I was quite prepared to pushClint Eastwood around the other day. Not only does his new movie about J. Edgar Hoover manage to be both kind of boring and kind of sensational, it also manages to get the name of an iconic Washington department store wrong. Or does it?
Reader Bill Kidd, a native Washingtonian who now splits his time between Bonita Springs, Fla., and Fenwick Island, Del., pointed this out to me. Not long ago, Bill went to see “J. Edgar,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio’s makeup artist. Early in the film there’s a shot of the Julius A. Garfinckel & Co. department store. Wrote Bill: “The only problem was that the large brass lettering over the door said ‘Julius A. Garfinkle.’ ”
A few minutes later in the film there’s a shot of a credit application for the store, and it spells the name “Garfinckel.”
I was prepared to take Clint to task when I learned that, at least according to Wikipedia, Julius Garfinckel was born “Garfinkel.”
“It is not clear when or why he added the letter ‘c’ into his surname,” wrote the anonymous Wikipedian.
So, Clint’s set dresser might have been confused. But surely the store was never “Garfinkle,” was it?
And then I found a photograph in The Washington Post archives. It isn’t a Post photo, actually. It’s from the Evening Star, and it ran with a 1955 story about the department store’s 50th anniversary. It shows the original store, at 13th and F streets NW. A horse-drawn carriage is parked outside.
Above the awning are letters that spell “Julius Garfinkle & Co.”
I couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d learned that Woodies used to be called Woodward & Latham.
The Star story doesn’t explain the name switcheroo. The caption says only, “Spelling of the name had not yet been changed.”
Maybe the signmaker got it wrong?
But what a progression: Julius was born Garfinkel. His first store was called Garfinkle. It became Garfinckel. And Julius died Garfinckel. (He’s buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.)
Of course, many of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Garfinckel’s, as it was later known, was a homegrown department store with a flagship location at 14th and F streets NW. “Beauty of proportions, grace of line and dignity of balance are all combined in this new mercantile establishment,” The Post gushed when that building opened in 1930. (Not part of the combination: blacks. As at many downtown retailers in segregated Washington, African Americans were not allowed to try on clothes.)
The chain went bankrupt in 1990. It’s just a memory today, along with such stores as Woodies, Hecht’s, Jelleff’s, Kann’s and Lansburgh’s.
So, maybe old Clint got it right. But why did the credit application read “Garfinckel” when the sign outside read “Garfinkle”?
I wasn’t around D.C. in the 1920s, so I don’t know how accurate other parts of the film are. But a scene set in the reading room of the Library of Congress stood out. In it, Hoover basically claims to have invented the library’s card catalogue system.
The future FBI director did work at the library from 1913 to 1917 but, a library spokesperson told us, “library historians are not aware of any major changes in the library card catalogue during Hoover’s employment at the institution.”
Julius Garfinckel never married, died childless and left his fortune mostly to charity.
You don’t have to die to be charitable. Simply make a tax-deductible donation to our annual fund drive for Children’s National Medical Center. Please send a check or money order (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. To donate online,
go to washingtonpost.com/
Donations pay the medical bills of poor children.
It might be time for me to turn in my rake. The leaves almost got the better of me this year. But could I live with myself if I employed a lawn service next fall that used loud, annoying leafblowers, as they surely would?
Maybe there should be lawn services that use rakes instead of blowers. They could advertise it as “organic” leaf removal.