Alfonso di Batista was locking up his barbershop in the basement of the old Powhatan Hotel. "I was the last one to leave the shop, I had just changed my shoes," the 88-year-old Di Batista said. "I just put the key in the door when this man came to me saying he wanted a haircut.
"I said, I'm sorry I'm closed. Then I realized it was Thomas Edison so I opened again. He didn't have much hair to cut."
While snipping the inventor's hair Di Batista recalled asking him, "Does Marconi ever come to see you?" and Edison said, "We all see each other a lot."
A resident of Washington since 1910, Alfonso works the third chair at the Federal Bar Barber Shop at 1815 H St. NW.
He drove until a year ago when he failed to pass a written test for his license renewal.
"He takes the bus to work every day and never misses a day," said owner Vito Cortese, who pulled the switch of being born in Boston and raised in Italy, returning to America just prior to Italy's entering World War II.
"Alfonso even showed up for work during the big snow storm last year," Cortese said.
Di Batista has no idea how many pounds of hair he has scattered over barbershop floors in his 71 years of cutting hair but laughed and said, "A whole lot."
Among the stand-out celebrities he has snipped, trimmed and shaved were Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh, whose name he was unable to recall. "You know, the man who made the jump across the ocean," he said.
Di Batista was born a few miles north of Rome, and came to Philadelphia in 1904 at the age of 13. He began cutting hair two years later.
A widower with four married children and seven grandchildren, Di Batista was resting in a chair in the sunlit window of the shop. "I used to be a tailor for awhile.
"My brother was a barber, he taught me the trade. Haircuts were a quarter, then 50 cents and now they are $9 and up. Cutting hair is the same.
"I was 43 years in the Transportation Building and for awhile at Union Station," he said.
The biggest day he could remember was Truman's inauguration when he was at the shop in Union Station.
"I gave 55 shaves that day. The man would come off the train and into the shop, every one in a hurry," Di Batista said.
The different styles in haircuts over the years have not disturbed him. "I used to cut a lot of women's hair years ago, the long hair today will gradually change," he said.
"The job is easier nowadays," he added, "a lot of new equipment. Years ago we had the cake soap and brush; steady customers had their own mugs.
"Now, I average about 75 haircuts a month.
His preference in music leans more toward the long-haired as he said, "I have never heard a barbershop quartet. I enjoy classical music; I enjoy opera, "Tosca,' 'La Boheme,' 'Rigoletto,'" but he wasn't sure about Rossini's "The Barber of Seville."
He likes to read and said Gabriele D'Annunzio is one of my favorite writers. That guy, he could write beautiful."
A stamp collector, Di Batista is proud of letters he received from FDR and Jim Farley and told how it came about.
"The Vatican issued a new stamp yesrs ago, and I wrote to them and they sent me a sheet so I sent one to the president and one to Farley and they wrote thanking me."
Di Batista remembered an embarrassing incident that happened one day, and retelling it amused him.
"It was years ago and I went to Constitution Hall to listen to a tenor, I think his name was Luigi, but I can't remember his last name.
"The next day this man sits in my chair and I tell him about the tenor and how beautiful he sang and the man turns around and says, "That was me!"
Asked if he would like to have lunch in a nearby Italian restaurant, Di Batista held his hands out palms up and said, "What's the use, years ago I went to one, I bring my own sandwich every day.
"I know there are Italian restaurants around, there's one called the Roma.
"I prefer my linguine and spaghettini at home with a plain tomato sauce."
He is usually the first man in the shop each morning, takes his turn along with the rest of them sweeping the hair off the floor and talking about his favorite sport, baseball.
There are plans to retire. Maybe someday, sooner or later I'll retire and get some rest."