In an intimate and informative interview with Cathy Farrell, Eve Thompson and her husband Ken Thompson recall various events from their Georgetown years that involved Mildred Barnes Bliss, Robert Woods Bliss, and Beatrix Farrand. All three were lifelong friends of Eve’s grandfather, Royall Tyler and his wife, and her father, William R. Tyler who served as director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection from 1969 to 1977. Eve’s grandparents and the Blisses were close friends from the early years of the last century before each married, and this remarkable relationship continued as they traveled together and collected art for the next 30 years. And as all good reflections on events long past, this one ends with a lovely ghost story.
[Interviewer realizes the recorder is not recording…adjustment made and recording begins into conversation about items in Thompson’s home that have arrived recently from Antigny, France as a result of their castle in Burgundy having been sold.]
Cathy Farrell: This was all just cleaning out the castle in France?
Eve: And the agony of it. I have all these things that I’ve known ever since I was nine years old, which was the first time I went there.
Cathy: All the memories, they came flooding back?
Eve: Yeah, my grandmother’s things.
Cathy: How long had that castle been in your family?
Eve: Since 1924. Not that long.
Eve: They tried to buy it earlier, but they weren’t able to.
Cathy: I read something interesting last night doing a little research. Your grandfather, it was, in the 1940s went to Switzerland and worked against the Germans. Correct?
Eve: Royall Tyler, he went to Hungary and worked for the World Bank. Are you talking about the Second World War?
Cathy: The Second World War, yes.
Eve: He was in Switzerland, yes. My grandmother was at Antigny-le -Chateau saving it from the invading German army. She stayed there and allowed herself to be cut off. She defended the villagers and she had a good garden in which she grew all sorts of vegetables and passed food around because there wasn’t much of it. She stayed until she heard from Royall Tyler that we are about to enter the war or I think it was…
Cathy: It was the end of the war?
Eve: No, the beginning, it was 1940 to ’41. All the German officers were quartered in the castle. She had to buy, beautiful of course, because everybody was selling their stuff because everybody had left their places, lovely long stools to put at the foot of the bed so that the Germans who were taller…
Cathy: Extend their feet out from the short little French beds. [laughs]
Eve: She lived in the room that my parents lived in afterwards. It was the bedroom up against the retaining wall. She had a little sign on the door saying, “Do Not Enter” in German. She also saved the life of her chauffeur, who would drive her backandforth to Dijon because she stayed until she got the castle declared a historical monument in order to save it.
Cathy: So it would not be destroyed?
Eve: Yeah. I have her account of it. She wrote an account of all that went on…the kind of things like the little sign on her door.
Cathy: You still had that little sign on her door when you cleaned out the castle a few years ago.
Cathy: Wow! Your grandfather was broadcasting or doing something with the Resistance?
Eve: My father.
Cathy: Your father was!
Eve: He went down to New York to broadcast (we had a shortwave radio),once a week to the people in France. All the French people would go and gather around whatever radio they could get close to. He would tell them what was going on. Eventually, my father went to the war himself. He went over to Algeria, where he worked for de Lattre de Tassigny, general of the Free French Forces. My grandmother and I used to slip over there, it’s quite close to the Vichy line, where the castle is. She saved her English driver’s life. He had been Edith Wharton’s chauffeur. He drove her around. He died there, and he’s buried in the little…
The Germans wanted to take him away. She went down and she talked to them. She said, “Listen. If you do that, nobody is going to get anything to eat or drink, because I don’t have a car. I can’t drive.” So they let him stay.
Cathy: They did? Amazing!
Eve: She was not afraid of them. She even ran away. She was a fabulous woman
Cathy: Must have been a very interesting existence for you as a child.
Eve: Yes, she used to have me up with her breakfast in bed, and she had a little lace cap, like you know, the wolf…Little Red Riding Hood.
Cathy: Like Little Red Riding Hood?
Eve: She would give me the pits from her apples, which aren’t good for you. And she took me out in Paris. She took me out to a wonderful cake shop on the [foreign words] where they made cakes that had lots of buttery very, very light icing. [sighs] Anyway…
Cathy: I also was reading in some of the research that I was doing ahead of time, that your grandfather and the Blisses… he was a very close friend of Mildred Barnes before she married Robert Woods Bliss.
