Fallen but Never Forgotten
But beyond the sepia image of youth, the full picture of Jack Dyer never quite comes into focus.
Dyer's widow, Jean Dyer Davis, is 83 and living in Chester, Md. She was Elinor Jean Hull when she married Dyer on Feb. 9, 1941. They had met on a blind date less than three weeks earlier and had run away to South Carolina.
She was 20 years old at the time; Dyer was 17.
"Only I didn't know it," she said. "He lied to me. He said he was 21."
Dyer actually was born May 1, 1923, according to military records, but his age was not the only thing about him that was a mystery.
"I know very little about his family," Jean Davis said. But she did learn these things: "His mother committed suicide, and his father had a drinking problem."
On March 15, 1934, a Washington Post article began with these words: "The body of Elmer Dyer, well known in Washington society circles, was identified yesterday at the District Morgue after it had lain there for ten hours."
He had been drinking for a week with another man, who didn't know his name. An autopsy said his death was "due to alcoholism." He was 36.
The final sentence of the story read, "Dyer is understood to have been unemployed for the last two years."
Elmer Dyer was Jack's father. According to the newspaper story, he "was a manager of the Wardman Park Hotel for a number of years."
The Wardman Park -- now the Wardman Park Marriott at Woodley Street and Connecticut Avenue -- was named for Harry Wardman, who also built the British Embassy and the Hay-Adams, St. Regis and Jefferson hotels, and was known as the "colossus of Washington real estate" when he died in 1938. In 1925, his fortune was thought to be $30 million. By 1930, he had lost everything, and so had his employees.
Some years before Elmer Dyer drank himself to death -- no one is sure when -- his wife, whose maiden name was Nichloson, had put her head in a gas-filled oven. The oldest of the three Dyer children, Elmer Nicholson Dyer, told his children that his mother had tried to kill his younger sister Dorothy and brother Jack at the same time. Elmer Dyer might have saved their lives.
He promptly left to join the military, becoming a career Air Force officer, and died in 1984. Dorothy and Jack were sent to Catholic orphanages. Dorothy married Washington banker J. Martin Bonesteel in 1949 and died in 1964, in her forties. She had no children.
Jack spent much of his childhood at St. Joseph's Home and School, an orphanage for boys ages 6 to 12 that was run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, at 2800 Otis St. NE. It shut down in 1967, but the building is there, now housing a Catholic charity for people with AIDS.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company