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Recent News

For news of our recent History Lectures, please go to Lecture Series.


New Leadership for the Overbeck History Lectures

After coordinating the effort for fifteen years, John Franzén is handing over leadership of the Overbeck History Lectures to longtime community activists Nancy Metzger and Maygene Daniels in September 2016. The program, which explores the history of the District of Columbia and especially the Capitol Hill neighborhood, mounted 58 free lecture presentations under Franzén's direction.

Nancy Metzger, who chairs the Overbeck Project's committee that searches out potential oral history interviewees, has been intensively involved for many years in Capitol Hill community improvement and historic preservation efforts. She headed the successful drive to have the Capitol Hill Historic District extended down 8th Street S.E. to the Navy Yard and she serves today on the city's Historic Preservation Review Board.

Until her recent retirement, Maygene Daniels served as head archivist at the National Gallery of Art, and has long been the Overbeck Project's senior adviser on archival issues. She also played a central role in researching the history of the Old Naval Hospital (site of today's Hill Center) and creating the historic signage in that facility.


Overbeck History Lectures Move to Hill Center

The highly successful Overbeck Lecture Series, which explores Washington, DC's local history, relocated to Hill Center at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. in September 2015. Series coordinator John Franzén said the move was driven by the outstanding logistical support, including publicity, reservations and audio-visual capability, that Hill Center can provide, along with the Center's proximity to the Eastern Market Metro stop.

The new arrangement kicked off with an illustrated lecture on Duke Ellington's Washington by one of the nation’s leading authorities on Ellington and his music, John Edward Hasse. Hasse is curator of American music at the Smithsonian's American History Museum and author of Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington.

The Overbeck Lectures, which were originally held at the Naval Lodge Hall at 4th and Pennsylvania S.E., have been a popular feature of the Overbeck Project since 2001. To get on our email notification list for future lectures, please send your contact information to OverbeckLecture@CapitolHillHistory.org.

Overbeck History Press Is Launched to Publish Mary Z. Gray’s 301 East Capitol

In the fall of 2011, our tenth anniversary year, the Overbeck Project branched out into publishing in order to bring to light a wonderful new book by Mary Z. Gray describing the Capitol Hill of her 1920s childhood and the family members who had inhabited the neighborhood for four generations before her. The Overbeck History Press’s inaugural publication is 301 East Capitol: Tales From the Heart of the Hill.

Born Mary Zurhorst in 1919, Gray grew up above her family’s inherited funeral home at 301 East Capitol Street, two blocks from the U.S. Capitol, and went on to write speeches for the Kennedy-Johnson White House and countless free-lance articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications. Her book abounds with unforgettable scenes – being tugged away from Sherrill’s Bakery on Pennsylvania Avenue by her family’s maid, who would not have been allowed to eat there, frightening a nun at St. Cecilia’s Academy with stories about the family business, being taken to meet Charles Lindbergh, just back from his solo flight to Paris.

Gray composed this remarkable book on her manual typewriter, urged on by Overbeck volunteers, who also helped with research, editing and getting the book into print.

301 East Capitol is available for purchase at local shops and at Amazon.com.

Overbeck Project Documents Eastern Market's Survival

In anticipation of the summer 2009 reopening of Eastern Market, which was devastated by fire in 2007, the Overbeck Project launched a special effort this year to document the survival and rebuilding of the beloved Hill landmark. Under the direction of Elizabeth Lewis and project manager Bernadette McMahon, longtime and newly recruited Overbeck volunteers continue to interview Market merchants, outdoor vendors, public officials and other individuals involved in the Market and its revival. Hill native Langley Bowers is producing a video documentary, including shots of the June 26 reopening, to be shown this fall. Please contact us to learn more.

Overbeck Project Celebrates Five-Year Anniversary

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 15, 2006, more than sixty of our volunteers and interviewees gathered at the Christ Church parish hall on G Street S.E. to celebrate our five-year anniversary as an oral history project.

It was in the Fall of 2001 that about a dozen neighborhood volunteers gathered in a living room on Massachusetts Avenue for the training and orientation session that launched the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Over the next five years the steadily expanding effort collected 119 interviews with longtime residents and former residents of the Hill, building “a permanent, accessible, ongoing record of the people and events that have shaped our community.”

Nearly a hundred volunteers have participated so far, serving as interviewers, transcribers, trainers, photographers and archivists, and the project has also launched a highly successful lecture series.

The October 15 celebration served as an unexpected reunion for a number of participants. Some of our older interviewees who no longer live in the community encountered onetime neighbors they had not seen since childhood. They were also treated to audio-visual presentation featuring photos of all the interviewees in attendance.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society presented the project with a congratulatory commendation, and project managers Bernadette and Jim McMahon received a thank-you gift from Nicky Cymrot, president of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which sponsors the project. The gift was a copy of Washington At Home, a book on D.C. neighborhood history which includes a chapter by our namesake Ruth Ann Overbeck, with an inscription thanking the McMahons for their dedication to the project and the community.


Our Project Welcomes Interviewers from AU

At the start of the 2005-06 academic year, the Overbeck Project welcomed a whole new set of volunteers. Thanks to the efforts of Kathy Franz and American University instructor Pamela Henson, several graduate students in Henson’s oral history course at AU joined our effort as interviewers.

“We’re delighted to have these young people on board,” said project manager Bernadette McMahon. “They’ll help us reduce our considerable backlog of interview prospects while also sharpening their own interview skills and broadening their knowledge of this community.”

Thanks and welcome to our AU volunteers!


Project Hits Major Milestone: 100 Interviews!

In the summer of 2005, the Overbeck Project proudly announced that its collection of oral history interviews had crossed the 100 mark. “This milestone represents thousands of hours of work by our wonderful volunteers,” said project manager Bernadette McMahon. “We had little idea when we started how many good interview prospects we’d find here or how many in the community would come forward to help. We’re very excited.”

There are dozens more older individuals out there with interesting stories to tell, and the Overbeck Project still need volunteers to reach and record them. If you’d like to help as an interviewer or interview transcriber, or if you know someone who ought to be interviewed, please contact Bernadette McMahon at 202-543-4544 or mcmahons@his.com.

Carole Kolker Leads Workshop on Interview Techniques

Oral historian and Overbeck Project adviser Carole Kolker conducted a workshop on October 2, 2004, to help our volunteers improve their interviewing skills. About fifteen of the project’s volunteers gathered at the home of John Franzén for specific guidance on how to prepare for an interview, how to establish a rapport with the interviewee, and how to phrase a question to get the best response. Participants paired up to play the roles of interviewer and interviewee and to have their performances critiqued.

Ms. Kolker has more than 20 years of experience conducting oral history interviews, including an extensive set of interviews with former residents of the Southwest Washington neighborhood that was razed in the “urban renewal” effort of the 1950s. She has led training workshops for students at Columbia Union College, IONA House, and the Martin Luther King Library. We are very grateful for her help with our effort.

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    The Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, Washington. D.C.