Eve: They knew each other as children [crosstalk] and the Dumbarton Oaks papers has it…you can get it online. Royall Tyler and it turns out that Robert Woods Bliss, he also wanted to marry Mildred Barnes, but there was my grandfather in the picture.
My grandfather’s much more interesting than Robert, and so Mildred was torn between the intellectual pleasure she got out of being with my grandfather and the fact that this other one, Robert, kept on wanting to marry her. The more she thought about it eventually, there was a lot of writing going back and forth about this, and she did marry Robert Bliss, but they remained friends with my grandfather after the marriage.
Cathy: Lifetime of friendship?
Eve: Lifetime, and that’s why my grandfather…he must have had a trust fund because his mother had married Quincy, I think it is. He had lots of money, and he [Quincy] died, and she had lots of it and so my grandfather didn’t have to work. He didn’t work until he was in his 40’s. He went around and learned Spanish in Spain.
Cathy: And he wrote a fabulous book about the history of art in Spain.
Eve: Yes, several books actually, and he also wrote, with Hayford Peirce, a fourvolume set of…maybe it’s only 2 volumes, of Byzantine art.
Cathy: I think four or five volumes.
Eve: No, I think it was maybe four volumes. I have a picture of it. I don’t even know if I have it here.
Cathy: A comment I read last night said he finished it shortly before he died in what ’53 or ’52?
Eve: Mmhmm, ’53.
Cathy: ’53, OK.
Eve: But anyway, this friendship, my grandfather was responsible for the Blisses’ collections really.
Cathy: He was the inspiration for the collections and the knowledge behind what was valuable to collect?
Eve: Yes and he’s the one who introduced them to PreColumbian art. The reason why there are Byzantine things in the collection is that my grandfather loved Byzantine things. I think he’d go off with Aunt Mildred or Robert Bliss into antique stores everywhere. Wherever they were, they were always in little antique stores. In those days, you could find things in antique stores.
Cathy: Did they travel the world together?
Eve: Well, they all traveled. My grandfather traveled, and the Blisses traveled a lot after they were married because he was a diplomat and served in various posts, and so they’d visit each other.
It was a very neat thing, and the reason why we have so many art things from them like, over there, those plates and things like that. Gwyneth down in Australia has a collection of priceless, old, 16th century plates that were in the dining room of the castle.
Eve: No, they’re Persian plates, big bowls, and my grandfather thought that they were just… they were the most beautiful things. I never really warmed to them, but he loved them. So that’s why we have so much stuff, and the other stuff, it was all in museums…that Mildred bought, was all in the museum at Dumbarton Oaks.
Cathy: Everything that she bought was…stayed at Dumbarton Oaks?
Eve: She had a particular interest, yes. First they were living in the house, and they were collecting like mad in between traveling, and then eventually I think it was in 1920 that they bought, I may be wrong about that, but they bought the big house.
Cathy: The actual Dumbarton Oaks?
Eve: Mmhmm and they made many changes to it. As the years went by they kept on buying things, Mildred developed a taste for, I mean she liked, gardening because of Beatrix Farrand and that friendship. They all knew each other.
Cathy: They were all friends.
Eve: Yeah, and it was a much smaller society. She started the garden library, which is very…it’s kind of neat. You’ve been to it haven’t you?
Cathy: Yes, I was there this spring. It was quite beautiful. The forsythia were in bloom that whole…
Eve: I know. I love that. I know.
Cathy: That backside of forsythia. It was really beautiful.
Eve: I’m glad they’re maintaining it.
Cathy: It’s beautifully maintained.
Eve: Yeah, I think that they left…they must have left Harvard a little bit of money to help pay for the upkeep. [laughs] I don’t know, but I suspect, because it’s very expensive to keep going.
Cathy: To maintain it.
Eve: There’s the orchid house for example and then there’s another…
Cathy: The l’Orangerie?
