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Thread: Living History: Finding Walter Johnson

  1. #1
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    Living History: Finding Walter Johnson

    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
    His Greatness
    An Enduring Contribution To Baseball

    Games Won-414
    Shutouts-113
    Strike Outs-3497
    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.
    Last edited by Bob Hannah; 06-15-2004 at 10:28 PM.

  2. #2
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    Thumbs up

    Bob, thanks for a most interesting and well-written report!
    "For the Washington Senators, the worst time of the year is the baseball season." Roger Kahn

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby.

  3. #3
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    Thanks Aa3rt. Glad to see you're still around, I guess you may be more of a reader than a writer. Also, thanks again for cluing me in regarding the whereabouts of the memorial last winter.

    Bob

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    Smile

    Bob-I believe that I may have mentioned this in another post, but it was my maternal grandfathers' allegience to the Senators, due in large part to Walter Johnson, that caused me to become a Senators fan as well.

    My grandfather lost much of his interest in baseball after the original Senators moved to Minnesota. I was seven at the time, and too young to understand the difference.

    Anyhow, a very nice writeup. It's great to know that there are still some folks who maintain an interest in a great baseball player and a true gentleman.

    BTW-my name is Art, AA3RT is my amateur radio callsign.
    "For the Washington Senators, the worst time of the year is the baseball season." Roger Kahn

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby.

  5. #5
    Excellent write up, Bob. It really makes me want to make the pilgrimage there myself...if for no other reason than to give D. Dawg a good spanking.

  6. #6
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    What an incredible READ, Bob!

    Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    c.

    OUR MOMENT IN TIME - OCTOBER 4, 1955 - 3:43PM

  7. #7
    Nicely done. Sounds like a good place to visit.

    One of the many, many things I liked about Ken Burns' "Baseball" was the archival footage of Johnson. Its amazing to me that more wasn't made of the fact that he came sidearm.
    After 1957, it seemed like we would never laugh again. Of course, we did. Its just that we were never young again.

  8. #8
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    That was a great story! Good luck with your farmers market visit!

    If you're interested, I went to high school at the Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore. It's a small private school right off 95 in Baltimore on the Caton Ave. exit. Perhaps you know it better as St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, the reform school Babe Ruth spent much of his childhood in. In the late 19-teens, many of the buildings that had once been St. Mary's burned to the ground. Babe organized a barnstorming effort around the country to raise money to build what is now the main building of the high school. It became Cardinal Gibbons in 1963, when an addition was made to the "new" building.

    Some buildings remain from before the fire--the "Webber House" used to be a dormitory, and has a chapel. It is rarely used but still stands. Across the baseball field (the same field, although home plate in Babe's day is where center field is now), stands the gym (an addition that came with the high school) and an original building, the Fine Arts Building. It, too, is rarely used. Unfortunately, it is falling into disrepair and, although it held a weight room when I was there (I graduated in 2003), I believe it has been condemned.

    There are lots of Ruth artifacts in the main building, and a very nice mural painted by students at the high school in the gym. My first experience there came in 1993 or 94 when my father and I visited the school for a showing of a home movie made by a fan at the "Called Shot" game in the 1932 World Series. It was the "world premier" of the film, which I believe is now property of the Hall of Fame. A snippet of it appears in Ken Burns' "Baseball." It didn't really prove much, other than that he did point. At the pitcher or the wall, we couldn't be sure. If you go, ask for Ms. LaMartina (the aunt of a childhood friend of mine and a famiy friend of Brooks Robinson), Mr. Forte, Mr. DelCiello, or Mr. Miles. All, I'm sure, would be happy to show you around our little patch of history.
    I'm out there Jerry and I'm loving every minute of it!
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    -A Hard Day's Night

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  9. #9
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    George

    Thanks BustaJ. This adds to my knowledge of local/regional baseball roots. Hopefully sometime in the future I can make it out that way. The contcats you have named are greatly appreciated. I'll call the school prior to going out.

    Funny Babe's childhood and schooling should come up. I happen to be the father of a daughter who just may possibly be the worlds' foremost nine year old self taught authority on the Babe's childhood. She has read a total of four books from school and local libraries covering this portion of his life. The books are commensurate with her grade level. She calls him George.

    She will now commandeer the key board and relate to you some details about his childhood in Baltimore:

    At first Babe was a catcher but,he was left handed and they didn't have any left handed catchersmitts. So, Babe had to catch with his left hand and throw with his left hand he had to take off his glove and transfer it to his left hand to throw. undefined
    In Saint Marys George ran away but Brother Mathias caught him and told George when you get used to this school you can do the great things.


    CAn you tell me some Babe Ruth artifacts that are there now?

    There you have it. Tidbits of Ruthian history from a budding researcher.

    She is now a travel soccer player, splitting time between mid-fielder and goalie. (Pretty good, too.) Her athletic career started as a four year old Tee baller, played four seasons, the last two in machine pitch. As a left handed pull hitter with little power, we found that teaching her to hit both ways would get her on base more often (switch hitting is real easy to teach at that age). Even with her speed she was not getting on base and becoming frustrated returning to the dugout. Once she learned to hit right handed, she was always on base. She also learned to drag bunt, but the league rules wouldn't allow bunting at that level. She is a National Physical Fitness Award winner and was selected best fourth grade female athelete last week at her elementary school. Plays a great game of H-0-R-S-E. She's learning you must dribble and pass in basketball and is improving in those areas. Plans to play on the court for the first time in organized basketball this winter. All around good kid.

