|Title||Family Connects with Author of Long-Lost Diary|
|Object Name||Radio transcript|
Transcript of National Public Radio Program describing Robert J. Stevens' visit to his old Thornapple St. (3712 Thornapple Street, Chevy Chase Section 5) home in 1996.
1st Story of Level 1 printed in full format.
Copyright 1996 National Public Radio
Show: Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR 10:00 am ET)
April 7, 1996
Transcript # 1170-15
SECTION: News; Domestic
LENGTH: 2502 words
HEADLINE: Family Connects with Author of Long-Lost Diary
GUESTS: EMILY EIG, Architectural Historian; MICHAEL EIG; ROBERT STEVENS, author of Diary
BYLINE: David Molpus
HIGHLIGHT: Six years ago, 14-year-old Noah Eig came upon the diary of a boy who lived in the same house in Maryland over 70 years ago. This is the story of the meeting between Noah's family and the author of that diary.
DAVID MOLPUS, Host: Now, a story about a long- lost diary and a century of memories under one roof. Six years ago, 14-year-old Noah Eig [sp] came upon the private thoughts of another boy who lived in the same house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, more than 70 years ago. The diary reveals some surprising connections between the two households, and recently the Eig family discovered that the diary's author is still alive. He's 88 and lives nearby. So, they invited him over. NPR's Walter Ray Watson continues the story.
[A doorbell is rung, a child cries]
WALTER RAY WATSON, Reporter: Thorn Apple Street, suburban Washington. Tall trees, squirrels, birds singing, luxury sedans and well-worn but trendy Volkswagens. Plenty of places to park; plenty of history, too. Emily Eig knows. She's an architectural historian. She lives here in this three-story home with her husband, Michael, an attorney, their daughters, Susanna and Kate, along with a fluffy mop of a dog named Cosette [sp].
They bought the house in 1981. It was built in the early part of this century and bridges the past, with its original hand-carved staircases, and the present, where a cordless telephone is missing only until it rings.
Six years ago, the Eigs made another connection to the house and its past. Their son, Noah, discovered diaries written by a boy who lived here in the 1920s. Emily Eig explains.
EMILY EIG, Architectural historian: My son found the diaries when we were doing some renovation on the house. They were under the floor of a back bedroom. Upon reading them, we realized that they were written by a boy about his age, who was, like, 12, 13, 14 or so; and a lot of playing baseball, a lot of taking care of pets, we found out, because we thought that there was an epidemic because everyone was dying. It turns out it was the pet Guinea pigs that were dying. [laughs] We felt a lot better.
WALTER RAY WATSON: The diaries were written by Robert Stevens [sp], diaries begun in 1919. They reveal his love and loss of pet Guinea pigs, a chronicle of his winning baseball moments, and the occasional drinking of hard cider and playing hooky from school. The condition of the diaries surprised Michael Eig.
MICHAL EIG: There are three diaries - 1919, 1920, and 1921 - in remarkably good shape in pencil. Very readable, all of them. He said he's been looking for these for 77 years. I don't think he's really been looking for them, but he sure remembers an awful lot of stuff that's in here.
WALTER RAY WATSON: Ironically, tragically, in May of 1991, a little more than a year after he found the diaries, Noah Eig was struck and killed by lightning. Since then, the diaries have been a family keepsake. But the strange circumstances surrounding the diaries continued over the next several years. Michael Eig says one such instance concerned a discovery made by his wife.
MICHAEL EIG: My wife was reading this history of Bethesda by William Offett [sp] who actually taught me history at BCC High School in the '60s here. I'm a Chevy Chase native. And he's written this history of Bethesda, and Emily was reading it for work and comes across a quote from Robert Stevens, who was supposed to be this great baseball player from Bethesda, Chevy Chase. And she calls Mr. Offett - he used to be my teacher, I still call him Mr. Offett - and he says 'I think he's still around and I think he lives in Rockville.'
So she calls him up and leaves a message and gets a call back from almost 89-year-old Robert Stevens -
LITTLE GIRL: [calling from the other room] He's here.
MICHAEL EIG: - who's here, I think, I just hear from my daughter. He's here?
EMILY EIG: He's here.
WALTER RAY WATSON: They descend the stairs, open their front door, and face history.
MICHAEL EIG: Mr. Stevens -
ROBERT STEVENS, Author of Diary: Mr. Eig?
MICHAEL EIG: I am Mr. Eig.
ROBERT STEVENS: Glad to meet you.
MICHAEL EIG: Welcome home. [laughs]
ROBERT STEVENS: I'm not sure - I wasn't sure I was in the right neighborhood.
MICHAEL EIG: You are. Come on in.
ROBERT STEVENS: I haven't seen anything that changed the way this has. Hi.
MICHAEL EIG: This is my wife, Emily.