Eve: The l’Orangerie, yes, which it’s not a hot house. It’s just part of a main house. There’s also another greenhouse where they had things like sweetscented geraniums and other things that were fun. But they had a lot of money.
Cathy: They did, but they had very good taste as well.
Cathy: Or seemed to at least with your grandfather’s…
Eve: No, no, no. Aunt Mildred had very good taste, and she knew my grandfather for so many years, and they talked about it a lot. That was the attraction, that they talked about art and music and paintings and…
Cathy: How much time did you spend there as a child?
Eve: Well, we didn’t live in it. We lived at 5604 32nd Street.
Cathy: Oh, you did?
Eve: Yes and it’s a little house that my father bought on his lunch hour when my mother and I were still over in France. Because there was nowhere to live, so he bought it, and we lived there from the time we returned from Paris when I was 15.
No, we lived there until…now I can’t remember when it started. I was younger. We lived there, and I used to go…mommy would take me swimming at the Dumbarton Oaks pool, which I adored.
Cathy: Yes, I can understand. They maintain it, and the staff still swim there.
Eve: Good and I wanted to be buried underneath that pool!
Cathy: How old were you, about 11?
Eve: Yeah right, 10 or 11. During that time, I was going all the time, and then when we came back from our 10year stint overseas, we also would go there. Is it working?
Cathy: I’m just checking to make sure that it’s recording. Yes, it says REC, so that means it is recording. We’re fine.
Eve: My parents stayed in the Dumbarton Oaks house, but at some point a lot of people came and stayed there. But then in 1940, they gave the whole property to Harvard, because they kept on traveling. But even when they were traveling, even during the Second World War, they were still acquiring things.
Cathy: They were?
Eve: Yeah, and as the collection began to assemble, people would give them things too.
Eve: Mmhmm, and then there was a lot of digs going on, lots of excavating going on, during that period. Because that’s Egypt and all the old cities of Mesopotamia, so they could acquire things, especially acquire things through auctions or through dealers.
My grandfather loved that. He knew all the dealers, and he really wanted to be a dealer and that kind of thing, but he wasn’t able to. I mean it’s too hard to break into, and he didn’t even finish college, I don’t think. No, he decided not to finish at Oxford. He went to Harrow too I…
Cathy: Harrow, Oxford, and Harvard it said.
Eve: Yeah, Harrow, Oxford, and Harvard, but he didn’t stay there more than two years at both, at Oxford. He wanted to go and do something else. That was when he started going to Spain.
Cathy: But he has a Masters of fine arts out of Harvard, correct? Your grandfather? Or was that your father?
Eve: You know, I don’t know. You have to research that.
Cathy: I read it last night, but I didn’t take a note on it. [papers rustling] I don’t think I took a note on it…no, I don’t have it.
Eve: But when they gave it [Dumbarton Oaks] to Harvard, then the Blisses moved down onto P Street.
Cathy: All right. Interesting, in another interview I did earlier this summer with Ann Emmet, she stated that her grandmother lived across the street from the Blisses, and I wondered, but…
Eve: Oh, no, she did.
Cathy: You’re confirming it.
Eve: Yeah. Because they decided that at some point they wanted to have a home. They gave the property to Harvard, and it worked. It was fine, and the war came and all that. They managed to keep it going on in a very limited way.
They bought this house on the corner of…I can’t remember. It was P Street and something or other [29th Street]. P, and then there was a street that goes down… My parents stayed there, too, but they also stayed in the big house once, I know.
We used to go over. We used to go over and see them. We were invited a lot, and once my Uncle Robert died, that’s Robert Bliss, Aunt Mildred wanted Ken to be the extra man at dinner when she was lacking one.
Cathy: So you would go frequently?
Eve: He did, and Ken didn’t want to do that. Finally he said, “Listen, I can’t.” as his tuxedos got rattier and rattier.
Eve: When Jack Thatcher died, Aunt Mildred asked my father if he would be director of Dumbarton Oaks. He had been in Holland and ambassador at The Hague, but he decided that he still had some life in him.
