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Scenes from the Past...

Local Boy John Hoover Made Something of Himself and Was a Good Neighbor

By Paul Kelsey Williams*

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called himself a native Washingtonian, and indeed, he was born on Capitol Hill; he later moved to a house in the city’s upper Northwest.

John Edgar Hoover was reportedly born at 413 C Street, SE on New Year’s Day 1895 to Anna Marie (Scheitlin, 1860–1938), who was of German-Swiss descent, and Dickerson Naylor Hoover, Sr. (1856–1921), of English and German ancestry. The uncle of Hoover’s mother was a Swiss honorary consul general to the United States.

Unlike his two siblings, however, oddly there is no record of Hoover’s birth, and a certificate was not filed until 1938, following his mother’s death, leading to speculation that his father was not Dickerson Sr.

The Hoover family was enumerated at the Capitol Hill address in the 1900 census, and the house later became known as 413 Seward Square, SE –- since razed and today the site of the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church.

At Central High School, he sang in the school choir, participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, and competed on the debate team. He obtained a law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1916, and an LL.M., a Master of Laws degree, in 1917 from the same university.

Following the death of his father in 1921, Edgar lived with his mother in the same house on Seward Square until her death in 1938 when he moved into a newly built house a year later at 4936 30th Place, NW in the Forest Hills neighborhood. The house, which was built beginning in December of 1939 for James E. Schwab, was designed by Edwin B. and Lois B. Taylor and constructed at a cost of $12,000.

The living room was adorned with a variety of taxidermy animals and erotic art. Despite his formidable reputation, he was remembered by older neighborhood residents as offering rides to the bus stop in his chauffeur-driven limousine on rainy days.

Hoover was notorious for his targeting of gays and blacks: civil rights leaders, elected officials, newspaper publishers, and even artists such as the great singer Paul Robeson.

But yet, during Hoover’s tenure as head of the FBI, which lasted from 1924 until his death in 1972, there were persistent rumors — both inside and outside the FBI — that Hoover himself was gay and descended from African-Americans. The recent publication of a book by Millie McGhee titled Secrets Uncovered, a descendant of Mississippi slaves who believes that her family is related to J. Edgar Hoover, has re-opened the issue.

It is generally accepted that Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI who was Hoover’s heir, may have been his lover. Hoover died on May 2, 1972 at 4936 Thirtieth Place NW. Tolson inherited Hoover’s estate and moved into his home, having accepted the American flag that draped Hoover’s casket. Tolson is buried a few yards away from Hoover in the Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill.

*The writer, an historic preservation specialist and historian, is the president of Kelsey & Associates in Washington, DC and Baltimore.

 

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