Yesterday was Maryland’s primary election. It was held in June rather than September, somewhat earlier in the year than we’re used to; despite some heated campaign rhetoric and an astonishingly large amount of pre-election mail – seemingly indicative of an exciting race and interested voters – it was greeted with low turnout. When I rolled up to the polls in the morning, the electronic voting system wasn’t working; the beleaguered election judges had to instruct me, and the other two (!) people there, on using the provisional – a.k.a. paper – ballots. (And they did a great job; all respect to election judges!)

I enjoy voting in all its forms, but there’s something unsatisfying about simply filling in a little circle with a golf pencil. We have a variety of election and voting materials in the collections here, and when I got in to work I pulled up the catalog record for this fine item: A stack of paper ballots from the Montgomery County Democratic Primary of May 6, 1940.

stack o' ballots

The ballots measure 5″ x 3″ when folded (the stack is 2″ tall) and they’re printed with “Democratic Primary – Official Ballot for Montgomery County Election, May 6th, 1940. [printed signature] Donald Bowie, Jr., President of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Montgomery County.” Each was initialed by the judge, in this case an as-yet unidentified M.R.L.

1940 ballot front

There’s not much to the ballot, option-wise – the only question asked is about the Democratic nomination for the Senate – but the voter indicated his or her choice with a nice definitive X (so satisfying!) before placing the folded ballot into the designated box.  It looks like they were stuck onto a spike during the counting process; at some point this set of ballots was wired together and, deliberately or inadvertently, saved for posterity. Unfortunately this is one of those items donated to us many decades ago, when my earnest volunteer predecessors were, ah, somewhat inconsistent in their recording. I do not know who donated them, or why this particular group of 200-odd ballots are wired together.


The 1940 Maryland primary was in some ways similar to the one that just occurred. There were a few contentious races, with members of the same party sniping at each other about policies and experience. There was also a rather low turnout, with just over half of Maryland’s 800,000 registered voters stepping out to the polls. The Montgomery County House of Representatives Democratic candidate ran unopposed (perhaps that’s why only the Senate appears on the ballot? Queen Anne’s County voters, for example, had more questions to answer that May), and the Senate race was really between Howard Bruce and the incumbent, George L. Radcliffe, with your man Vincent F. Gierttoski a barely-mentioned third. In the month leading up to the election, Bruce argued that Radcliffe was too quiet, “chid[ing] him for making only one speech in the Upper House in five and a half years” (Washington Post, May 7, 1940), and the candidates jostled for endorsements from their Democratic colleagues in the state and national legislature. The Washington Post ended a May 6 article on the “lackadaisical” campaign with this tidbit:

A comical note was struck in Rockville, seat of Montgomery County. When Bruce headquarters put up a large banner reading ‘Democratic Headquarters,’ the Radcliffe followers next door posted a sign reading ‘Democratic Headquarters – Main Entrance.’

In the end, although Montgomery County Democrats gave Bruce a narrow margin here, Radcliffe won the statewide nomination and went on to serve his second term in the Senate. He lost the nomination in 1946, and retired from politics.

Interestingly, the 1940 election may have been the last time Montgomery County voters used these simple paper ballots. A photo series by Marjory Collins, now in the Library of Congress (FSA/OWI collections), shows Olney voters in the 1942 general election; in the picture below, a voter is being shown how to use an automatic voting machine (the actual voting went on behind the curtains at left, don’t worry).



Like all good archival collections, the Sween Library contains some unexpected* finds. Take, for example, our extensive family files. As you gently sort through pages and pages of genealogical charts, you’re likely to come across photographs, letters, and other primary sources tucked in amongst the research.

Prettyman anniversary booklet cover

From the Prettyman family folder, we have for you a hand-made souvenir booklet, prepared on the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of the Prettymans of Rockville. Elijah Barrett Prettyman (1830-1907), then Principal of the Brookeville Academy, married Lydia Forrest Johnston (1832-1917) of Rockville in 1855. Fifty years later, the happy couple was joined in celebration by their six children, three in-laws, seven grandchildren, and two of Lydia’s sisters. The family gathered at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University), where Dr. Prettyman had served as Principal since 1890. Naturally, they commemorated the event with a group portrait:

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad's lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad’s lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

June 6, 1905. Guests of honor Lydia and Elijah Prettyman are seated in the center, with Lydia’s sisters Eulalia Johnston Gardette and Margaret Johnston Badger on either side; Dr. Prettyman is holding granddaughter Martha on his lap. The other six grandkids are in front, and the Prettymans’ six children and three in-laws are in back.

