John Lennon sang of his “#9 Dream.” Older Prince Georgians dream of the Number 9 Pond.
Several readers got in touch with Answer Man after his column last week on the distinctively shaped water feature that once graced Bellevue, the farm owned by District brewing bigwig Christian Heurich.
Brian Sean Bayly was 9 (there’s that number again) when his family moved to University Park, Md., in 1956, near the intersection of what is today Adelphi and Belcrest roads. (Wrote Brian: “Initially, Adelphi was named Colesville Road, but as this created confusion with the Colesville in Silver Spring the name was changed.”)
Brian and his friends ignored the admonition not to play on the estate. “There were a few horses and cattle at one end, but soon [they] were gone,” he wrote. “The Nine Pond was at the other end by Northwestern High School, close to Belcrest Road.”
Brian, who now lives in Alexandria, Va., said the “eye” in the center of the island had stairs leading down to the water. “We imagined it was a swimming pool,” he wrote. “But the edges were stone in a saw-toothed pattern that would have made climbing in and out very difficult. There were two cabana-like structures that were about 10 feet in diameter made of concrete. They had conical roofs and no windows. We incorrectly assumed there were changing rooms for swimmers.”
During a tour of the Heurich House Museum near Dupont Circle, Brian and his wife learned that the Nine Pond was actually a fish farm. “This would explain the saw-toothed edges,” he wrote.
David Foster, now of Chestertown, Md., also lived in the neighborhood. He never went swimming in the pond, though he was once on it.
“One day several of us found a tub normally used for hand mixing of cement and soon discovered that it would serve as a ‘boat’ for one or two well-balanced boys,” David wrote.
A rope was attached, the tub was lowered, and three or four other kids raced along the bank, giving the passengers a brief ride.
Bob Drevo grew up in Hyattsville and used to go hunting on the Heurich property. He pointed out that Heurich was originally buried in a mausoleum there.
“In 1951 the mausoleum was moved to Rock Creek Cemetery on North Capitol Street, where it’s located today,” wrote Bob, who now lives in Mount Airy, Md.
The strip of land where the pond was installed is behind University Christian Church. Rev. Nathan Hill said that on Earth Day, volunteers from the community cleared trash from the land and got to see the pond’s remains up close, including some concrete and those saw-toothed stones.
“It’s hard to make out the shape,” he said. “But there was far more to it than I had realized.”
As to the question that originally brought Number 9 Pond to Answer Man’s attention — were there also ponds shaped like the numbers 1 to 8? — church member Scott Libbee said he heard it from one of the people who helped found the church in 1959, Francis Stark.
“He wasn’t like an urban-legend-type guy,” Scott said. “He wasn’t a guy to say something he wasn’t sure about.”
Perhaps, but these numerical ponds seem to have been more like chimerical ponds.
Two weeks ago, Answer Man explored the City of New York — not the metropolis but the ship that explorer Richard Byrd took to Antarctica in 1928. In 1931, it was on display in Washington.
Among its crew was Washington’s Malcolm P. Hanson, a name familiar to Sabra Staley of Arlington, Va.
Sabra’s parents, O.E. Baker and Alice Crew Baker, kept a leather-bound guest book for visitors to their home to sign. Among the signatures from 1928, when the family lived in Chevy Chase, Md., was Hanson’s.
Sabra wasn’t there — she wasn’t born until 1929 — but her parents must have kept in touch with Hanson, for they later shared a story he told them after the expedition returned in 1930.
Byrd’s camp in Antarctica had a separate structure where water was heated for showers and laundry. Hanson decided to do both. But as he was showering, he realized the oil had run out, the temperature was dropping and his clothes weren’t dry.
He had two options. The first was to don his still-wet clothes and wear them back to the crew quarters. But he was afraid they would freeze on his body.
So he chose the second option: to streak as quickly as possible back to the bivouac.
Hanson was almost home free when he slipped, bursting through the door feet first and sliding naked into the room.
Wrote Sabra: “There was some discussion among the Byrd team members sitting around as to Malcolm Hanson’s mental health at that point.”
She added: “Thanks for letting me preserve this story. I don’t know who else might be living who has heard it.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.