First, the construction workers were pelted with rocks. Then, the plastic foam roof insulation was torn and scattered in the nearby woods. Dozens of bricks were knocked out of a reconstructed chimney. A $1,100 piece of construction equipment was stolen. And just a week ago, vandals broke into the nearly completed $600,000 visitors center at the Frederick Douglass Home in Anacostia.
"Frederick Douglass stood for so much," said Frederick Douglass Gray, the construction project manager, who is named after Douglass. "He certainly was an inspiration to the black race. It's a shame we would destroy something for a man who did so much for the black race."
Gray said the vandalism has delayed the installation of the skylight and aluminum and glass entrances to the visitors center because the contractor fears the vandals will break them.
"In a situation such as this, where we have something that we know is breakable, we like to wait until the last minute" to install them, said Morton J. Isaacson, president of Jonal Corp., which is building the visitors center.
Isaacson wrote the National Park Service, which owns the property, last month to complain about the vandalism. "This matter has gotten out of control," Isaacson wrote. "Neither fencing nor U.S. Park Police appear to be able to deter it."
Gray said he has contacted the police on several occasions about the vandalism, but thus far no one has been arrested.
A Park Service spokesman said police patrols of the 8.8-acre estate at 14th and W streets SE have been increased and the department is working with community groups in hopes of curbing the vandalism.
Gray said the construction trailer on the site also has been stoned and workmen have heard gunshots in the nearby woods.
"It's gotten so I'm afraid to stay in the office for fear of being stoned," Gray said.
He said he talked with some youths playing in the nearby woods one day. "I told them it's named after a big man -- a black man. Don't throw stones at the men."
One youth, he said, told him that part of the construction site formerly served as their baseball field. "I don't know whether it's a vendetta or what," Gray said.
But what Gray does know is that Frederick Douglass was a man who deserves better. "Frederick Douglass was a builder not a destroyer," said Gray, whose grandmother told him when he was six that she had named him after "a great man, and I hope one day you will be great like him."
Douglass, born in 1817, was an orator, abolitionist, journalist, District of Columbia recorder of deeds and an early leader in the movement to give women the right to vote. He died in 1895.
The estate, called Cedar Hill, is the second house Douglass lived in here and was left by his wife to the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, chartered by Congress in 1900. Mrs. Douglass had hoped that it would become the black counterpart of Mount Vernon.
The home was taken over later by the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. During the height of the Depression, school children gave a penny apiece to plant trees around the house and later gave more pennies for a fountain.
In 1962, the National Park Service acquired the hilltop estate. The white 14-room house on the estate is open to the public. The visitors center, which is scheduled for completion in October, will house a 35-seat auditorium where slides on Douglass' life will be shown, a statue of Douglass and a display counter of memorabilia.