Son-in-law Albert J. Almoney (1858-1939), shown in the back row at left (next to his wife Miriam), put together our little souvenir booklet to commemorate his in-laws’ Golden Anniversary, using cut-out photographs, handwritten verses, and a printed poem.  It measures 5″ x 7″, with a hand-painted cardstock cover, and was originally tied together with a ribbon. Mr. Almoney signed the back – and, as a former publisher of the Montgomery Advocate, he may have had the best access to a printer – but perhaps other family members contributed (or at least commented on) the content: an 1873 photo of the family, including servants, at home in Rockville; portraits of Elijah and Lydia as young adults, and in contemporary form; and a sentimental poem, “Golden Wedding Bells” (which I cannot find online; did the Prettyman children/in-laws write it themselves?).

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)


Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)


Can anyone identify this poem?

Can anyone identify this poem?

This copy was donated to MCHS by the family of Albert and Miriam’s daughter Lydia Almoney Brunett; it’s not clear if this was the only copy, or if Mr. Almoney made one for every member of the party. Perhaps every family contributed something to the celebration, whether tangible or not … or maybe the other kids thought to themselves, “Ugh, Albert! Always hogging all the son-in-law points!” (Well, he was at that time the only son-in-law, but you see what I mean.)

A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo of the Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

The Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

These fifty years of marriage saw Elijah and Lydia through house renovations, job changes, three weddings, the deaths of three grandchildren, and the everyday strife and stresses of raising a family. The Prettymans seem to have been fairly close, with strong ties to the Rockville community even if they weren’t living there at the time, but even families that see each other every day like to make an occasion out of a big wedding anniversary; likely there were other elements to the celebration, which our photo and booklet do not show us. But these two pieces give us a nice little story, all the same.

Prettyman anniversary booklet, back cover

Today’s post is in honor of A Fine Collection’s fifth anniversary, a momentous occasion to which our host, WordPress, kindly alerted me. (Also – although this is a complete coincidence – today is my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary; if you see the Mahaffies, be sure to wish them well.) Happy anniversary to anyone and everyone who’s celebrating a milestone today!

BONUS: Fun fact! DMV residents might recognize the name E. Barrett Prettyman, which adorns a Federal Courthouse near the Judiciary Square Metro stop. (I always notice the name, anyway.)  That building was named for Elijah Barrett Prettyman II (1891-1971), grandson of EB and Lydia Prettyman, son of Rev. Forrest J. and Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman.  Extra-bonus fun fact: Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman was a daughter of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet, whose medical office is one of our museums.  Local history is so much fun!

*That is, we generally know these things are there, but the researcher gets a pleasant surprise.


The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.


June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.



June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.



June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat


June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

2000.03 Ellington


June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.



There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.



Today we have a glass milk bottle, used for home delivery of milk from Bethesda Farm Dairy.


This 9.5″ tall, one quart bottle is clear glass, and was made in a semiautomatic press-and-blow machine.  The process was introduced in the 1890s and used for many decades.  Quart-sized bottles for home delivery were fairly common in the early 20th century, especially as home refrigeration improved (households could keep larger quantities of milk for longer periods).  Though a number of different bottle designs were invented over the years – often as a means for separating the cream from the milk – the round, 9.5″ quart bottle like this one was the standard until the 1930s.  (For a nice, thorough explanation of how to date milk bottles, check out this paper from the Society for Historical Archaeology.)

In this case, the name of the dairy was embossed on the bottle thanks to a circular blank inserted into the mold, which allowed bottle manufacturers to easily make bottles for a number of clients. The plate method of labeling remained the norm for milk bottles until pyroglazing (or painting) came into fashion in the late 1930s. Our bottle here is embossed, “Bethesda Farm Dairy / Bethesda, Md. / M.E. Peake.”  Identified bottles were useful for advertising – and to help modern-day curators with their research – but they also allowed bottles to be returned to the correct dairy for reuse.  Though the manufacturer is unknown, we can easily identify the origins of the contents.

