Last week as I was watching on television the ceremony that swore in Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, I was reminded of a time 30 years ago that I was first in Washington, D.C., and visited the Congressional Library there with my longtime friend Ruth Ann Overbeck.
Ruth Ann graduated with the Denison High School class of 1953 before heading to college for her degree and then going on to Washington in 1963 to do research.
She was a member of the band that marched in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential inaugural parade but missed the trip because of illness. She told me that she had her heart set on making that trip and after having to miss it vowed that one day she would get to the nation’s capitol.
She kept that vow. In fact, she was as much at home in the Library of Congress as when she was in the office of Washington Perspectives, Inc., that she owned and operated on the third floor of her home just off Pennsylvania Avenue near Capitol Hill.
She did go to Washington to do research in 1963, then after graduate school she returned and put down roots, making her mark on the city that always had held such a fascination for her.
When Ruth Ann learned that I was going to Washington, she called and volunteered to be my tour guide around the city. What a whirlwind tour we had. Because of limited parking at some of the prime spots to visit, she would tell me all about them, then let me out, drive around for a few minutes, then pick me up after I had taken photos of each.
She knew the seven museums of the Smithsonian Institution like the back of her hand and frequently was called upon to conduct tours for them. She even formed a bicycle tour of the city for Smithsonian associates visiting and led it for several years. Her husband, Robert Hughes, was the chief bicycle mechanic and nearly rode his legs off around town. He was a graphic artist and freelance photographer in Washington.
Historical research was Ruth Ann’s cup of tea and her bread and butter too. She spent many hours every week at the Library of Congress and was given free reign of the stacks there. Because she knew her way around all the floors that were filled with research material and she could operate the complicated elevator system, she even took me on a tour of that prestigious building. We eventually found the high up stacks there that housed a portion of a shelf filled with information about Denison and a number of Denison City Directories.
She told me at the time that when she first began doing her research there, the library was in a couple of rooms. In 1986, they seemed to go on forever and a modern computer system held thousands of records since room for files had been exhausted. I cannot even imagine what might be there today.
Much of her research was of houses and buildings, including fire and police stations in historic Georgetown. House research was done for many realtors who wanted historical information to give to people who were spending in excess of $600,000 at that time so that they could claim something prestigious about their purchase. She looked for interesting tidbits to make the area even more interesting.
Research on the fire and police stations was commissioned to determine which old buildings should be torn down and which should be saved for their historical significance.
While Georgetown was famous for its “alley houses,” many of which had 10-foot wide fronts, they were painted different colors and sold for more than $100,000 30 years ago. There is no telling their price today.
Across the river in Arlington, Ruth Ann recalled there was nothing more than three story buildings when she moved to Washington. A few years later, the city was know as the “concrete canyon” with its many skyscrapers looking out of place after being built with no planning.
Not far from the “concrete canyon” is Arlington National Cemetery, where the eternal flame atop John F. Kennedy’s grave was a beacon for Arlington residents. She and I made a stop there and I was there again in 2000 when I was a guest of the Famous and Historical Tree people, who planted a tree from the seed of a tree at Eisenhower Birthplace.
Ruth Ann served on the Washington D.C. Commission of Historical Records and Monuments, the policy-determining body for old and new records in the city. She participated in the determination of what monuments go on public space, naming public parks, representing the private sector on the commission and was the only white female among the 12-member panel at the time I visited with her there.
Whether she was hard at work at the Library of Congress, or having her hair done by the stylist in the Capitol building, where we also visited after having lunch in the cafeteria, Ruth Ann was well aware of the historical significance of her position and was eager and proud to share the knowledge she had amassed.
Her father was an MK&T employee and was killed in a train wreck between Denison and the Red River while we were still in high school. Her mother, Gladys, lived in Denison for years until she moved to be near her daughter in Washington. There she died a number of years ago. Ruth Ann loved Denison almost as much as she loved D.C. and while her mother was living here, she often visited. When she came to town, she always called and we had a long talk about her work — and mine — over a barbecue sandwich. I have missed those visits.
Shortly before Ruth Ann died of cancer in 2000, she completed her term as lieutenant governor of Division One of the Capital District of Kiwanis International after working with the organization for many years. Her memorial service was held at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church and she was buried in the Congressional Cemetery near many early Capitol Hill residents about whom she loved to research, write and lecture.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.