The people at the National Park Service who run the Visitor Center at Union Station became a little tired of the knocks they were getting so they decided to put out big registers for folks passing through to sign. They also left room for suggestions and maybe they got more than they bargained for.
More than 800,000 people passed through the center in 1978, and on the 4th of July alone they clocked 10,000. Not all of them signed, of course.
The register sits on a podium just across from the main entrance. A pen attached to a wire makes it easier.
Janet Ardette, from Massapequa, N.Y., was the first legal name in the book; she had no suggestions. But right above her name and out-of-bounds was Kevin A. Curry, Alexandria, Va., an employe at the center who wanted to be first -- and lost.
Washington's weather was knocked and praised: it rained too much, not enough snow, it was too hot and "What a beautiful day."
Suggestions called for more parking space, louder or softer music with more variety, more luggage carts, better acoustics, more boys and more girls.
That old myth about the efficiency of Mussolini emerged again when Amos Alonzo of Phogbound, N.H., scribbled: "We need Mussolini to make the trains run on time."
Eugene McCloughlin, from Dorchester, Mass., penned: "Make the seats on the trains go back farther."
Crime for some did not take a holiday. Doreene Prevatt, from Brown Deer, Wisc., wrote: "I got my wallet lifted in this town. Where are the cops when you need them?"
A plaintive plea from Bryan J. Riley, Rochester, N.Y.: "Still looking for my camera."
Brian Hertz and Jane Bloom, N.Y.C.: "Fine, except the cabbie ripped us off."
A Bolinas, Calif., man named Tim Shyser let people know: "I got robbed for $150."
But Jean M. Rowe, from Marietta, Ga., felt the city and the people "Very hospitable."
Spirits might have been high when Bob... of N.Y.C. wanted D.C. residents to know, "They have good dope in D.C." Now, it might not have been Bob... because it is known that people sometimes drop in the name of someone else.
Larry... of Maryland also "Found good dope here."
But Jack... disagreed. "It's better elsewhere," this Maryland man wrote.
Then Margaret..., Marlboro, Mass. wanted to, "Make pot legal," while another signatory demanded "More Booze."
A girl who signed her name, Jeanne White, Brockton, Mass., seemed to disagree with that one when she scratched: "I've just had two Irish coffees and I feel great."
Pleas were made to clean up rivers, cut down on the traffic, and to keep the White House open longer.
Complaints ran from Charles Forrest, Abidjan, Ivory Coast: "Wish you had more elephants," to Steven J. Wetmore, Hartford, Conn., who wailed: "My feet are killing me."
There were suggestions to seize the coal mines, keep the Panama Canal. A man from Alameda, Calif. demanded: "Don't vote for Jerry Brown." Elizabeth Johnson, from Haverhill, Mass., felt proud when she wrote: "Visiting my grandson."
A few revisited. Like Max Bangdorn, who signed in from Bagdad, Peru, with one word, "Mortifying"; a few days later it was the same writing signed "Max from Bombay, Peru, now saying, 'What a joke.'"
On Dec. 28 a very determined woman named Nancy... paused long enough to give her name and write: "Shove it." Nancy returned on the 29th to repeat herself.
A proud, happy father, Frank E. Brown, Montclair, N.J. used the pages to say: "Our daughter (Valerie) has realized a dream, a visit to D.C."
There were a few valentines in February and messages of happy birthdays and love when Ronald and Linda Rospet, from Kensington, Md., swore their love for each other.
On Dec. 30, M. Stone, N.Y.C., put his bags down long enough to use up eleven lines to say: "tear this abortion down."
Just a quarter of an inch below, Mary Acquistra, from Brooklyn, N.Y., took 20 lines to tell how beautiful it was.
There was a word from Atlanta, Ga. when Cole Egan took pen in hand to write: "Nothing up here can touch anything down south."
And Poly (bad scrawl last name) from D.C. fired back: "I don't think it really wants to."
Maybe homesick for the Bronx, Frank Gonzales who placed himself coming from there complained: "Not enough slums."
The passers-through on New Year's Eve seemed to be in a complaining mood when they asked for "More information signs." There were also more complaints about parking, but Dennon Berggren from Helsingborg, Sweden, wanted everyone in America in bright clear letters to have a "Happy New Year."
To make the people in Washington feel a little better, about 80 percent of the messages said things like "fantastic people, simply beautiful, real cool, great, I like it, still man, fab, lovely city, all right, unbelievable, nice, fine, really great, congratulations, and proud to be an American."
Of course there were the, "Ha, ha, U.S.A.; I hate taxes and you" and "Spend less for frills and more for the poor."
Then you could wonder about the plight of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Maugeri, Lansdowne, Pa. who begged: "Please sell diapers in Visitors' Center.'