Bethesda Farm Dairy, M.E. Peake

Millard Eldridge Peake, Sr. (1885-1959) lived on Arlington Road, Bethesda.  The 1910 census described him as a “farm manager,” and his 1918 draft card noted he was a self-employed dairy manager. By the early 1920s he was running the Bethesda Dairy Company, as this October 2, 1923 ad (published in the Washington Post) shows:

2014-06-04 09_18_25-Display Ad 39 -- No Title - ProQuest Historical Newspapers_ The Washington Post

In 1926, the Bethesda Farm Dairy (as it was then known) was sued by a man who claimed a bottle falling from a truck had injured his son. In 1927 Peake’s first wife, Margaret Tucker Peake, died.  And in 1928 the dairy was sued again, this time by a bicyclist who was hit by a delivery truck driven by Mr. Peake.  (I haven’t yet figured out whether Mr. Peake won or lost either suit.)  Perhaps these distressing incidents helped lead to the 1930 sale of the dairy to a larger outfit, Chevy Chase Dairy. At any rate, whatever the reasons, Bethesda Farm Dairy did not last very long in the grand scheme of things.

However, though his dairy closed, Mr. Peake stayed involved in the industry. He was frequently described as a “prominent dairyman;” the 1940 census noted his occupation as “dairy representative;” and his World War II draft card tells us that he was employed by Chestnut Farms Dairy of DC.   (Dairying wasn’t his whole life, however: he also served as police constable for Bethesda, 1920-22; was active in the local Democratic and Fusion Parties; and was, at least once, the Metropolitan Division champion horseshoe player.  Check out his memorial for a photo of Peake as a young man.)

The dairy industry was a major part of our economy and culture in the early-mid 20th century, when there were more than 300 dairy farms in the county.  We have a number of milk bottles in our collections, most from the ‘big names,’ the prominent and long-lasting dairies; but it’s important to remember that not all county farms produced milk for Thompson’s or Chestnut Farms Dairies.  Our Bethesda Farm bottle, collected by staff in the 1970s, helps us tell the broader story of the county’s smaller dairies.  (And while we’re telling some of that story online here, the King Barn Dairy MOOseum in Germantown is dedicated to the county’s dairying history; you should check it out.)




Today we have a mahogany tea table from the late 18th century. That covers the material and its function; to expand the description, it is a tripod tilt-top birdcage table, in the Chippendale style, with a single-board top, wrythen-turned vase-shaped stem, cabriole legs, acanthus-leaf knees, and ball-and-claw feet. (It is not, however, a piecrust or dishtop table, as the tabletop has a plain edge.) It measures 27” tall, with a 35” diameter top; though it has no maker’s mark or other identifying features, it was likely American-made. If you’ve toured the Beall-Dawson House at any time since 1970, you’ve seen our table in the Parlor.

The Beall-Dawson parlor or drawing room, 1970; the tea table is at right, between the wing chairs.

The Beall-Dawson parlor or drawing room, 1970; the tea table is at right, between the wing chairs.

This particular form of table was developed in the late 18th century, part of a general move in the western world toward specialty-function furniture to suit leisure activities such as taking tea. Earlier examples are in the Queen Anne style, with later pieces veering into Chippendale. (More examples, and a better explanation, of both styles can be found on the Metropolitan Museum’s website.) Higher-end examples, like ours, boast a tilting top that made it easier to shift furniture out of the way when you needed floor space (this is still a useful feature; you may have spotted our table in flipped-up position during events and holiday displays, for example); even fancier is the addition of a “birdcage” mechanism which, when the wedge is removed, allows the top to rotate.

F0223, tilted


F0223, tilted, reverse

A bit of backstory before going into the particulars of this table’s history: The Bealls and Dawsons, two families related by marriage, lived in the Beall-Dawson House from its construction circa 1815 until the late 1930s. After the family left, the House was rented out to various tenants until the Dawson heirs sold the House to the Davis family in 1946. Mrs. Davis sold the House to the City of Rockville in 1965, and the Historical Society moved in shortly thereafter.

Depending on which 1960s catalog information one reads, our tea table was either found by the Davises in the Beall-Dawson House basement, or found by MCHS on the second floor of the Davis-built garage. (Personally, I’m inclined to combine those stories: it seems likely that the Davises found it in the basement, then moved it to the garage storage where we found it in our turn.) Though both of those stories place the table in the House prior to our own tenure, it could easily have been acquired by one resident or another in the 20th century. On the other hand, there’s nothing to say it’s not an original Beall family piece, so we have long assumed/hoped that it was probably owned by Upton Beall and/or his wife Jane (who outlived him). It’s certainly old enough; in fact it predates the House, and could have come from a parental estate, or perhaps was bought used by Upton or his wife. (Buying things from your neighbors at estate sales was as much a part of Montgomery County culture in the early 19th century as it is today.)

