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The Literary Hill

Location, Location, Location
How did Capitol Hill arise? And who was responsible for establishing our neighborhood? A new book from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society has the answers.

Much like the development of the Hill itself, “Creating Capitol Hill: Place, Proprietors, and People” is a collaborative effort. Charles Carroll Carter contributes the first essay, which helps restore his ancestors to their rightful place of prominence in the history of Capitol Hill. The Carrolls, who arrived in the colonies in the mid-17th century, held many distinguished positions and owned the land on which the Capitol now stands (why it’s sometimes called Jenkins’ Hill is another story).

William C. diGiacomantonio’s chapter on “the dissension and compromise that resulted in locating” the Capitol here on the Hill reminds us that Washington’s nexus of politics, money, and influence is far from unique to our time.

In the longest essay in the book, historical scholar Pamela Scott explores the nuts and bolts of Capitol Hill’s origins, including how the land was obtained and financed by a consortium of investors, and who built and lived in the dwellings that sprang up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Scott ends with the sad fate of the Carroll home, Duddington Mansion, which was razed in 1886 to erect “dwellings of a modern style.” Journalist Grace Greenwood, no doubt echoing the sentiments of many modern-day residents, wrote shortly after, “On Capitol Hill we have had much poetic loss [and] much tiresome, costly and remorseless levelling.”

With a section by Don Alexander Hawkins devoted to maps—as well as extensive reproductions of paintings, architectural renderings, plats, and illustrations throughout—“Creating Capitol Hill” is an invaluable resource for scholars as well as a timeless documentation of our history and a bittersweet reminder of all that we’ve lost. www.uschs.org.

A new biography by Kate Stewart shines a light on the life of local librarian Ruth Rappaport.

The Book of Ruth
When Kate Stewart’s colleague at the Library of Congress invited her to a nearby estate sale, her interest was piqued. Who was the fellow librarian who had lived there? The result is a thoroughly researched and readable biography, “A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport.”

Rappaport grew up in Leipzig surrounded by books, many of which were banned when the Nazis came to power. At age 10, she witnessed a book burning. When she was 15, she visited Switzerland with her mother and later claimed to have leapt from the train in order to stay behind, where she ended up being shuffled from one foster family to another. As Stewart notes, she was “not an easy person to live with.” Independent, outspoken, and demanding, Ruth struggled to “act grateful” toward the families who took her in, but her diary entries reveal a bitter teen who longed for warmth and intellectual connection. Her one consolation was the freedom to read whatever she wanted—which she did, voraciously.

Rappaport emigrated to Seattle to live with relatives in 1939 and sought solace in Zionist groups, finding there the means to help ease her transition into American life. She held a series of jobs, enrolled in college—and in 1946, a year after the war ended, learned that both of her parents had died in concentration camps. On her own now, she moved to Palestine, where the war and the resulting deprivations tested not only her survival skills but also her belief in Zionism. Disillusioned, she returned to the US in 1950 and went back to college for a degree in library science.

She served as a librarian at an air force base in Okinawa before taking on the challenge, in 1962, of creating a library for the US military in Saigon. By the time she left Vietnam eight years later, the library system boasted dozens of libraries, hundreds of employees, and millions of books and magazines. Ever the champion of intellectual freedom, she included Playboy among them.

In 1970, after suffering a breakdown spurred by the end of love affair, she came to DC, where she became a cataloguer at the Library of Congress and purchased the townhouse where she lived for nearly four decades. She retired in 1993, having worked on more than 8,000 books over the course of her career. In retirement, she became active in historic preservation, traveled, and regaled neighbors from her porch with witty stories of her long and adventurous life. Ruth Rappaport died in 2010 at the age of 87.

Kate Stewart is a third-generation librarian who has worked for the Library of Congress and the US Senate, and is currently an archivist at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson. www.katestewart.com

Plan a car-free outing with Michelle Goldchain’s guide to sites near DC Metro stops.

Car-Free in DC
Fed up with snarled traffic and rude drivers? Try a car-free outing. But first pick up a copy of “DC by Metro: A History and Guide,” Michelle Goldchain’s compendium of the historic sites, museums, parks, and monuments located near every stop.

Arranged by Metro Line, the book provides a concise description and history for each entry, from familiar landmarks (Ford’s Theater, the National Zoo, the Kennedy Center) to less well-known spots (the Spanish Steps, Lincoln’s Cottage, the Adams Memorial), to the downright quirky (the Mooseum, Roscoe the Rooster Memorial Statue, the Big Chair).

“DC by Metro” is a terrific resource both for Washingtonians looking to see what local treasures they’ve missed or for out-of-towners eager to take in all DC has to offer. So just hop on the train, Jane, and set yourself free!

Michelle Goldchain is a DC-born journalist, photographer, podcaster, artist, and YouTuber. www.michellegoldchain.com.

The Lyon’s Share
I was saddened to read in late May of the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Edmund Morris. In 2002, shortly after he had just published “Theodore Rex,” the second installment of his esteemed trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt, he was living near the Supreme Court with his wife, writer Sylvia Jukes Morris, when I interviewed him for my “Hill Writers” column.

Our talk was wide-ranging, from his early life in Kenya to the controversy surrounding “Dutch,” the biography of Ronald Reagan into which he had inserted himself as a narrator (because Reagan “was not capturable by orthodox means,” he told me).

We also discussed his newest book, and he related the story of being startled one night when he was walking alone past Bullfeathers and heard Roosevelt’s high-pitched voice emanating from the doorway. The restaurant had installed a wax dummy with a tape recorder that played Teddy’s old speeches. “The sound of this strange voice coming out to me was heart-stopping,” he recalled.

Morris was warm, modest, engaging—and soft-spoken, until we started talking about the post-9/11 changes on the Hill. He said he remembered when the court was guarded by a single officer walking up and down. “Then they started putting up signs—’STOP! STOP HERE! STOP!’—and this drum which comes out of the ground…and has spikes.” “The government is retreating behind barricades,” he lamented. “This is anti-American and very depressing.”

After my article came out, I was charmed to receive a gracious, hand-written thank-you note. Edmund Morris was 78. 

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