EMILY EIG: Hi. Nice to meet you.
MICHAEL EIG: And my daughter, Susanna -
ROBERT STEVENS: Hi, Susanna.
MICHAEL EIG: - who is very talkative.
SUSANNA EIG: [unintelligible]
EMILY EIG: Shhhh.
ROBERT STEVENS: Well, are you the people that have been here since '81?
EMILY EIG: Um hm [affirmative].
ROBERT STEVENS: What happened to the house that used to be cross the street? Did they tear it down and rebuild it?
MICHAEL EIG: They tore it down.
ROBERT STEVENS: Did they tear it down?
EMILY EIG: We didn't see it.
ROBERT STEVENS: Honest to gosh, it's just nothing looks familiar around here. I almost got lost.
WALTER RAY WATSON: The Chevy Chase neighborhood has seen a few changes from when Robert Stevens, the boy, slid down the steep banisters in the front hall of the house. Dressed in a light jacket and baseball cap, he's a retired federal bureaucrat. It's the first time he's set foot in the house in 72 years.
ROBERT STEVENS: Well, I found some old pictures here. There may be some that you'll recognize. But they've been taken so long ago that everything has changed. Why, there isn't a spare 10 feet of property around here now, is there?
MICHAEL EIG: No, and I bet when you were here there were a few empty lots.
RBERT STEVENS: Yeah, we had a lot out here we used to play on. I see they stuck a house in there.
MICHAEL EIG: You told us over the phone how proud your mother was, I think, of this stairway, right? It's still here.
ROBERT STEVENS: Oh, yeah, and it still looks pretty. Before we came in, the people that were - the Caldwells had a relative that was a master carpenter and he built this stairs the year before we got here. And it looks as shiny now as it didn't then.
WALTER RAY WATSON: The Eigs take Robert Stevens through a guided tour of the house and grounds. There are the sliding doors to the music room that were sealed over by moldings. There's now a study where Steven's mother used to prepare meals. The kitchen is somewhere else today. For the better part of an hour, the couple and their house guest reconcile what was then with what is now.
ROBERT STEVENS: This is where my Guinea pigs got killed. I have a - I'll show you - I've got a picture. It's that porch, I think, in the middle of the picture.
EMILY EIG: Well, this is your back porch, and there was a door, I understand here.
MICHAEL EIG: But come on outside, and -
EMILY EIG: And then you'd be in the back yard, except that it's now our family room.
MICHAEL EIG: We'll see if you recognize anything, but I don't think you will.
ROBERT STEVENS: Yep. I must be in the wrong house.
MICHAEL EIG: Well, it's the same yard. It just doesn't look the same anymore. We put a terrace in and all that -
ROBERT STEVENS: - the picture I took of the old back yard.
MICHAEL EIG: It's the same size as it was.
ROBERT STEVENS: And my pets - when they died or got killed, I buried - let's see, where was it? Back - right over there, where you're standing is a grave -
MICHAEL: You're standing in a graveyard.
ROBERT STEVENS: Right. You're standing on the grave of my pet dog, I think.
MICHAEL EIG: Nick?
ROBERT STEVENS: Nick. That was Nick.
MICHAEL EIG: Yeah. We read all about Nick -
ROBERT STEVENS: Nick got killed by a coal truck. That was -
MICHAEL EIG: A truck, yes. I just read about that.
ROBERT STEVENS: I cried for a week, I think.
WALTER RAY WATSON: Back inside, Michael Eig takes Robert Stevens to the third floor and beyond for an aerial view looking from stairs that lead up to the roof.
ROBERT STEVENS: This was all fields in those days.
MICHAEL EIG: That was a field.
ROBERT STEVENS: Yeah, it was fields. There was - you could - when we came out here, it was three houses on this side of Thorn Apple and three houses on the other. And now, there must be 40 on the whole street. Yeah, we had - and we used to have a trash dump out here. We'd burn our trash. We didn't have any trash collections in those days. You buried your garbage and burned your trash.
The neighbors - some of - we were always getting our cows - I mean, milk from a neighbor who had a cow. Mr. Chorf [sp] had a cow at one time, Mr. Medler [sp].
WALTER RAY WATSON: After the tour, Robert Stevens sits down with his diaries. He said he had two aspirations as a kid -
ROBERT STEVENS: I wanted to be an engineer on a fire - on a steam engine. You know, they were good watching in those days, steam engines. And then my father took me out to a baseball game - 1915, I saw Willard Johnson. Then I wanted to play baseball and I couldn't believe that they paid people to play baseball, because I liked to play. But then I got into it professionally and I found out it wasn't all as good as it seemed. Somebody was always - you were always looking over your shoulder for - you have a bad day, you get bad, and you lose your job. It's -
EMILY EIG: What positions did you play?