So, with the caution that we don’t really know that this was Upton’s tea table, I’ll tell you that Upton Beall’s estate inventory, taken after his death in 1827, includes “1 [undescribed] tea table.” Nothing on later inventories is specifically called a “tea table,” but there are plenty of “tables” to choose from – or perhaps it had already been relegated to uninventoried storage as too old-fashioned or broken for use. Based on the amount of stuff on those inventories, neither the Bealls nor the Dawsons were the get-rid-of-excess-furniture type; the final inventory, in 1937, mentions (but does not list the contents of) a “storage room” of furniture. It seems perfectly plausible that an old table, in bad condition, could have been stashed away somewhere in the House and then forgotten.

f0223 - cracks

Look again at the photos included throughout this post, and you can see that the table top is not really a flat plane; the top is a noticeably different color than the base; and the underside of the table top is kind of a hot mess. Both versions of the old-catalog stories note that the table was in sad shape when it was discovered, with a “cracked and warped top,” and that we “had the top refinished, but left the base alone.” What I’ve not been able to pin down is what was actually done to the table, other than what can be seen now with the naked eye: The top was stripped of its original patina . . . I’ll pause here for gasps of dismay from televised-antique-appraisal aficionados, who know better . . . and, at the end of the process, thoroughly coated with a modern varnish.  (If the top of the table looked anything like the underside, which is a peculiar matte black, I can sympathize with the desire to make it shiny again.) The cracks were filled in with some kind of adhesive or putty which, as you can see from the photo directly above, is starting to fail after 40 years of valiant effort. The braces on the underside were removed and reattached in a different direction, and two additional braces were added, likely to help reverse the warping of the top; the shadows of the original brace location and orientation of the square block, plus the old screw holes, are visible.  The new braces and (what I hope is the) original brass latching mechanism were reattached with shiny new screws.  And, yes, all of this is possibly horrifying to a modern-day furniture conservator, but was likely top of the line in the late 1960s.

Brass latching mechanism, which prevents an accidental, mid-meal table flip.

Brass latching mechanism, which prevents an accidental, mid-meal table flip. Note also the new screws; diagonal line where the brace originally sat; and an old screw hole for the brace, at far right.

As for the base, it does look essentially untouched, if that’s any consolation. The feet, in particular, show chips in the old varnish and the wood itself, but that’s to be expected of a 200+ year old table. And though in everyday lighting the base appears quite dark – particularly in comparison to the (perhaps overly) shiny top – when viewed closer, the mahogany color is still there under the old varnishes and oils.

Don't kick the table legs, kids

Don’t kick the table legs, kids

DSC09965 crop

If you like this table, there are lots of others to be enjoyed, both online and in your friendly neighborhood museums.  A good tea table is practically a staple of the Georgian/Federal-era house museum (I can say that because we have one). Check out large art museums as well; a few tables are in the new(ish) furniture galleries at the National Gallery of Art, and here’s an online listing of tea tables at the Met.  Auction houses, antique galleries, and collectors also feature a variety of Queen Anne and Chippendale tea tables on their websites.  Happy viewing!

Today we have a desktop seal press or seal embosser from the 1960s.  Though unassuming at first, it has several stories to tell us – let’s take a look.


The press is made of molded metal, measuring 5” tall (10” when the lever is raised), painted black with gold accents. It’s a desktop model with a professional, expensive look, and is heavy enough that it won’t slide around on the desk while you’re stamping your paperwork. The two halves of the 1.75” die, also metal, are custom pieces that impress the desired image – in this case, WTOP AM-FM-TV – onto a piece of paper when the lever is pressed.


Its purpose is similar to that of our 1810s Orphan’s Court seal: marking paper with an official emblem. Unlike an ink or wax impression tool, the embosser uses pressure to imprint a raised mark. It’s a simple process, and one that has been in use for a long time; a search of the U.S. patent database found this “improved” model from 1864, and earlier examples can be found on this collectors website. Customized presses were (and are) used by courts, notaries public, and other officials, as well as corporations, agencies, and private individuals who want their name embossed on their stationery. Our particular piece has no manufacturer information, and its streamlined look doesn’t get us much further than “mid 20th century.” Conveniently enough the seal itself is intact, and the information there helps give us a narrower time frame – and takes us to its second, more specific story.



