Please forgive this interruption of your regularly scheduled Godey’s Lady’s Book post, to hear the tale of a visitor from the past. Yesterday, members of our board and staff had the pleasure of meeting Marilyn Moll. Mrs. Moll served as Researcher and co-Director of the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden from 1983-1990. Among her many contributions, Mrs. Moll took on the story of John L. Lewis as her pet project, identifying people and collections that would strengthen our interpretation of this controversial labor leader.
Her findings included: boxes of household accounts stuffed away in the house’s basement; his cap, gown, and honorary doctorate diploma awarded by Georgetown University on sale at a local thrift store; the family’s private cottage at Pine Island, Florida; and many other stories, people, and objects.
Mrs. Moll’s interest in Lewis began with the recognition of his national significance. Indeed, of all the residents of this house, Lewis is unquestionably the most nationally significant. As president of United Mine Workers of America and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (today, AFL-CIO), Lewis fought for safer working conditions, environmental protections, fair wages, better health care and living conditions for coal miners and their families. Mrs. Moll felt that although the Lee family has a significant role to play in this city and house, Lewis emerged as the person to remember.
She captured her feelings in a poem, written in the late 1980s, and I share it with you now:
“Lee-Fendall Ghosts” by Marilyn Moll
Head bent o’er law books, Philip Fendall stares;
Elizabeth pours tea for one and all;
Light Horse Harry’s spurs clink in the hall
And the fair Matilda flits about upstairs.
Lou Cazenove inspects the new stair-well;
And candles sputter o’er the famoour desk
And scratching quill of old E.J. Lee, Esq.,
Whilst Myra Lee imperiously cranks a bell.
As kitchen servants tea tid-bits prepare,
Theodric gazes simpering ’round his room
And Myrta Lewis hovers everywhere.
Although we but perceive his empty chair,
Some puissant presence permeates the room–
No ghost exists–’tis John L. Lewis there!
You can find other poems about Alexandria’s famous people and places through the MAPP project (Mapping Alexandria through Poems and Pictures), directed by City Poet Laureate Amy Young, and perhaps include one of your own!