GOOD LORD," cried the ghosts of thousands, "now they're selling off the lamps, the beds, the ice machines from the old home turf."
All too true. The Old Sheraton-Park, formerly the old Wardman Park Hotel, starts coming down the end of this month and a sale of everything in 900 rooms began yesterday.
Since 1918 the hotel, which is the capital's largest, has been home to three presidents, 147 congressmen, assorted vice presidents, a Supreme Court chief justice and great batches of common folk.
And now it's all over. The pubs, where romance sometimes bloomed, fights sometimes bred, hangovers sometimes started.
And the historic ice machines ($1,200 at the sale and plenty of them left). No man can say how many problems of international import started getting solved when somebody had the bright idea of going out into the hall for a bucket of ice.
National Content Liquidators of Dayton, which is selling off the contents of the rooms, the bars, the kitchens, for a percentage of the gross for the hotel, flung open the lobby doors at 9 a.m., and within an hour lines of bargain hunters were out on the driveway patiently waiting to be admitted.
"I might buy a lamp," said Ann Ozer of Chevy Chase. "You remember the old Watergate Restaurant?Well, I bought something at their sale. It's nice to remember. But the real reason I came was to let Nicky (her post-toddler child) ride the bus. She said the floors weren't very clean."
Grave 8-foot-wide chandeliers hung over the big room full of samples, displayed in the lobby to give people an idea what was for sale and how much. But to get a particular lamp or writing desk or mattress, you took the elevator up to the rooms and stalked about until you found what you wanted, then lugged it down and paid for it at a cashier's station.
"I saw a nice bookstand, but no way to get it home," complained a woman.
Jocelyn Mitchell of Washington said she had noticed "types of mirror you don't see in stores."
Lillian Bumbry of King George County, Va., said she liked watching what people bought, and was amazed at how well the pillows were selling:
"You have to wash them, and if you don't open the seams a little the feathers swell up and they bust open.
"Now just how many of these young things know that?" she demanded, with a severe glance at the women in the 20s. "I would expect a lot of washing machines to be full of feathers before this day is over."
Charlotte Bumbry, her daughter, was "getting a Motorola TV set," and her mother fussed:
"Oh, very good. You have an empty apartment. You can sleep right on the Motorola. Why don't you buy a bed?"
"No.I'm getting a bar. I can sleep on that."
Firm-looking women, not to be trifled with, were plowing through mountains of blankets in some of the suites, choosing some and rejecting others for no apparent reason.
"M Corridor," said a young man to two companions. "M Corridor is the one to try." But a reporter who trotted dutifully up and down C, D, E, as well as M (and some others) could not see the furnishings varied in any corridor.
Penny cummings, hotel spokesman, had said the day before that the hotel rooms were full or marble lamps, such as one cannot buy nowadays. She mentioned the marble lamps two or three times, and they looked ordinary enough to the average fellow, but every elevator was jammed with people bopping each other apologetically with the lamps, a lot of brass and plaster ones, too, so evidently they saw the same merit in them that Cummings did.
"I would like to buy that wrought-iron bench, the one that's $250," said a woman to a liquidator.
"It's been sold. Maybe there will be some more tomorrow," he said, like a man who has said something for the 47th time.
"No ma'am," he said to another, "no pots and pans for sale today. Only large rotisseries and things like that."
"Do I understand the prints on the wall of the pub are not for sale today?" asked another.
Right. Right. Right.
Nobody tried to buy the swimming pool and cart it off, but Frank S. Long, vice president of the liquidating firm, said it is inevitable that people "want to buy whatever is inconvenient to sell at the moment, for example toilet bowls that are bolted down, and fire extinguishers - everybody wants to buy fire extinguishers - and exit signs which are not for sale."
Francis Killelea, a high-school math teacher from Scottsdale, Ariz., was leaving soon after the sale began with an armful of cloth:
"Draperies," he said. "Got them for $30. The same thing would cost me $300 new. Of course they'll have to be altered (no two windows in America are the same size) but you can do a lot of altering at the price."
I sat down on a bench in an abandoned pub and, while I did not weep, I still felt sad when I remembered the old days.
When we first came to Washington we stayed at the hotel, which could not manage the two hounds (nor could we in one room) but was gracious about letting my wife keep the mopdog in the room at no extra charge.
The bench - it certainly was not there in Harding's administration - was padded black and white vinyl, but at least it was not sold out from under one.
One explained there is a going price for everything, salvage-wise, and he sets the prices just slightly above wholesale second-hand rates, he said. Certainly the customers seemed pleased.
For seven years now the hotel has been planning the most efficient way to erect a new hotel in the middle of the old one, and it is nearly complete and is expected to open this fall.
Meanwhile, 500 rooms are continuing in operation in the Wardman Towers and the motor hotel wings of the vast pile.
There will be 1,505 rooms when it's finished, after the 950 rooms have been demolished, a gain of 100 rooms. Yet the new hotel is compact, and four acres of the present building will be turned into lawn and garden. The hotel occupies 12 acres at Connecticut and Woodley.
Eisenhower, Johnson, Henry Wallace, Spiro Agnew, Earl Warren, Herbert Hoover, Dean Rusk, John Connally, Barry Goldwater and many other national figures have called the hotel home over the years.
Perle Mesta gave many of her mostest parties there (it was her home for some time) and Mamie Eisehower only recently moved out because her health was failing.
"Ah, how much would you say those 8-foot chandeliers might bring?" Long was asked.
"Everybody will want them since they're not for sale," he replied amiably. "They're brass and once held gas lights. They're brass and once held gas lights. They'll be dipped, to remove the white paint, and used in the new hotel.
"We expect to sell about $600,000 here in the next three weeks. We liquidated the Commodore in New York, the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia and the Willard, the Burlington, the Ambassador and some others here in Washington.
"It's very much a family business. My father and grandfather had a deep background in antiques and auctions.
"I was put up on the block when I was 9, and I'm now 24 and you might say I know this business from the ground up."
And it's not just hotels. A hospital, knocked to pieces by one of those California earthquakes, was one job, and there have been private mansions, too. Almost anything where $100,000 in sales can be expected.
"But you don't sell those red glass exit signs," someone double-checked with him.
"Right. We do not sell the exit signs." CAPTION: Picture 1, The Sheraton-Park Hotel in 1973; Picture 2, color TVs await bargain hunters in the lobby this week; Picture 3, Mrs. H. F. Starn of Arlington displays her finds; Washington Post photos