The AM radio station now known as WTOP came to the DC area in the late 1920s, was purchased by CBS in 1932, and took the call sign WTOP (then at 1500 AM) in 1943. The Washington Post bought a controlling interest in the station in 1949; the following year, the newspaper acquired WOIC-TV, a local CBS station, and changed the call sign to match its sister radio station. WTOP-TV, Channel 9, was born.  Jim Henson’s first television appearances were on WTOP-TV; several still-on-air local newscasters started here; and you can watch some 1950s-70s promos and newscasts online. The station changed its call sign to WDVM in 1978, and to the current WUSA (still a CBS affiliate, on channel 9) in 1986. (For a nice thorough history of the television station, click here or here.)

As for the “FM” included on the seal, as best I can tell (from sites such as this one) the Post purchased the FM frequency of Rockville’s WINX in the 1960s, changing it to WTOP FM; when the station was given to Howard University in 1971, the call sign changed to WHUR.  WTOP was AM-only until a new FM frequency was added to the lineup in the late 1990s. (Radio history fans and researchers don’t mess around, so I found details to spare about WTOP’s AM and TV history – but I’ve not quite confirmed the early WTOP FM part of this story. If anyone can set us straight, please do!)  Since the tv station existed from 1950 to 1978, and the original FM frequency was used in the 1960s through 1971, I’ve given our artifact an appropriately vaguely-specific date of “the 1960s.”


The third part of this artifact’s story relates to where it was found: under the stage at the Bethesda Theater. (If you were hoping I’d talk about the Art Deco WTOP transmitter building in Wheaton, my apologies… but here’s a website with lots of photos for you!) The Bethesda Theater, designed by John Eberson, opened in 1938 as the Boro. Like many 1930s-era movie houses it included a stage below the movie screen for performances, celebrity appearances, etc. I’ve started looking through newspaper articles for references to non-movie events at the theater; for example, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School 1951 commencement ceremony was held there, and I’m sure there are many more. (Please feel free to add your memories of the theater in the comments section.)

The theater has gone through several incarnations over the years (and is still open, though not currently as a film venue).  In 2001, construction began on an apartment building on top of the theater, necessitating both the closure of the Bethesda Theatre Café and an extreme renovation of the space.  Amidst the several-decades-worth of debris under the stage was, oddly enough, this little WTOP seal, evidently forgotten there after some unidentified radio or tv broadcast/taping many years ago.  Theater owner Pete Carney kindly donated it to MCHS.

In a sense, every artifact is unique, thanks to its particular history of ownership and use. I won’t go so far as to say that some things are more unique than others, but there are certain pieces that really are absolutely one of a kind. Every autograph book and wedding gown, though specific to an individual, is part of a larger group of similar artifacts with similar stories. In contrast, today’s featured archival items fall generally into the Scrapbook category, but their subject is something that was only accomplished once and is likely to never happen again: A two-year journey on horseback through the forty-eight continental United States.

hitting every state in the union

From the title page: “Hitting Every State in the Union With Gypsy Queen Under Saddle”

On April 4, 1925, Silver Spring resident Frank M. Heath (1868-1945) left Washington, DC, determined to ride his middle-aged Morgan bay mare, Gypsy Queen (1915-1936), through every state in the union. A former U.S. Army Sergeant and a WWI veteran, Heath wanted to improve his health, promote the American Legion (his local was Cissel-Saxon Post 41 in Silver Spring), see the country, and prove that a horse could, in fact, make this arduous journey. The trip was funded through the sale of souvenir postcards as well as Heath’s veterinary skills, which he often plied in return for food and shelter for himself and Queen. Despite a host of unexpected delays, from weather events to restrictive quarantine laws to a broken leg (Heath’s), they persevered and finished their 11,532 mile, 48 state journey on November 4, 1927.

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: "Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States"

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: “Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States”

The pair retired to Heath’s small farm near Sligo Creek and Colesville Road; from now on, Heath declared, “Gypsy Queen is going to have an easy time the rest of her life.” In 1936, after celebrating her 21st birthday, Queen’s health failed. Heath made the difficult decision that so many animal lovers have to make, and had her humanely put down. Hoping that Queen’s experience would be of use to science, he donated her skeleton to the College of Agriculture at the University of Maryland; the rest of her was buried, with great ceremony*, at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Howard County. In 1941 Heath published a book about their journey, titled (appropriately enough) Forty Million Hoofbeats.

"Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931"

“Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931”

During the trip, Heath collected newspaper clippings, letters, receipts, and souvenirs from the places he visited. He took some photographs himself – particularly of landscapes in the southwest – and asked that copies of photos taken by others be forwarded to his father in Spokane, Washington. All of this documentation he later compiled in two scrapbooks, which were donated to MCHS in 1990 by Mary E. Martin.

