With Veterans Day fast approaching, we at the Aged Woman’s Home remember and honor those who served and sacrificed in past wars. Some of them may even be our friends or family members.
World War II is the earliest war that anyone still alive today has experienced personally. Emily, a Guest at the Home since 1993, and now in her 90s, was a young girl during the war and vividly remembers D-Day and the excitement of the war’s end.
But the Allies’ victory for a time seemed improbable, partly due to the famed Enigma machine used by the Germans in WWII to transmit coded messages. There were billions of different ways the machine could encode a message, making the decoding effort maddeningly difficult. A young scientist named Alan Turing led the team that finally broke the Enigma code for the Allies.
Here at the Aged Woman’s Home, we have a few perplexing enigmas of our own. Hung in the Home’s living room, tucked into a corner adjacent to the mantle, is a large, rather heavily framed picture of a lady. Her hair (or wig) is nicely done up in curls. A lovely whitish collar adorns her neck. Her black Victorian dress looks a bit staid, but elegantly simple, complete with a matching black bow necktie. Her hand rests easily atop a book lying on a table as she gazes out at us, not quite frowning, not quite smiling.
How long has she been gazing out from the Home’s walls? Is that table still in the Home? Is there a title on the binding of that book? Who is she exactly? Is she a Board Member or a Guest? Was she someone connected to the Home long ago, or just a picture donated along the way? Could she be Adelaide Lutz of the famed theatrical family who donated the Home’s building to provide for women in need 156 years ago, in February 1868? Could she be (gasp) a friend of Martha Custis who lived just up the street at Tudor House and was believed to visit the Home quite often?
Another mystery involving a lady adorning the Home’s walls is the identity of the lady in the draping green dress. Have we seen her likeness at Mount Vernon? Someone reported (a rumor, we suspect) that she can also be seen on the walls of the Majorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood Mansion, (a lovely place to visit, and then have a spot of tea and dessert at the museum cafe). The image of the yellow-haired lady in the green dress hung for years over the dining room mantle. Whole rooms were designed to coordinate with her colors. In recent years she yielded her place above the mantle to a portrait of George Washington, while she took his place nearby.
General Washington, who has his own historical connections to the Home (hence his place of prominence), is involved in yet another of our long-held mysteries. This mystery involves an elusive signature in one of the office windows overlooking the patio. This could indeed be the signature, complete with a flourish at the end to prevent forgery, of the good General. However, it could also be the signature of John Lutz, the Home’s original property owner. Mr. Lutz was, according to both historical fact and a plaque placed on the front of the building in 1970, a Sergeant of General George Washington’s guard at Valley Forge. If you stare long enough at the signature from a sideways angle, to reduce glare, you can more readily perceive the scrawl. Squinting and looking hard for more than a minute, you may definitely see a W, while the person next to you clearly sees an L.
We are working at the Home to decode these and other mysteries, in the coming year, as we embark on a historical analysis of the Home’s property.
This year Aged Woman’s Home of Georgetown is participating in #GivingTuesday on November 28, 2023. #GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world. We invite you to participate with us in this global movement by donating to Aged Woman’s Home of Georgetown. Your donations will continue the Home’s mission to serve independent senior women in need by providing housing and supportive services at no charge. Women who apply to the Home come to us as unknowns, with complex histories of their own. Having endured the difficulties of lack of affordable housing, once accepted at the Home our new Guests no longer face the daunting uncertainties and dangers of the unhoused. Instead, they have the opportunity to live with dignity in a secure and stable environment.