Soon, he returned to his family home in Georgetown, a magnificent estate known as Evermay, perched on a rise with a view of the Washington Monument and Rock Creek Park. Peter didn’t talk much about the Hindenburg, because that was the Belin way: Don’t draw attention to yourself; don’t be showy.
In fact, it wasn’t until just a few days ago that Peter’s son, Harry Belin, learned how his father escaped death when the airship burst into flames, killing 35 people aboard.
“He landed on a sandbank!?” Harry marveled, standing amid his basement archives, after finding a family letter. “I never heard about the sandbank.”
Untold thousands of people have seen or toured Evermay, the two-century-old, 31
2-acre estate famed for its Federal-style mansion and lush gardens. But few know the history of its occupants, the Belins, who for nearly nine decades resided inside the walled compound on 28th Street NW. A family of French immigrants who married into the du Pont dynasty and made a fortune in the gunpowder industry, the Belins populated some of the past century’s most significant moments.
Another family trait was to serve the country that had rewarded them so richly. But only now, when Evermay has passed from the family’s hands, are some of their stories being revealed.
In May, unable to afford the taxes and upkeep, Harry sold the estate after years of trying to keep it in the family. The $22 million sale — the second-largest home sale in city history — marked the fading of one Washington and the emergence of a new one: Ryuji Ueno and Sachiko Kuno, a Japanese couple who founded the Bethesda-based biotechnology firm Sucampo, got Evermay for less than half of the $49 million asking price.
Now Harry, 68, a retired horticulturist and Navy officer, spends his days at his Montgomery County home, where he has taken what he considers the most precious parts of the Evermay property: the six urns containing the ashes of his family members and the stashes of family papers that were scattered around the estate. He is paying a curator to help him research the archives; hundreds of family letters — typed and handwritten in cursive — reside in carefully labeled boxes.
Remnants of the past
The first Belin to own Evermay was Harry’s grandfather, Ferdinand Lammot “Mot” Belin, who, the files suggest, had a rendezvous with another great disaster of the 20th century. Ferdinand canceled his trip aboard the Titanic in 1912 and went on to become U.S. ambassador to Poland in the 1930s.