    Sorry for getting off the subject and bragging, but its an appropriate day for it.

  10. #10
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    Happy Father's Day! She reminds me of me. As soon as Ken Burns' Baseball came out in bookstores, I got it for Christmas or a birthday, or something...read it, and had my dad quiz me. I only missed one question. I remember that the answer was Ernie Banks, but what the question was, I can't recall.

    To answer the question, there aren't many priceless heirlooms (at least that I know of, I don't know what they might have hidden away as you described some of the Walter Johnson stuff). They have a very nice painting of him in the main hallway (in addition to the mural in the gym), a bust of the Babe, and a few miscellaneous items. There is a sheet of stamps with him on them, a painted plate, and a few other things in a display case. It's been a little while since I've been in there, so I'm having trouble remembering exactly what all they had in there. Unfortunately, unless they have them hidden away, they don't have anything like his old St. Mary's equipment/uniform, but it's a nice display. If you're at all interested in basketball (especially college), there is also a display case with items from former Duke point guard Steve Wojocie....well let's just call him Wojo, I can't even spell it. As well as Quintin Dailey, both Gibbons graduates.
    I'm out there Jerry and I'm loving every minute of it!
    -Cosmo Kramer

    Reporter: What do you call that hair style you're wearing?
    George Harrison: Arthur
    -A Hard Day's Night

    People often ask me how I want to be remembered. I tell them that to be remembered at all is pretty special.
    -Cal Ripken, Jr.

  11. #11
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    Thanks, BustaJ!!!

    Thanks, BustaJ! Maybe my dad willtake me the the Gibbons High School someday. I really like George Herman Ruth.

  12. #12
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    yeah i used to live in maryland. i would have gone to wj, and thats where my cousins go. back to johnson's house-its really ugly.
    Last edited by iishoagie07; 07-21-2004 at 03:55 PM.

  13. #13

    mistyped address

    Bob, thank you so much for your posting. My two boys are big baseball fans, and we live nearby, so we did a tour. The address on Johnson's house is 9100 (not 1900) Old Georgetown Road, but your description was so good we found it anyway. Many thanks.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Aa3rt
    Bob-I believe that I may have mentioned this in another post, but it was my maternal grandfathers' allegience to the Senators, due in large part to Walter Johnson, that caused me to become a Senators fan as well.

    My grandfather lost much of his interest in baseball after the original Senators moved to Minnesota. I was seven at the time, and too young to understand the difference.

    Anyhow, a very nice writeup. It's great to know that there are still some folks who maintain an interest in a great baseball player and a true gentleman.

    BTW-my name is Art, AA3RT is my amateur radio callsign.
    Our Softball Club is having its inaugural End of Season Presentation on April 9. We (actually I) have decided to name our Male MVP Award The Walter Johnson Award in memory of one of the greatest players of all time.



    Simon Foster
    President/Manager/Captain/Owner & GM
    Vampyres Softball Club
    Melbourne Softball Association
    Melbourne, Australia

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TyrusRaymondCobb
    Our Softball Club is having its inaugural End of Season Presentation on April 9. We (actually I) have decided to name our Male MVP Award The Walter Johnson Award in memory of one of the greatest players of all time.



    Simon Foster
    President/Manager/Captain/Owner & GM
    Vampyres Softball Club
    Melbourne Softball Association
    Melbourne, Australia
    Hello Mr. Foster, and welcome to Baseball-Fever!

    Thanks for your part in preserving the memory of "The Big Train"!!!

    By all accounts that I have read, Mr. Johnson, after his playing days were over, settled into a quiet life of farming and public service, never having "cashed in" on his celebrity from his playing days, an example that many of today's so called "superstars" would do well to follow.

    Here in the northern hemisphere, our spring has finally arrived and my softball season is just starting. My almost 53 year-old muscles are letting me know about it after 5 months of inactivity!

    Kindest Regards, Art
    "For the Washington Senators, the worst time of the year is the baseball season." Roger Kahn

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby.

  16. #16
    Walter Johnson retired when I was only 5 yrs old and anyone who had seen him pitch must be gone. In "Glory of their Times,Ty Cobb mentioned the easy motion and how quickly the ball arrived; in Ty`s words "the thing hissed with danger" Sam Crawfords story about giving Walter bats and then getting gift hits if Walter was ahead was an insight into what a fine man he was. Along that line I once read something by Clyde Milan, Washington centerfielder and Walters roommate of several years, that it was`nt uncommon for him for him to "groove" one if he was well ahead. His favorite receipients were veterans who were struggling and looking to be sent down or released and rookies who were having trouble with the major league pitching. Clyde related in one game Walter got a large lead early and a rookie kid who was about to be sent down because he was`nt living up to expectations, was given 3 3/.4 speed fastballs and was 3for 3. When he came up the 4th time he popped up, and Clyde said, Walter was more dissapointed than the kid was.
    Imagine that happening today.

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