I worked for a couple of years in the library there, the Byzantine Library, because we didn’t have any money. I had no money at all, and so I got a babysitter to take care of Gwyneth, and Joy was going to school. I went over, and I was the secretary up in the Byzantine offices with all the men, and I guess Eastern priests that stank of garlic.
Cathy: Stank of garlic? Why?
Eve: They would come in the room and you’d say…You know. I typed the cards, and I started doing a little bit of cataloging, and then I went to Catholic University. I cleared $60 a month, and it was a lot better than nothing. [laughs]
Cathy: They still don’t pay generously, I don’t believe. [laughs]
Eve: I don’t think so.
Cathy: You know, Babs Mersereau works there now in the library.
Eve: She does?
Cathy: Mmhmm. When she gave up her job with me, she went to work there. She only works two days a week I think, but she is working there.
Eve: I had a terrible librarian.
Cathy: She does, too.
Cathy: I wonder if it’s the same.
Eve: Anyway. When my father [William Tyler] took over, I did warn my father that I knew what the atmosphere was like. Those scholars had become now wellknown names. They had a nasty fight always going of jealousy and things.
Cathy: Among the scholars who were studying there, or working there?
Eve: Studying there, or over in the Fellows building. They’d always been there once the library was established. I said to my father, “They all have PhDs and you’re a diplomat, and they’re not going to like it.” My father didn’t realize that, and after a while, he started calling them the rug merchants.
Cathy: The scholars at Dumbarton Oaks are the rug merchants. [laughs]
Eve: It made him all around happy, it did, and he retired from there.
Cathy: He worked there about 10 years, didn’t he?
Eve: Ken, how long did daddy work?
Ken Thompson: 1969 until 1977.
Cathy: About eight years, nine years.
Eve: It was good.
Ken: He enjoyed it. It was something he sort of had aimed for.
Eve: He’d enjoyed it, but it also was rather agonizing.
Ken: The thing is he hadn’t realized what an academic bureaucracy is, and then Harvard, like all other places, has all sorts of political factions. Byzantine studies were not at the top of their list of interests.
However, preColumbian stuff was interesting, and then Mrs. Bliss had established the Garden Library, so you had the three elements there. At one point Harvard was trying to consolidate costs, and they really wanted to cut Dumbarton Oaks loose. My fatherinlaw fought that very much.
The big problem was that, I’ve never read the Blisses’ will, and Mrs. Bliss’s will, but it was up somewhere, and there was a plaque with it which basically said that they were giving this to Harvard, but Harvard could not alienate the property, could not dispose of the property. There was a lot of legal action to try and break the will. I don’t know if they ever did or not.
Eve: No, they didn’t.
Cathy: They may not have, because it still is Harvard as far as I know.
Ken: The thing was that Dumbarton Oaks was sort of her baby. She’d nourished it. She’d come up with this vision, and there were so many people involved. Edith Wharton’s cousin, Beatrix Farrand, was the one who designed all that.
Cathy: I didn’t realize she was Edith Wharton’s cousin.
Ken: She was.
Eve: Yes, she was.
Cathy: This is a little inner circle, isn’t it? That just keeps overlapping on one another constantly?
Ken: Beatrix Farrand was one of Edith Wharton’s heirs. There were disputes over the will, and there was a note somewhere. Various rough drafts of the will, things crossed out, done over. Edith Wharton liked to wear choker necklaces with a large pearl or a large…
Eve: Little pearls, and then a large [inaudible25:02] in the middle. To keep the…
Cathy: To keep the neck up.
Ken: There was a large gem. I don’t know if it was an amethyst or a ruby, something of value, that Beatrix Farrand felt should have gone to her. That was specified in the will. They couldn’t find it.
Eve: I wonder if it was a sapphire that my grandfather gave to me, and then I gave to the…
Cathy: Potomac School Auction?
Ken: It could have been, but it could have been remounted in something else. Like any will, there was a lot of infighting.
Eve: We also had all of Edith Wharton’s things at Antigny because my grandmother had to clean out the house. She [Edith Wharton] had two houses, one near Paris, the other one down on the hill.
Cathy: Not far from the…your grandmother cleaned out both of those houses?
