As I wrap up the manuscript for my book on the history of Girl Scouting in the Washington, DC, region, I realized that I did not have a good photo of the exterior of the Rockwood Estate. So one recent Sunday my husband, daughter, and I headed down MacArthur Boulevard with our camera. Erin had camped there once as a Brownie, but that was eight years ago.
Rockwood is located at 11001 MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac, Maryland, about 15 miles northwest of the U.S. Capitol. The 93-acre property was bequeathed to the Girl Scouts by socialite Carolyn G. Caughey in 1936. Caughey’s gift was inspired by the bravery of Helen Hopkins Zelov, a Girl Scout leader whose strong voice and calm reaction had guided rescuers to save 11 victims when Washington’s Knickerbocker Theatre collapsed under a heavy snowfall on January 28, 1922. Seriously injured herself, Zelov was presented with a medal for her bravery.
I did not know about the Knickerbocker Theatre link until I began researching Rockwood. Washingtonians know of the tragedy, as it still is used as the benchmark for measuring snowstorms in the area.
I got in contact with meteorologist Kevin Ambrose, who has just published a history of the Knickerbocker snowstorm. Kevin graciously sent me this photo he’d found of Helen, the heroic Girl Scout leader. He also mentioned that he was working on a second project, gathering stories from the survivors.
A few weeks later, I discovered that Helen had been interviewed by two members of the GSCNC History and Archives Committee in 1981, one year before her death. The transcript tells of the chaos that night in the theatre, and it reveals that Helen had had spat with her fiance (Mr. Zelov) that day and had actually gone to the show that night with a male friend…who was killed in the roof collapse. Helen and her fiance made up and married a few months later.
Helen’s interview also contains some other interesting details. I knew she was part of the famous Troop 8, formally led by Lou Henry Hoover. But I didn’t know that the daughters of Amos Fries were in Helen’s troop. He is the man who arranged for Camp Bradley, the resident camp at Edgewater (Aberdeen) Arsenal used by Washington and Baltimore Girl Scouts in the 1920s. Those are Camp Bradley Girls in the blog header!