Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Civic activist Jeanne Broyhill remains a good sport a half-century after the famous prank.

As the daughter of Arlington Congressman Joel T. Broyhill (a Republican who served from 1953-74), she recently confided in me that she’d had advance warning that boys from Yorktown High and nearby schools were planning to splash paint on the rock in front of her Old Dominion Drive residence, “The House by the Side of the Road.”

“Rather than fight them, I probably thought it was a good idea to go along and name the color I wanted,” she said of the pranksters whose identities remain unverified.

There were other dirty deeds in the Arlington of my youth in the 1960s. It’s time to review them from an adult perspective. To cleanse the soul, and confess.

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During my days at James Madison Elementary School, I recall learning that some pranks are more dangerous than amusing. The classmate who pulled the chair out from under a girl just as she sat down found himself weeping in shame. Same for those who actually decorated teacher’s chair with classic thumbtacks.

Yet as we matured, some pranks became even less responsible. There were kids who hid in the woods alongside the road going to Chain Bridge and hurled logs at cars. Some hot-rod guys liked to perform “lawn jobs.” That meant driving onto front lawns of neighbors and laying tracks to destroy the grass.

The prank of lighting a bag filled with dog poop on someone’s porch and ringing the doorbell became a cliché. But the hope of crouching giggling across the street and watching the victim try to stomp it out struck me as unworkable.

What did work in our neighborhood was calling multiple taxis to the same house across the street.

During junior high late-night “raids” of girls’ slumber parties, we tossed Salvo soap tablets over the fence into the swimming pool of our friend Terri. The family of classmate Diane owned a tiny French car called a Simca. So tiny, it took only three of us to hoist it and carry it midway onto her lawn.

At the lunch counter of the old Williamsburg Pharmacy (now a CVS), older kids taught me how to unscrew the top of a salt shaker and leave it loose so the next user would spill gobs on his food. Similarly, I learned to unscrew the top of the sugar canister, stretch a paper napkin over the opening, and screw the top back so it prevented release of the sweet stuff.

Kids were mean. I remember older boys asking me to play hide-and-seek, and after I hid inside a kitchen cabinet, I realized after a few long minutes that they had left without searching.

In high school, I impersonated a female voice and phoned a friend to tell him a coveted girl had a crush on him. After his hopes rose and were dashed, he cold-shouldered me for years.

All recall the classic prank of toilet-papering homes of foes and friends alike.

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One night when my own home was targeted, my allies in a car spotted the culprits marching toward the house carrying dozens of rolls. My pal Peter hid in the front bushes with a garden hose, and, as soon as the enemy arrived on that chilly night, he soaked them. Peter, I’ve never forgotten it.


The ever-in-motion George Mason University (Arlington campus) is making ready to tear down its “Original Building” at Virginia Square.

Longtime Arlingtonians recall that it housed Kann’s Department Store from 1951 until it was shuttered in 1975. In 1979, Mason’s fledgling law school took over.

Today’s university planners are planning a tribute exhibit on Kann’s — which was famous for the live caged monkeys it displayed near the shoe department. If anyone has photos (long-sought unsuccessfully), please get in touch.

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