Eve: Yes. We had to do something with it. We had boxes and boxes of little aprons.
Cathy: …belonged to Edith Wharton [laughs]
Ken: I still have several downstairs with “E.W., E.W., E.W.” on them and napkins with E.W. and lots of those family items. Gwyneth has…
Cathy: Your father was Edith Wharton’s godson?
Eve: I guess godson…she was his mentor, really. She corresponded with him, and saw him. We have a photograph of her with Royall and my father. She came and visited. It was a very close circle. They all knew each other.
Cathy: I was reading that the rumor was that was Edith Wharton didn’t like children, but she and your father were very, very close, all of her life.
Eve: I don’t know about a rumor of her not liking children. She was very sweet to the baby, with my brother. I don’t know.
Ken: I think basically, it wasn’t something that she focused on, because her life really was tied up in the writing. Although she was born with money, she lost a lot of that money. There were various many depressions and many recessions.
A lot of the wealth was in properties. I remember coming across certain legal documents where there are lawyers informing her that, because she was a partowner of an apartment house in New York, and a mortgage had not been paid, they foreclosed on it. I think she lost money along the way, however she made money.
Eve: With her books that she wrote…
Ken: All the money she made, she spent. She planned it. One of her big indulgences was that she rented a yacht and they took off around the Mediterranean, took friends on it and saw things.
Eve: That was when she still thought everything was hunkydory. It was before the crash.
Ken: No, it wasn’t. When she made money, she spent it in ways she thought it should be used properly.
When she died, she’s told Bill, my fatherinlaw, that she wanted to leave him $100,000, which, in 1937, was a lot more than it is now, to set up a fund to take care of Antigny. She said, unfortunately, at the time she was making out her will, she wasn’t penniless, but she didn’t have a lot of disposable extra cash. She said, “I’ll leave you my literary rights.”
Eve: That’s how…
Cathy: That’s how that came about.
Eve: That’s how we reroofed the main house.
Ken: What happened was, for years and years and years…
Eve: This isn’t supposed to be about Edith Wharton…
Ken: No. They produced little bits of money. At one point, the usual crunchpoint at Antigny, the roof was going to have to be redone, and there wasn’t the money. It was going to cost $100,000.
Just at that moment, as my parentsinlaw were wringing their hands about it, a letter came in from the University of Indiana, saying, “We understand you have some of Edith Wharton’s papers, we’re prepared to pay $100,000 for them.” It’s kind of like, “They need money down there. OK. Let’s prod the university.” There’s lots of…
Cathy: So that $100,000 did come?
Eve: Yes, it was wonderful.
Cathy: Just in the nick of time.
Eve: By the time we gave it up, sold it, it was the same problem. We couldn’t do the roof. We did some roofing, but…huge amount of crumbling walls and… Roofs. Square kilometers of roofs.
Ken: There’s an estimated €10,000,000 that’s going to need to go into it, one way or another.
Eve: That’s only because of the [foreign words] .
Ken: Also, because Tim wants to do it right. But he’s got the means and the will. He wants to preserve it. This is over time, so this isn’t in a lump, sort of extend it so that it will survive, which is what Eve’s father wanted. The fact that it stays in the people who are close enough, they’re not quite cousins, but we’ve known them for…
Eve: We like Tim a lot, really.
Cathy: You’re comfortable with his decision?
Eve: Oh, we’re delighted.
Ken: We’re actually delighted.
Eve: When we’re there, Sylvie, who watches over the place and does all the organization of workers and things, gives me a key to the little door that leads into the…and so I [laughs] …
Cathy: So you can still go in.
Eve: I can go in and just check…see how it’s going.
Cathy: I remember at one time we did a display in the library and you brought in a very beautiful antique doll and put it in the display case and made sure that the display case was locked because that doll had been a gift to you by Mrs. Bliss.
Cathy: Do you still have that doll?
Eve: Ken you know, she’s up in the barn.
Ken: I know, she is up in the barn.
Eve: In a suitcase. We’re going to send her out down to Gwyneth.
Cathy: That’s a good place for her.
