Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Our main library has a groaning shelf displaying books written by Arlington authors. The selection barely scratches the surface.

Not only are there numerous newly published volumes by local scribes, I can think of five actually set in our hometown.

In the fiction department, thriller writer Bill Schweigart recently added The Devil’s Colony (Penguin Random House), featuring an Arlington resident, to his earlier fantasy called the The Beast of Barcroft.

School counselor and children’s author Gretchen Schuyler Brenckle (raised in my neighborhood) weighed in last December with a sequel A Cat Named Denali, Book 2: Arlington!

Last month, I attended a passionately delivered book talk at Central Library by Cherrydale resident Liza Mundy. She is making a national splash with Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Hachette Books).

I have a special enthusiasm because my mother was among those code girls at Arlington Hall. Among the fascinating local details in Mundy’s globally significant history is a description of Arlington Farms. Long demolished, this emergency wartime housing project was named for an Agriculture Department experiment on land that today is an extension of Arlington Cemetery.

“The dormitories, thrown together so quickly by a federal government eager to house its overwhelming influx of women workers, were flimsy and shoddy,” she writes.

Mundy has two fellow Washington Post alumni with books this year. I heard Arlingtonian and former foreign correspondent Glenn Frankel at central library speak about his High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic (Bloomsbury USA). It’s a fascinating study of the leftist scriptwriter who turned a cowboy movie starring Gary Cooper into a stirring political fable.

Equally historic is the release by investigative reporter Jefferson Morley titled The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press). It profiles the cold warrior who became paranoid about a mole inside the agency. Angleton (1917-87) “virtually destroyed counterintelligence at CIA,” a colleague recalled.

“The Angletons bought a four-bedroom house on 33rd Rd. in north Arlington,” Morley writes. “Angleton built a heated greenhouse to grow orchids. He installed a rock tumbler for polishing stones in his basement, where he made jewelry at night.”

My boyhood pals knew Angleton was a fellow suburbanite (one used to mow his lawn).

Finally, a conjuring of my old neighborhood of Cherrydale comes through in the book of that title by my high school compatriot Dean Simpson Phillips. A broadcaster and professor in North Carolina, Dean published this embellished reminiscence on behalf of his father, A. Leslie Phillips, who served on the County Board from 1969-72.

The older Phillips grew up on Military Road in the 1920s and 1930s. Locals of that generation will warm to the memories of Griffith Stadium, Arnold Bus Co. and ball teams representing Ballston, Clarendon and Livingston Heights.

The memoir mentions vanished businesses like Cherrydale Drug Store, Luzi’s Cleaners, Sanitary Grocery, Pugliesi’s Shoe Repair and Cherrydale Cement Block Co. “Tough and dangerous were these fellas in the Cherrydale Gang,” the narrator writes, describing pranks on teachers at Cherrydale School and the Cherrydale Fire Department responding to a fire at the home of landowner Ruby Lee Minor.

“In Cherrydale, just about every family grew things,” Phillips writes of life during those “simple and colorful years, lived in a place that stayed the same.”


How’s this for an Arlington lesser-known literary connection?

Frances “Scottie” Lanahan (nee Fitzgerald), the only child of 1920s celebrity couple F. Scott and Zelda, worked here in the 1950s. She was a journalist for the Northern Virginia Sun, back when it was run by high-brow New Deal liberals from across the river.

Lanahan (1921-86), went on to write for the Post and The New Yorker. Her papers are at Vassar College, and she was buried with her famous parents in Rockville, Md.

Editor’s note: Clark’s own book, a compilation of selected columns titled Hidden History of Arlington County, was published this summer by The History Press.