ROBERT STEVENS: I was a shortstop. I was short. I guess that was my only qualification. I played seven, eight years of professional baseball.
MICHAEL EIG: I found you in the - As I told you, I saw you in the baseball encyclopedia. You played for Philadelphia in the National League -
ROBERT STEVENS: I got up to the top. I had my ambitions realized. I got up to the top. I didn't stay long, but I got there. And a lot of 'em better than I was didn't get there.
MICHAEL EIG: When was that?
ROBERT STEVEN: Nineteen thirty-one - '31. Yeah.
WALTER RAY WATSON: In Total Baseball, a baseball encyclopedia, page 1477, a single line tells of Robert Jordan Stevens, shortstop, born April 17, 1907. He debuted in the majors July 3rd, 1931, with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played in 12 games and batted 343 in 35 times at bat. One memorable moment not mentioned in the encyclopedia - Stevens met home-run legend Babe Ruth in a 1927 exhibition game.
ROBERT STEVENS: - in the eighth inning. I let off eighth inning, got a base hit. And just then, they had the people roped off in right field. There were so many people, they just roped them off in right field. The people broke loose from the right field roping section and they came running over to Babe, wanted to get his autograph. So the umpire called the game. I remember Babe said to me 'Somebody's going to get hurt here. Somebody'd better watch out 'cause somebody's going to get hurt.' He had a voice like a bass drum.
WALTER RAY WATSON: Robert Stevens Learned to play baseball in the fields of Chevy Chase and he wrote about those days in his diary, including this excerpt from June 9, 1920.
ROBERT STEVENS: [reading from his diary] 'In the evening, my second team played Hubbard's team and they beat us 11 to 9. I caught for both sides. I went in to pinch hit in the ninth for Morton -' [he pauses to decipher the writing]
MICHAEL EIG: - and you struck out.
ROBERT STEVENS: '- and struck out on three pitched balls. I played on Hubbard's side. Hank and Harry pitched for Bearcats.'
I was getting sloppy writing in those days.
Started raising Guinea pigs on February 17th. Got two, but one died.'
D-Y-E-D - I don't know whether I should show this to my kids.
WALTER RAY WATSON: The last diary entries recall a tragedy from Stevens' boyhood. In the winter of 1922, a record two feet of snow hit Washington, and in January 28th, a local movie house, the Knickerbocker, collapsed. Ninety-eight people were killed. Coincidentally, Michael Eig's father was born the very next day.
Robert Stevens dutifully recorded the theater disaster in the pages of his diary.
ROBERT STEVENS: Well, the roof of the Knickerbocker fell in on 300 people last night. Gene walked home because all the cars are stuck because of snow. He came by the theater and seen police - [he pauses to decipher the writing]
MICHAEL EIG: - and firemen I believe.
ROBERT STEVENS: '- policemen and firemen bringing in dead bodies of people out fro the wreck of the theater. Gene thought Pop was in the wreck, but he wasn't. It snowed all day today, about one yard deep now.'
WALTER RAY WATSON: The Eigs and the former tenant of the house pour over photographs, and trade stories about the neighborhood. They discover even more coincidences. Each family has lost a son. Noah Eig in a lighting storm, and 8-year-old Raymond, son of Robert Stevens, in a 1970 car crash. Emily Eig says she's overwhelmed by the rush of emotions brought on by Stevens' visit.
EMILY EIG: I can't tell you how exciting it is for me. I mean, it's just - I mean, it's almost a dream come true, except I never dreamed that it would be possible that this would have happened, that he actually would still be around and be able to remember and bring us photographs. I mean, I am thrilled.
WALTER RAY WATSON: Having collected an afternoon of memories from his old house, Robert Stevens prepares to leave. But Michael Eig is uneasy about breaking the connection that took so long to make. He invites Stevens to a baseball game with his family. The kids scramble for a camera and the group gathers on the front porch of Robert Stevens' childhood home, now home to the Eigs, and smile for a picture they hope will preserve the memory of this special chance encounter, this crossroad of parallel lives.
MICHAEL EIG: My son found those diaries, and my son was killed in 1991, the year after he found those diaries. When I read the diaries, I found out - I found out that - that the diaries end on the day my father, the week my father was born. So I go out that way. Then - then we find Mr. Stevens who we then find out, just like in the movie Field of Dreams, has one line in the baseball encyclopedia, which I found. We think we're going to - we're going to stay in touch with Mr. Stevens. I mean, it was amazing.
WALTER RAY WATSON: I'm Walter Ray Watson reporting.
ROBERT STEVENS: Well, this has been quite an experience. My daughter suggested - she said 'If you get in, why don't you make 'em take you through the house.' I - well, I didn't have to make you.
EMILY EIG: Not at all.
DAVID MOLPUS: I'm David Molpus.
The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it may not have been proofread against tape.
LOAD-DATE: April 11, 1996