Ken: She was Flossy Barnes, because Mrs. Bliss’s maiden name…her mother married Barnes. So she was Mildred Barnes, so Flossy was her doll, Flossy Barnes.
Eve: Very pretty doll. There was a painting of the doll too, but it got damaged when one of my parents moved. But the doll has made it. She kept on shedding clothes, because children would play with it and we’d move.
Cathy: And you’ve made clothes for her. Didn’t you?
Eve: No. No, not for her. No, those were late 19thcentury clothes.
Cathy: They were.
Cathy: Interesting. Any other memories of childhood in Georgetown? You actually lived in Georgetown?
Eve: Well, I didn’t…my parents lived in Georgetown.
Cathy: Where were you in school at that time?
Eve: It was when I was married already, when they were living in Georgetown.
Cathy: When did you go to Holton Arms?
Eve: ’57 to ’61. When I went to Holton Arms, my parents were living at that little house on 32nd Street, 5604 32nd Street. We’d often go over to Dumbarton Oaks. \In the summer I went swimming and we would go and just…I know my father succeeded Jack Thatcher. We were there all the time.
Cathy: All the time.
Eve: It was nice. There was a quince tree. One winter day my mother and I, walking dogs, found all these quinces. I had never seen a quince before. They were littering the ground. We took them back and I made jam out of them.
Cathy: From the quince tree at Dumbarton?
Eve: Yeah. Do you want to move around a little bit?
Cathy: I’m fine. Do you want to conclude now? Do you have anything else you’d like to add? I think this is an extraordinarily rich and wonderful interview.
Eve: Oh, you do?
Cathy: Yes, I do. We could pick your brain for weeks, I’m sure, and have it all spilling out.
Eve: Like the time with Mildred Bliss, we’d go over…oh, yes. After Robert Bliss died, Aunt Mildred became sort of lonely in her old age. She had a very comfortable car that was longer than the house was wide on Fifth. And she would come and visit.
She’d have Garrett, her driver, over. And she’d come visit us and we’d go for little drives with the children piled in the back seat. It was just a very nice relationship. Then we went overseas and so we weren’t there when she died. Which I regret, because she was really kind to us.
Cathy: She was a nice woman?
Eve: Yeah. In fact at one point we asked if she’d help Ken to go to Stanford and get a PhD. She agreed to do that. Fortunately, he passed the foreign service exam. He became a diplomat.
Cathy: He became a diplomat as well? In the years in Paris, did the Blisses live in Paris at the same time that your grandparents did, and Edith Wharton, was there after the First World War, or during the war time?
Eve: They weren’t living there.
Cathy: Just traveling through.
Eve: Traveling through, because of the diplomatic life that Uncle Robert had. He was my godfather. When I was 11 or 12, I had a crush on him. I thought he was the handsomest looking man.
Cathy: He was your godfather?
Eve: Yes. Was it he or [inaudible 35:59] , Ken?
Ken: Yeah, Robert Bliss?
Ken: I think he actually was a godfather to you.
Eve: Yeah, he was.
Ken: Mr. Norris and Robert Bliss, I think.
Eve: He was fantastic!
Cathy: He was?
Cathy: Was it just his good looks, or was he just really kind and thoughtful?
Eve: He was a nice man, fun.
Ken: He was the reason that Eve got a… He came up to Radcliffe. Eve at that point was in a offcampus house that belonged to Radcliffe. He visited her room. He said, “This is a very nice room.” He looked and he said, “Why are three beds here?”
Eve: No. Two beds.
Ken: It was two beds?
Ken: “Why are there two beds?” She said, “I share.” He said, “You’re sharing a room this size? We must do something about that.”
Eve: It was a rather tight squeeze.
Ken: The Whitehill’s daughter and soninlaw had bought a house on Pinckney Street on Beacon Hill. They needed some money. The top floor had two rooms. The bathroom and little area could be used for…
Eve: Yeah, really nice.
Ken: Robert Bliss said, “Well, you must find an apartment. I’ll pay for it.” He paid for that. That took care of her through the next couple years of college, which was very nice. It meant that she could get away. She could study. She had her own place.
