Gretchen Hood sang for presidents, danced with the Prince of Wales and romanced H. L. Mencken. Among the many guests in her Cardozo home had been Presidients Taft and Harding, and a neighbor, William Jennings Bryan.
Until she was hospitalized last fall, Miss Hood lived for 73 years in a brick rowhouse at 1226 Fairmont St. NW that once was described by a friend, the late Cabell Philips of The New York Times as looking like "an attic at the Smithsonian."
Except for the few years she sang in Europe and New York as "Washington's own great soprano" - and the last month of her life, when she was confined to the Carriage Hill nursing home in Bethesda where she died of cancer yesterday - Miss Hood lived all of her 91 years in Washington.
The middle room of the house was her music room. It featured a grand piano on which Miss Hood played, and until the riots of 1968 scared away most of her students, taught voice, she had composed so many ditties and accompanied herself on so many arias that the pedals had worn dips in the hardwood floor. The walls were adorned with autographed pictures of many of her famous friends.
A book that she kept by her telephone recorded some of the memorable moments in her zestful life. "The first boy I kissed," it reported, "was Jerrome Kern, on a beach in New Jersey in the 1980s. He was 12, and I was 11."
She was "embraced on a spiral staircase in the Parliament at London by an Impetous young man, Winston Churchill. He was first lord of the Admiralty, and very slim." The year was 1912.
She danced with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), sang for Calvin Coolidge and Mrs. Herbert Hoover, accompanied Pearl Balley on a radio amateur hour at WRC in 1930, and conducted Margaret Truman when she sang in her Gunston Hall glee club.
Of all her famous friends, the one who topped her list was her father, Edwin Milton Hood, a distinguished journalist and a founder of the National Press Club. Eddie Hood pioneered diplomatic reporting for the Associated Press, rose to become AP bureau chief in Washington, but relinquished the post to return to reporting.
He covered the White House and became friends with presidents and secretaries of state. The entry hall of Miss Hood's house featured autographed pictures of eight presidents and scores of political figures.
Miss Hood bequeathed much of the memorabilia in the house to the National Press Club, where she had been an honorary member and frequent visitor. Her birthday party there each Sept. 15 was an occasion for singing and story-telling.
As a teen-ager, she studied and sang opera in Paris, London, Brussels and New York. When she made her home-town debut at the National Theatre in 1914, a critic reported the house "was filled out of respect for her father, but at the end, Miss Hood had won us on her own, with great voice and beauty."
Miss Hood was married briefly when she was young, but as she later explained to Mencken, "I left the clod after only one month and 10 days . . . If only I'd tried him out first, I'd never have married him."
One friend insists that New York Mayor Fiorello Laguardia would have proposed to her "except she was too much in love with Mencken."
She received 248 cards and letters from Mencken between 1926 and 1936, in a relationship that began when Miss Hood wrote a letter to the editor of The New York World, suggesting the Mencken run for president.
Mencken wrote to her, and what began as a jocular suggestion by Miss Hood that they be married the day after his "inaugaration" blossomed into dinner dates in Washington and Baltimore, featuring "the best of victuals" and repeated violations of the Voltead Act (which prohibits alcohol).
Mencken's ardor grew as they hosted parties in their respective cities. After one gala that featured their friend, House speaker Nicholas Longworth, Mencken wrote to Miss Hood, "you are completely incomparable. History will rank you besides Nancy Hanks and Martha Washington."
Gossip columnists in New York and Washington reported an Impending marriage of the couple, but the courtship ended as abruptly as it began, with Mencken's marriage in 1930 to Sara Haardt. Mencken attempted to resume the relationship with Miss Hood in 1935, after the death of his wife, but she never wrote back. "It was over," she said. "I never saw him again."
Miss Hood's irreverence, which she shared with Mencken, was echoed in instructions to her executor for her epitaph: "Here lies one who had many enemies. Thank God. Suppose they had liked me. Good God.
There are no immediate survivors.