Marilyn Butler’s vision for “Mapping Georgetown”
Imagine falling in love with your city. Then devote all of your creative endeavors to nurturing and preserving its unique culture and heritage. Georgetown-based Marilyn Butler did (and does) just that with her “Mapping Georgetown” project.
Butler decided to capture and convey memories, impressions, family stories and details of life in Washington’s oldest neighborhood, a place she “absolutely loves”. Her goal is to publish a book of highlights that will be made available in the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Public Library.
On a simple 8 ½ x 12 inch folded flyer with an overview map of Georgetown and a page for answers, Butler invites participants – young and old – to “reach for pen, markers, crayons and imagination!” And “have fun” [decorating] Your card to your heart’s content. ” Feel free, she adds, “to use words, pictures, vignettes, doodles and anecdotes”.
Since launching the project in 2019, participants have returned hundreds of fascinating and historically rich responses for Butler’s collection. With life normalizing somewhat since the pandemic, the project has picked up speed again and Butler is increasing the project’s social media presence.
As she does this, the mapped dots and memories begin to connect, the stories weave, and the Georgetown tapestry comes to life.
Butler’s own life is full of notable stories. She and her husband grew up in Cleveland, but when their sons started college here, they traveled frequently between Georgetown and Ohio. After giving birth to her first grandchild, she found a “nice” area for an apartment in Georgetown “Kitten’s corner across from Dumbarton Gardens,” she told The Georgetowner.
In Cleveland, where she grew up and still has a home, her father, a “50-year-old defense attorney,” was “taught to swim” by Elliot Ness on the beach near her home. In her family kitchen “Mrs. Stouffer made her apple pie ”and“ took her by tram to her restaurant in Public Square ”. And the “whole Stouffer empire began from there”.
Connecting people has always been an issue in Butler’s life. With a degree in business administration – or as she calls it, “a degree in survival” – Butler pioneered the wireless industry early and helped provide for her family of six. Eventually she retired as an executive at AT&T.
While at AT&T, she taught in her spare time at the Cleveland Museum of Art. She loved seeing details people observed in the artwork, hearing stories from people, and enjoying the creativity of the artists on display. To learn more and more about the exhibits and the perception of the audience is a “wonderful feeling”, she said. “I loved it … My [docent] Tours were tied to stories. And I would start and say, “What do you notice?” I told all the stories I had … and we discussed the period … it was really fun … And it has evolved. “
Always interested in photography, Butler took a Photoshop class at the museum. In Georgetown, she began to come into contact with people through her photography. After buying a piece of art from a store in Georgetown, the owner invited Butler to sell a framed photo she had taken of a rowing crew seen from Key Bridge. Before her family members could visit the store to see the photo on sale, it sold for over $ 1,000.
Out of love for the neighborhoods of Georgetown, she created a poster collage for “Georgetown Doors” that sold well. While taking the poster to donate to the Georgetown Public Library, she met Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian / archivist in the Peabody Room. Since Butler was interested in photographing Georgetown, McCoy showed her a book called “Georgetown Panorama”. Published in 1977 by the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, the book of accordion-style collages to be used by the Old Georgetown Board captures the entire architectural street landscape of M Street and Wisconsin Ave. into Georgetown.
According to Butler, McCoy said “what he really wanted to see” is an update of that work, since he believes it is an extremely “crucial and important image reference tool.”
To McCoy’s surprise, since two other photographers hadn’t followed his suggestion, Butler saw the project finished.
McCoy was impressed with what Butler eventually produced, a self-released volume, M Street: A Georgetown Panorama. Butler’s book outshone the original 1977 black and white work, McCoy told The Georgetowner. “I was absolutely stunned by what she had done. She really stuck to the layout of the original work … She put the pictures together great. I was speechless. She did it all as a donation [to the library]. She took all the photos and just did a stunning and beautiful job. What she created will be just as important to future generations of researchers as the original … And she made everything out of her love for Georgetown. “
Butler’s intensive photographic work on the Georgetown Panorama project connected her closely with her neighbors and passers-by and set the stage for Mapping Georgetown. “People would stop me in the street and say, ‘I saw you taking pictures on M Street,” she said. “During this love work project … I spoke to a lot of people and it just grounded me in the neighborhood.”
Soon a cashier asked her to design another Georgetown poster to display near the cash register. When she thought about the project, she had a vision that the best way to bring Georgetown to life is to focus on the personal connections she loved with the people in the neighborhood. On a trip to Russia she had met someone who described the joys of story mapping and she had seen a mapping Manhattan storybook. “You know, mapping is one thing,” she told us. So the Mapping Georgetown project was born.