Eve: See, my parents weren’t around either.
Cathy: No, because they were in France. No, where were they then? Your father?
Ken: In Germany, I think.
Eve: Yeah. Anyway, he was a very kind person, very kind to us.
Ken: I came up one time at that time to visit. It was very nice. We went out to a nice, but fairly modest restaurant. It could have been a Chinese restaurant. It could have been something. He needed a date. So Eve got her, her house lady, Miss Mersbacht to come and meet us.
Cathy: To be Robert Bliss’s date? [laughs]
Ken: He was delighted. Did he have a monocle or not?
Ken: He had a monocle. He was of the old school. He was very direct, very nice. Very sort of quiet, but nice sense of humor. One line on the Dumbarton Oaks site is wonderful exchange of correspondence between him and Mildred Bliss when they were first meeting and Royall Tyler was involved in that. It’s all about how he says, “I don’t have the same qualities to offer as he does, but I know I’m a good man. I know this, and I can do that.”
Eve: “And I’ll be an Ambassador one day.”
Ken: “And I’ll be an Ambassador one day.”
Eve: Yeah. It’s all on the Internet.
Cathy: I read some of it last night. It was really interesting.
Eve: Wasn’t it?
Cathy: Yes. There I was on my iPhone trying to read all of this, how they were in love.
Eve: Yeah, right.
Ken: The last time we saw him was, I forget the date. It wasn’t too long before he died. We went over to, I guess lunch, at Mrs. Bliss’s house. At that point they had a chairlift that came down the stairs. She always arrived, and you waited, and then he came down sort of…
Eve: Children love riding that too, the girls.
Cathy: Up and down the stairs.
Eve: Murray, the butler would…
Ken: Yeah, Oliver Murray.
Eve: Yeah. He worked for the Millan’s, didn’t he, afterwards?
Ken: Afterwards, he went to work for the Millan’s, yes.
Eve: He was very kind. When you needed a tuxedo, and you didn’t have one…
Ken: There was a 50th anniversary at Dumbarton Oaks. We were, as usual, just sort of scraping around for funds. We got an invitation, a black tie, to go to a special concert at Dumbarton Oaks, preceded by a small dinner at Mrs. Bliss’s house. It was going to be a black tie. I was saying as we were leaving the house and Murray was standing by. I was saying, “I don’t have a black tie. Where do I get one?”
As we stepped out the door, Murray tapped me on the shoulder and said, “If you don’t mind sir, I think Mr. Bliss was your size. She’s got a closet full of his clothes up there. I’ll give you…” He said, “She’ll be having her rest this afternoon. Why don’t you come right around 2:00 or 3:00 and we’ll see?” I went around, and he produced a black tie outfit, a nice one, a threepiece one.
Eve: Oh, yes.
Ken: Slightly oldfashioned, but in good shape. We took it down and had it altered, and it worked perfectly. It was only later, when Eve’s father was about to go off to the Netherlands, there was a huge farewell at the Dutch Embassy. They had invited all of Washington there.
Eve: I didn’t have anything to wear either. I went down and got some rather cheap brocade, and turned it inside out and made myself a dress.
Ken: At this due for Dutch Emperor, saying goodbye as Bill went off to be ambassador, everyone was there. I was talking to Mrs. Bliss. She came to me and said, “Would you do me the honor of escorting me in, please?” I said, “Of course.” I gave her my arm. We walked into this room, a long table. She turned and she said, “I like that dinner jacket.” She said, “Robert had one just like it.”
Cathy: And you never mentioned…? [laughs]
Ken: I didn’t say a word.
Cathy: Oh, that’s a wonderful story.
Eve: Yeah, it is. You can turn it off now I think. Don’t you think so? I think so.
Ken: So much extraneous detail.
Eve: Do you want extraneous detail?
Cathy: Well, if you want to offer extraneous detail, I’m always happy to have it.
Eve: Well, one time we went to lunch with Aunt Mildred. Gwyneth, I forgotten to put underpants on her, or a diaper. She rolled around on the floor and there was this pimply bottom.