The books are a matched pair, measuring 8″x11″, with faded green faux-leather covers stamped “Clippings” in gold.  Heath prepared these volumes carefully; the pages are numbered by hand, and the title page (see the detail photo above, “Hitting Every State”) says “Title and Foreword” in pencil underneath the actual, inked-in title, as if he planned the book’s layout before gluing things down.  When a clipping or photo ended up out of chronological order, Heath left an informative comment (e.g., “This should go a few pages back”). A note on the title page, “Any statement or comment followed by F.M.H. may be considered signed by me Frank M. Heath” (photo at bottom of this post), leads me to conclude that this wasn’t simply a personal effort; he expected this chronicle to be read and studied by others.

Volumes 1 and 2

Volumes 1 and 2

Indeed, the scrapbooks provide the reader with a thorough description of the trip, as seen both by outsiders and by Heath himself. Small-town newspapers reported on the pair’s progress across the country; communities and American Legion posts often welcomed him with celebrations; farmers, housewives, and blacksmiths provided letters of introduction to friends in other places, often citing Heath’s skill in tending to injured or ailing horses.

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.”  Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.” Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

Amidst the articles and letters written by other people, Heath’s own voice is not lacking; initialed editorial comments can be found on almost every page. (He was particularly irritated when an article printed Queen’s name incorrectly, or under-counted the miles they’d traveled.) It is worth noting that throughout these records, Heath focused on Gypsy Queen. He denied any “endurance” records or other accolades for himself; emphasized that donations and postcard proceeds were used to buy Queen’s food; kept careful track of Queen’s health and appearance; and titled the covers of both volumes “Photos Clippings Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip.” Heath was a horse guy, and this story was about his horse.

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath's father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath's commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath’s father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath’s commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!


Close-up of the cover of volume 1, through Nov. 1926.

Close-up of the cover of volume 1: “Photos Clippings and Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip. #1 To Spokane Wash. Nov. 10 1926”

I’ve lost count of my “favorite” items I’ve posted on this blog, but this is yet another one. I love this story. In November 2006 Jane Sween wrote about Heath’s journey for the Montgomery County Story (Vol. 49, No. 4), after which several of us here took turns reading our library’s copy of Forty Million Hoofbeats (donated by David Simpson) – and the book is GREAT. The logistics involved in getting a horse to every state are interesting enough, but Heath’s observations – expanded from those found in the scrapbooks – on the people, towns, and cultures he encountered are fascinating. Heath and Gypsy Queen made their trip just as motor vehicles were starting to take over the roads, and this record of their journey captured a vast American landscape, from urban to rural to barely inhabited, that was on the verge of modernization and irrevocable change.

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to "hit every state."

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to “hit every state.”


Heath and Gypsy Queen’s story might be obscure, but it is not forgotten. Gypsy Queen’s unique feat of endurance is referenced on various equestrian websites (such as The Long Riders Guild history page, which adds some details about how Heath and Queen met), and Forty Million Hoofbeats was reprinted in 2001 by Equestrian Travel Classics. (It’s not currently available as an e-book, but is still for sale in a print version.) For many years, Heath maintained a moderate level of local celebrity thanks to a photo at Fred & Harry’s Restaurant (opened in 1946) in Four Corners, just a few miles from Mr. Heath’s home near Sligo Creek. And Queen herself is listed as one of the famous burials at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park. Heath created these books for posterity; thanks to the donor, our archives storage, and the wonders of the internet, his goal is still within reach.


"Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H."

“Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H.”


*A bronze plaque in Gypsy Queen’s memory was unveiled at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park on July 9, 1938, at a ceremony attended by a candidate for governor (the actual governor, Harry Nice, was unfortunately delayed) and other “distinguished guests.” The program featured musical selections and an oration by the Hon. Charles E. Moylan, and finished with a rendition of the National Anthem. The plaque (full text here) details Gypsy Queen’s epic journey and finishes with this line: “A Faithful and Loyal Companion.” (The plaque’s whereabouts are currently unknown, as the cemetery underwent several difficult years; the grounds are currently being restored by the volunteers of the Rosa Bonheur Society.) Several decades later, humans were permitted burial at RB along with their pets; but when Heath died in 1945, he was buried near his family in Spokane, Washington. His stone includes the title of his book.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.