Anyone who dropped by to see Carolyn Johnson Thomas at her white clapboard house in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Northwest Washington would find an homage to her father, Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson.
Thomas, who at 94 is the last surviving child of Johnson’s six children, moved into the house with her husband and two children in 1955 and remained there until she went to live with her daughter in McLean. Over the years, Thomas took on the role of unofficial historian of her father’s legacy, a duty now undertaken by her son, Henry W. Thomas.
“She kind of represented the family to the public, and then I kind of took over when my book came out,” said Thomas, who goes by Hank. He wrote a biography of his grandfather, “Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train,” in 1995.
Walter Johnson joined the Washington Senators in 1907, and from 1910 through 1919 averaged more than 26 wins a season. Often described as one of the Washington area’s most endearing and enduring sports figures, the right-handed pitcher known as “Big Train” was one of the original five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Johnson won 416 games, second only to Cy Young, during his 21-year career with the Senators, which ended in 1927. He led Washington to its only World Series championship, in 1924. Johnson died in 1946 from a brain tumor.
Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich, who penned the foreword to Thomas’s book, wrote in a 1927 column about Walter Johnson’s retirement: “That name epitomizes all that is good and true in a baseball player and in the same man in private life.”
Povich, who covered Johnson in the 1924 World Series, was not the only one to laud Big Train.
“There is more genuine interest in him than there is in a presidential election,” humorist Will Rogers wrote in a syndicated column titled “Everybody Is Pulling for Walter,” published in September 1924.
A New York Times obituary written at the time of his death said, “There has not been a pitcher in recent years who had a greater hold on the American baseball public than Walter Johnson.”
When her father died, Thomas, then 23, inherited a treasure trove of memorabilia, scrapbooks and photos that she displayed proudly in her home.
“I kind of took it for granted,” Hank Thomas said. “It was always there. It was just a part of my growing up.”
The den, where Carolyn Thomas liked to watch the Nationals play on television, was an informal shrine to her father.
“She became a huge baseball fan,” Hank Thomas said. “I don’t think she ever really had been. When the team came back in 2005, she really latched onto it. . . . The highlight of her days during the seasons is watching the ballgames.”
Hank Thomas, who was 9 years old when his parents moved into the house, has bittersweet feelings about the sale of his childhood home.
“It will be sad not to have it there,” he said. “I’ll be thrilled when it gets a new family that can enjoy it the way we did.”
The house is listed at $850,000.
Listing agent: Jane Shell, Long & Foster
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