I finally made the opportunity to visit the Walter Johnson Memorial monument located at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD. The monument formerly was located at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. After Griffith was demolished in 1965 the monument was removed and at some point gifted to the school, which opened in 1966.
The monument stands facing the front entrance, embedded in a brick wall. The large plaque is cast in bronze and secured to it's rough granite mounting by four large pins. It presents itself in good overall condition. There is some slight damage to the chin. A thin half-inch linear indentation is present on the chin, as if at some point it were struck a hard blow with a solid object. Some elemental wear has occurred to the eyelets of the cap and is also evident around the area of the eyes. Other slight indents are found upon close inspection. The artists name, G. Fornasieri, is engraved (or cast) in script, angling upward at the lower right portion of the pitching mound. The corners of the granite mounting have sustained some obvious damage, at least four of eight base and capital corners are broken away. Some recent graffitti attesting to the drinking prowess of 'D. Dawg & Rachel (R-Unit)' is penned in marker on the granite base. The mounting pin at the lower right has rusted onto the casting. A large weed grew from the base of the mounting stone.
The inscription reads:
A Champion On And Off The Field
An Enduring Contribution To Baseball
Opening Day Shutouts-7
Scoreless Consecutive Inninga-56
I was able to wipe the face of some accumulated dirt and grime and to pull the weed. The casting is a striking reproduction of the photograph from which it is modeled. Johnson's look is confident, at ease, and dominating.
Prior to viewing the large plaque, I presented myself at the school and asked if I could have permission to see it. The two women school employees I spoke with were eager to help and were soon joined by a third. During the course of our conversation, I discovered the school possessed several Johnson artifacts but the three women were unsure what has happened to them or where they are located. They then escorted me into an office hallway, showing me two wood slatted and metal framed stadium box seats that once held Griffith Stadium fans. The seats were painted entirely in green, that color of green you would expect to find in a ballpark. They were in excellent condition and I sat.
From there I was shown two display cases, one containing a large facial photo and a bust of the great pitcher. The other display held three different biographies written about Johnson over the course of the past seventy-seven years since his retirement from the mound. Reproductions of baseball cards from his early playing days and what may possibly be original commemorative cards from the 1940s and 1950s were also present. A digitally enhanced photo of Johnson and Nolan Ryan shaking hands was centered on the shelves and was accompanied by a whimsical narrative. It describes a conversation the two fireballers may have had. At the end of the story, the two pitchers gather their gloves and walk together to the mound after a discussion regarding the merits of their individual fastballs.
The best was yet to come. I was then introduced to the media center/library records and archieves custodian. He is a big baseball fan and was very gracious with his time to answer my questions. Previously upon my arrival at the school, one of the ladies whom I first approached mentioned some documents and articles which were described as "hidden" and others that are locked in a safe at the school. It turns out these documents, articles and newspaper clippings relate to Johnson's post-baseball life.
Johnson resided in Montgomery County, near Bethesda, which is now situated just inside the Capitol Beltway (I-495) at the northwest quadrant of the loop. He was active in county politics, holding elected office as, I believe a county supervisor. The school emphasizes his exemplary ethics, values, morals, and good character in it's mission and practice. His good citizenship is stressed.
The archievist then asked if I were familiar with the seventh game of the 1925 World Series played in a downpour at Forbes Field, pitting Johnson's Senators against the Pirates. Johnson lost that game, assuming the role of the tragic hero, standing on the mound in ankle deep mud. Of course I knew of that Series, and that game in particular. The Pirates had come back from a 3-1 Series deficit to take the championship.
As it turns out, the grandfather of a current WJHS employee was present at that final 1925 game and at some point in his life produced a four minute audio tape of his recollections of the game and Johnson's performance. I was offered a future copy of that living history and have eagerly accepted.
The archievist, it turns out, is the current 'keeper of the flame' of Big Train's legacy at the school. He accepted the torch from a retired assistant principle. I was given instructions how to contact the retiree, who is said to posses a nice collection of Senators and other baseball memorabilia and will gladly welcome an unexpected visitor interested in baseball, particularily the Senators of past. I am to find him at a local farmers market where he works two days a week, selling his wife's homemade baked goods.
Lastly, I was given directions to Johnson's former home at 1900 Old Georgetown Road, near Bethesda. The building stands today as a local doctors residence/office. Upon arriving, the neighbor of the doctor living directly behind the home allowed me to park in her drive and volunteered a 15 minute history of the area and Johnson's lasting impact.
The house is large, contans three floors and a partial fourth consisting of attic rooms. It stands on a stone foundation and is topped by a hip style roof with gabeled and windowed attic dormers. It is painted a seafoam green and is fronted by a large wooden porch. The home is a registered local historic landmark and sits on what was once several acres belonging to Johnson known as the Johnson Tract. Johnson Avenue borders the area to the north.
The Johnson Tract was not an actual working farm, but he did tend fruit trees and a large garden. The neighbor related one interesting fact-old Walter kept and protected several fox that lived on the acerage. She thought this odd, I didn't. Apparently, she was unaware of one of the several nicknames given to Johnson's former employer of more than twenty years.