In 1919, when Joseph Cannon was 27 years old, a pound of lump crabmeat cost 25 cents. That year Cannon paid $4,000 for his first home.
Today, Cannon's 90th birthday, the same amount of crabmeat sells for $13.95. His home on North Carolina Avenue SE, where he still lives, is valued at $200,000.
The other day, before a birthday celebration with about 200 relatives and friends, Joe Cannon settled into a straight-backed chair in his living room and talked about all his years in the seafood business. Ironically, seafood is not his preference.
"I like chicken; fried chicken is still my favorite food," he said. "The doctor has taken me off hog meat. I enjoy seafood once in a while, but I do like fried chicken."
Cannon looks younger than his years. He is 5 feet 10, a husky 180 pounds, and has enough hair to send him off to the barber regularly.
Cannon came to Washington in 1910 from the Fredericksburg area of Virginia and took a job delivering milk door-to-door on a horse-drawn wagon. "I remember the day I arrived here--it was July 4. Jack Johnson was the heavyweight champion," he said.
In 1913 he married Lucy Harrison, who didn't mind the milkman's hours; he left the house every morning at 2 a.m. The restaurant business offered the chance to sleep in until 4 each morning. So in the early '20s he took over the Congressional Restaurant on B Street SE. The site is now a part of Independence Avenue.
Cannon learned to cook--he began baking pies and became good at it. "Two of my customers who came in to buy pies were Mrs. Wilson, when she was at the White House, and Mrs. Hoover, when her husband was secretary of commerce," he said.
When the Depression forced him to sell his restaurant, Cannon retrenched in his kitchen at home where he and his wife went into business baking pies. "We put them in boxes and every morning I would go up to Union Station and sell them to the Pennsylvania Railroad; I think we got about 50 cents a pie.
"About that time a friend told me about a stall for sale at the Municipal Fish Market and suggested I go into the fish business." The market was on Water Street (later Maine Avenue). "When I went into the business in 1937 I really didn't know the difference between a clam and an oyster, nor one fish from the other."
In 1960, when the market closed, "I moved up to the Western Market at 2lst and K streets--my grandson, Robert Moore, was running it at the time," Cannon said. But developers came in a few years; Cannon went into semiretirement while his grandson, Robert Moore, found a storefront at the present location of Georgetown Cannon's. "Sometimes we were selling more mussels than clams--we were the only place around where people could get them," Cannon said. "In the old days we hardly ever heard of them; we would get a bushel occasionally and I would wonder what to do with them."
Cannon retired officially just five years ago, but he still likes to drop in at the store. If it is crowded, he will pitch in to help.
A widower, he shares his house with his daughter, Elizabeth Moore, and her husband. He has a son, Joseph Jr., four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
Being 90 doesn't bother him--he has two older siblings, a sister, Carrie Bowling, 92, and a brother, Frank, 94. He's given up dancing country style, but he certainly appeared fit enough at his birthday party Monday night at the Falls Landing Seafood Restaurant in Great Falls, Va.
Looking spiffy in a light gray suit and lively plaid sweater-vest, Cannon sipped at his cocktail (one a day has been prescribed by his doctor) and dug into a plate heaped with ham, roast beef, lobster Newburg and paella.
A huge, two-tiered birthday cake featured 90 blazing candles, which melted the white icing. The guests raised champagne glasses and sang "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." With the help of three family members the candles were blown out with one giant synchronized puff, Cannon doing more than his share.
Birthday gifts were piled high. "I don't know when I'll get to open them," Cannon said, "but I have plenty of time for that."