If someone confided to you that he was the person responsible for arguably the single most famous graffito in the Washington area — “Surrender Dorothy” painted on a railroad bridge near the Mormon Temple — how would you react? Would you buy him a drink? Would you call the police? Would you tell Answer Man?
Answer Man asks because of the column he wrote last month, in which he recounted what was known about “Surrender Dorothy” and invited its creator to get in touch. No one would admit to painting the message over the Beltway, but three people said they had met the person who did it.
Or who said he did it. In each case it was a different person, and the messages to Answer Man went something like this: “Back in the 1970s/1980s, when I was in college/had a part-time job I had class with/worked with/got drunk with a guy who said he was the person who painted ‘Surrender Dorothy.’ ”
Answer Man did his best to run these leads to ground. In two of the cases, that was difficult: The person in question was no longer alive. The third case involved a former University of Maryland student government leader. When contacted, he said he did not do it. But he said he had met someone who said he had.
“But,” wrote the former student body official, “I pretty much instinctively place claims like that into the ‘when I was riding my Harley Davidson in Vietnam’ category: i.e., fiction.”
So, the search continues for the person or persons who wielded the paintbrush. However, Answer Man can reveal who apparently first publicly linked the Mormon Temple with “The Wizard of Oz,” albeit temporarily. Would it surprise you to learn that they were Catholic schoolgirls?
In the fall of 1974, the senior class of Holy Child, a Catholic girls school in Potomac, visited the Mormon Temple before its dedication. To some, the building resembled the Emerald City. “The Wizard of Oz” might have been on their minds. It was going to be the school play that year. Almost immediately, a plan was hatched.
“We thought it was brilliant,” remembered Chris Brennan, Holy Child Class of 1975, “but being good girls we didn’t want to deface any property, so we came up with the idea to use wadded newspapers to spell out the letters.”
They scoped out the site, choosing a chain-link fence on the bridge that takes Linden Lane over the Beltway. The girls gathered at Maureen Leonard O’Grady’s house in McLean. Her parents were away. Some of the girls told their parents they had to attend a “student council retreat.” Bags were filled with wadded-up newspaper. Some time after midnight, the girls headed to the bridge. There were 13 girls in all. Each was responsible for at least one letter. The girls who finished the first letters then hurried to do the last letters.
“It was very well orchestrated,” said Ann Cassidy Principe, another of the Holy Child girls, a photographer and filmmaker who now lives in Naples, Fla.
“We were done in no time,” said Chris, now a special-ed teacher who lives in Catonsville.
The next day, Montgomery Journal photographer Hoke Kempley happened upon the girls’ creation. On Oct. 31, 1974, his picture of it ran in the Journal under the headline, “Wicked Witch of the Beltway?”
The caption read in part: “Fantasy? Maybe. But isn’t it great to have such a sense of fun?”
The wadded-up newspaper message didn’t last long. Ann and Chris estimate that it was taken down within 24 hours. But clearly whoever painted the somewhat more permanent message was inspired by the handiwork of the Holy Child students.
“We always talked about who painted it, but we never did find out,” Ann said.
Are they at all worried about finally admitting to their act? No, said Ann. “It’s safe to come clean. We didn’t do any graffiti.”
The question remains: Who did?
Longtime Washingtonians remember the “Surrender Dorothy” graffito. They also remember The Washington Post’s yearly campaign to raise money for Camp Moss Hollow. Our goal is to raise $500,000 for this summer camp for at-risk kids. So far, we’ve raised $326,852.71.
If you’ve been waiting, now’s the perfect time to donate. A generous donor has stepped forward and offered to match all the money we receive between now and Friday, up to a total of $100,000. Give and you will supersize your donation.
What’s more, our friends at Clyde’s are offering an incentive: Donate between $150 and $249 dollars, and you will receive a $25 gift certificate good for any Clyde’s or the Old Ebbitt Grill. Donate $250 or more, and you will receive a $50 voucher. (Gift certificates will be mailed by late August.)
To make a tax-deductible donation, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.