chin, a pongee dress, and patent leather shoes. My grandmother in Pennsylvania always sent all four of us McDowell children big chocolate Easter eggs with our names on each one.

When something important happened in the world, like Lindbergh’s flight, or the Dempsey-Tunney fight, our parents read all about in extra editions, sold by a boy shouting “Extra paper, read all about it!” on Hall Place, in the middle of the night! For us children, the funny papers were our favorite thing about Sundays. In August, when acorns started to fall, we stuck twigs in them and made little pipes out of them, to look like Popeye.

On my way to school I had to pass Holy Rood Cemetery. Sometimes the entranceway was icy, and I was afraid to cross it. But when it snowed, we liked riding our sleighs down Tunlaw Road. Mostly this was good fun, but one time Irene Sach’s sister got a concussion, and with her head wrapped in white gauze, she looked just like a mummy.

My favorite Christmas was the one when I got roller skates. I practiced staying upright on them by skating from one tree to another on the west side of Hall Place.




Carlton Fletcher

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The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.