Paul Friday: Memories of Snow on W Street & “Suicide Hill”



February this year has brought a series of small snow falls and old-time memories of my boyhood in Glover Park.

Of course, it used to snow a lot more in earlier times than it does in our warming climate now. In the early 1950s, for many years, D.C. police would come on heavy snow days and close off the 3800 block of W street at the intersections of 38th Street and 39th Street, using wooden blockades and flickering red-lensed kerosene lamps. The police left a gap in the blockade on the south side of W at 39th. I’ll tell you in a minute what that was for.

On deep snow days, kids came from all over the neighborhood. It was a safe place to sleigh—riding down the middle of W, in an era before streets were salted, on their old-fashioned wooden sleds with metal runners. I don’t know if the city did this in other D.C. locations, but this was on my block of W—unbelievable luck! And can you imag­ine the city providing this service to kids today? I wonder who thought up this wonderful idea?

Forty yards south of 39th and W, southbound 39th dead-ends at the Glover-Archbald Park—an open field where we used to enjoy playing baseball in the summers (but now has been repurposed for “visiting” dogs). There is a hill descending from the park, to the right of the steps, where we would sled down onto 39th, then turn right, through the blockade gap, to continue down the W Street hill—racing each other to the bottom. Although the starting-place hill is only about ten feet high, we kids called it “Suicide Hill”!

The city also brought a 50-gallon drum, and a supply of wood to build a warming fire at the center of the 39th and W intersection. This became a gathering spot for Glover Parkers on snowy winter days, warming around the barrel fire, watching their children on their sleighs. I owned a camera as a kid, but didn’t imagine this delight would ever end—so I didn’t think to document it.

I dreamed of sleighing down the street with my pre-teen girl­friend, holding her close (can you imagine the thrill of that?), but sadly she never agreed.

One more memory: My father bought me a new sled. Presents like this, of this value, were rare in those days. On my first trip down Suicide Hill, a car suddenly emerged from the alley. I rolled off my sled to stop myself short of the car’s path, but my sled continued and was crushed by the wheels of the car. My dad tried to straighten out the sled’s runners, but thereafter my brand-new sled, now twisted, was the slowest one in Glover Park! My dad might have been a little disap­pointed that his then-expensive gift to me saw only a single pristine run down the hill.

My sister Shirley reports that we would ride the sled on our stom­achs, head first, and on the way down kids used to run alongside and pile (i.e. jump) on top of you four deep. Steering the sled was partially controlled by dragging your feet, something less than reliable. The pile-on once accelerated the sled head-on into the bumper of a parked car. Shirley reports that all survived.

Of course, we knew piling four-deep on a sled would be unstable. Could it have been that laughing, mingled bodies, spilled in the snow, of alternating girl-boy layers, was a motivation?

Each time I see the Dutch painting of winter ice skaters I am nos­talgic for the bygone Glover Park winters of old—a faded, but sweet, memory, now seemingly as distant as the Dutch ice skaters of 1608.


(Paul Friday, Glover Park Gazette, March 2021)