Lyndon B. Johnson sure loved his beagles. In 1965, one Takoma Park girl met the president as he walked his dogs on the South Lawn of the White House. (John Rous/AP)
4 min

Every time Jennifer Wade hears a march by John Philip Sousa, she imagines the famed composer and bandleader standing in his dripping wet underwear.

You might ask why. Here’s why: Jennifer’s grandfather, who was born in 1875, used to tell her a story about Sousa’s falling into the Patuxent River while fishing.

“My grandfather was a boy working in the little country store in Bristol, Md., when Mr. Sousa arrived wet and in need of dry clothes,” wrote Jennifer, of Arnold, Md.

Jennifer said she doesn’t know whether the story is even true, but it’s become part of her family’s lore. All this week I’ve been sharing tales of those brief encounters that stick with us.

Michele Burton was 13 when her family moved in the mid-1960s to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where her naval officer father was stationed. On the way to their new home, the plane made a stop in Jamaica.

“There had been whispers that someone famous had been on the plane,” wrote Michele, of Newville, Penn. “As soon as we were in the terminal, we saw Martin Luther King Jr.

Michele’s mother scrounged in her purse for scraps of paper to get the civil rights leader’s autograph. (Michele still has hers.)

“The most interesting part of this story is that for years I wondered what he was doing in Jamaica,” wrote Michele. “Years letter I met John Lewis at the Capitol. I told him this story and his immediate response was, ‘Ah, yes. He always went there to write and get away.’

“For me that meeting with John Lewis was more than special.”

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Watson Bullock’s family ran a small inn in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. One afternoon, a couple arrived seeking a quiet place to spend their honeymoon. It was the actor Claude Rains and his sixth — and final — wife, Rosemary.

“I was too young to be aware of his distinguished career, but his hair still had traces of dye from his most recent picture, ‘The Lost World,’” wrote Watson, of Silver Spring.

What impressed Watson the most was Rains’s car, a classic Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster. “He let me start it and move it away from an overflowing gutter during a heavy rain,” Watson wrote.

Over the years, the actor continued to visit the Bullocks’ inn, becoming a friend of Watson’s mother.

“I’ll always remember that Claude Rains drove up from his home in West Chester to pay his respects at her funeral,” he wrote.

Pete Davis was 5 in 1955 when his father took him to the library in Stamford, Conn., to see a traveling exhibition of the original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls that inspired the author A.A. Milne.

“We stood at the end of the line in the library parking lot to enter the mobile van, and who walked up and stood next to us but Jackie Robinson,” wrote Pete, of the District. “Stamford was the closest town to Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played, that would allow Blacks to own a home.”

Pete’s father shook Robinson’s hand, then the baseball great crouched and shook Pete’s.

“I was awestruck after listening to his games past my bedtime under the covers on my crystal radio set,” Pete wrote.

In the summer of 1965, Ruth Stewart’s family was performing the duty of every District-area resident: showing out-of-town visitors the sights of D.C.

“As we walked past the South Lawn of the White House, we saw someone on the lawn walking two beagles,” wrote Ruth. “Then men in dark suits came toward the fence, followed by President Johnson.”

As a crowd pressed in around them, Ruth and her mother found themselves on the other side of the fence from the president.

“Whur you from?” LBJ asked in his Texas drawl.

“Takoma Park,” the 10-year-old Ruth proudly answered.


“Takoma Park.”

“Whur?” he asked again.

“Takoma Park!” Ruth said. “You know … Where the North Central Freeway is supposed to go. It’ll go through everyone’s backyard. It’s in all the papers. Do you read the newspapers?”

Wrote Ruth, who lives in Arlington now: “At that point, my mother grabbed my arm and yanked me back. ‘Maryland,’ she explained to the president as she reached through the fence and shook his hand, forcing a smile to cover her horror at what I’d said.”

Don’t they say that all politics is local?

In the end, the controversial plan for a highway along the railroad tracks and through Takoma Park was scrapped.