When Butler began handing out her story map cards to the “friends of Georgetown” she met, she used her faculty skills to provide spontaneous and impromptu responses. “People are often intrigued,” said Butler, “they say, ‘What is this?’ So I talk to them about it and usually they tell me something in conversation, so I say ‘there your story is right there’…. I’ve had a lot of people returning Georgetown stories to me saying, “I’m so glad you asked me for it because I didn’t think about it” [this] and I really enjoyed putting it together and writing about it. ‘”
In January 2020, the Washington Post got wind of Butler’s Mapping Georgetown project and highlighted its community conservation activism. “Marilyn Butler is one of [Georgetown’s] Residents obliged to catalog the events in the area….
“Without a doubt, what I like most about Georgetown is the people,” Butler told the Post. “Everyone I’ve met led me to someone else and the experience was magical.”
And now the Georgetown stories flow in – collected by Butler in person, by post or by email.
From Billy Martin of Martin’s Tavern: “One of my favorite quotes from one of my father’s stories is when Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson were sitting in the dugout here in Martin’s Tavern, where Sam and my grandfather were discussing politics and Johnson kept trying to get into the conversation and Sam said, “Johnson, if you just shut up, maybe you could learn something !!” Signed: William (Billy) A. Martin, Jr., 4th generation
Butler tells this about Julia Child, Katharine Graham and Pamela Harriman. “Well the story is that Julia Childs lived in this house and she and Pamela Harriman and Katharine Graham couldn’t cook. So they started making lucky dinners and they got pretty good at it and see where Julia Childs got it. “
One story describes the mother of a writer whose “great-great-grandfather” told stories about riding the horse-drawn carriage from Georgetown to the White House with President Lincoln’s son Robert, who was a frequent passenger.
Another resident of Georgetown and author of “Unconditional Surrender: The Romance of Julia and Ulysses S. Grant” has marked the “final resting place of Emma Dent Casey, who is buried in the beautiful Oak Hill Cemetery” on the map. Casey’s writings helped give the author “Insights into Mr. and Mrs. Grant’s love affair.”
One respondent recalled the joys of archaeological research at the home site of Yarrow Mamout, one of Georgetown’s most historically significant African American residents. “As a volunteer on the DC Preservation Office’s archeology team, I was privileged to help excavate the Yarrow Mamout homeland. I have fond memories of my work and my time in Georgetown! “
An eyewitness of the fire that nearly burned the Georgetown Public Library in April 2007 tells her story. “On the corner of R and Wisconsin, NW, on the day of the fire in Georgetown DCPL, I saw the original flames come off the roof. A small crowd had gathered and I joined them while we waited anxiously for the fire trucks to arrive… ”This map story connected several points for Butler. To McCoy’s relief, the beloved portrait of Yarrow Mamout in the Peabody Room had been rescued from the conflagration.
Butler contributed one of her own stories – an article on the racial integration of the Holy Trinity School. She had written an interview for the school about Adele Dodson, the school’s first black student.
Some of the most touching stories describe Georgetown’s daily life. “This is a special gem of Georgetown – we all know and care about each other – singles, couples, families with babies and children – we share the walks, blow leaves and water plants – if you go too fast, you miss the ones Magic, ”wrote Judith Burnell. One child was especially proud of their grandfather, who works at Georgetown Cupcake, and they included a small cupcake drawing.
“Everything leads to something else. So whatever your interests, there are limitless story and relationship opportunities, ”Butler said.
Meanwhile, McCoy looks forward to exhibiting the Mapping Georgetown collection in the Peabody Room. In addition to the bound volume, he would like to present the highlights of Georgetown history on the digital collections (DigDC) page of the DC Public Library.
“I’d really like to see a Marilyn Butler do something similar in all the other neighborhoods of DC,” said McCoy. “It’s such important information that needs to be captured. They’re like little miniature oral lore … it’s really a nice thing she does. “
To participate in the Mapping Georgetown Project, go to https://mappinggeorgetown.com/, visit MappingGeorgetown on Instagram or get a flyer from the Georgetown Public Library.
Stay tuned! In the coming editions, The Georgetowner will work with Marilyn Butler to bring stories from the “Mapping Georgetown” project to light. We will also be offering our own graphical features on people who have lived in Georgetown in the past and who live here today.