Eve: Murray said, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll get something.” So we got a napkin and some pins and made a diaper for her.
Ken: He was wonderful. We still have the correspondence here somewhere. We went off to Malta in ’67. Again, the Thayer’s let us stay in their house in Georgetown, O Street.
Eve: He was a cousin. He was related to Tim.
Ken: He was Tim’s uncle.
Cathy: Tim Hilton.
Ken: Tim Hilton. We were there staying in the O Street house. There was a knock on the door and a man showed up. I forget what shop in Georgetown, but he produced six or seven dresses, evening dresses and dresses.
Eve: Dorothy Steads?
Cathy: Dorothy Stents. It was still there when I lived there.
Eve: It was?
Ken: Mrs. Bliss said you might need something to wear in Malta, so she sent these over.
Eve: Boy, did I! I had to have hats and long white gloves.
Ken: She sent over a complete wardrobe for her. She had gotten her size and everything else, had chosen the things, and sent them over. This is the sort of thing that was done.
Eve: I haven’t talked about how Aunt Mildred scared Don, who was the head gardener then. When she was still living in her own house, she used to come over at the end of the academic year and go over to the Fellows building and count the silver. That was a yearly thing, the counting of the silver.
Don, who was the gardener, after she died, he said to us one day, “You know, it’s really rather difficult. Mrs. Bliss hasn’t really left. She hasn’t really died. We see her in the evening sitting on a bench looking out over to the north,” and whatnot. That for one thing, was several sightings of that.
They had to go over to her house to do something in the P Street house. There was nobody in the house. A little bell rang from the bedroom upstairs. They all had servants. The bell went “dingding.”
They thought, “There must be somebody up there,” so they went up there. There was nobody there but there was a little door that went up to the attic, and one of those things was swinging on the door.
Ken: There was a chain on the inside of the door.
Cathy: Oh, a chain on the inside of the door with a bell?
Ken: Usually, Don had sent Mike, who was the head plumber and everything else, to check out the house. Mike, who was a huge strong man, came back and said, “I’m not going in that place. Something’s wrong. It’s spooky. I can’t go in there.”
Don said, “Don’t be an idiot. I’ll go over here with you,” so they went in. At that point when they walked in the house, Don said, “Yeah. It does look kind of strange in here.” Then they heard the little ding of the bell .
Eve: Well, she loved the place, you know.
Cathy: Yeah. She’s still there, probably to this day!
Eve: Yeah, probably. They would see her at the end of the day, somewhere in the garden.
Cathy: That’s wonderful!
Ken: In the Fellows house, where all the Fellows stayed, there were African American ladies who cooked and took care of the place. They knew Mrs. Bliss and she was very kind to them. At one point after Mrs. Bliss’s death, there was a large piece of sculpture taken from that Mexican pebble garden. It disappeared.
Everyone was saying, “What are we going to do, this is long gone?” One of the African American ladies there said, “Don’t worry. It will be back.” She said, “What do you mean?” She said, “I know Mrs. Bliss. Whoever took that is going to be really sorry. They will not be happy with that statue. It will come back.”
About a week later the statue reappeared, sort of somehow loaded over the fence and back into the yard. It was a pretty good story. She was going to make their life actually miserable at this point.
Eve: There’s something with the counting of the silver that they would go in various places and make sure everything was right. There was something to do with doors.
Ken: Mrs. Bliss felt that the scholars, the Fellows had bedrooms in there, and that it was something very inappropriate about leaving a bedroom door open. After she died and the rooms were being tidied up and everything, every time someone walked out of the room the door would close.
Ken: They’d close on their own. They’d say, “That’s Mrs. Bliss.”
Cathy: That’s Mrs. Bliss moving through, because of all those bedrooms.
Eve: Well, closing the doors.
Cathy: Well, she has quite a spirit I would say.
Eve: A very strong spirit.
Cathy: A very strong spirit that continues to exist. Thank you so much.
[Note: There is information on the Dumbarton Oaks website about the relationship between Tyler and Bliss, including Eve’s grandfather’s correspondence with Mildred Barnes Bliss 1906-1908.