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Pranks, Pratfalls and Parties
“I still don’t know why my parents let me go off and live in Washington, D.C.,” says Kolbe, who was so determined to be a page that he began writing Members of the Arizona Congressional delegation as early as age 10 before finally being appointed by then-Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) in 1958.
Kanjorski says he lived for a time in a boarding house just a few houses down from the home of then-Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his wife. The McCarthys would have Kanjorski and other pages over for Cokes and political discussion. Sometimes, a young McCarthy aide, Robert Kennedy, also would drop in.
While formal supervision was less evident, it didn’t mean carte blanche freedom to do as one pleased.
“If you got into trouble, your Member would hear about it and he would lecture you,” says Kanjorski, who recalls a simpler, more relaxed time in Congressional history when Members took an active interest in the pages’ lives. “The ’60s changed the climate of the country. They were very protective of us [then]. Not in a formal way, but in an informal way.”
That didn’t stop these future Members, most of whom were pages before girls were permitted into the program in the 1970s, from reporting plenty of adventures — and pranks.
There was the “typical rookie prank,” in which the new page on the block was sent “to some obscure room” to deliver a message “and it turns out to be the men’s room,” recalls Wicker, referring to a practice that apparently is still in use with some variations today.
Kanjorski and his buddies set off smoke bombs underneath several of the cars lining the street outside their boarding house on Third Street Northeast, then called their landlady out to see. “She freaked out on us,” Kanjorski chuckles. “I think that might have been the precipitation of our move to Maryland Avenue.”
Kolbe says his page class hoisted their English teacher’s Volkswagen Bug up the steps of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building and then watched as she was forced to drive it back down.
Davis and his fellow pages convinced a teacher that one of their fellow classmates had leapt to his death from the page school’s third-floor location in the Library of Congress. “He went out and spread out on the ground like he had jumped,” says Davis, a Senate page from 1963 to 1967. “She went nuts.”
Sometimes, their infractions weren’t intentional, or even understood.
Crenshaw’s love of hot dogs earned him a silent rebuke from then-Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas). “I was eating a hot dog in the [Democratic] Cloakroom. Maybe pages weren’t supposed to do that. I remember Sam Rayburn giving me a really tough glare like, ‘What are you doing in here eating a hot dog with me?’”
Some of their pastimes hardly would be permissible today.
Dingell kept a shotgun in his locker in the page school (which from the 1930s to the late 1940s was housed in the Capitol Terrace) and would “walk in and out of the Capitol” with the gun en route to or from hunting excursions. Congressional pages, Dingell says, had a rifle team and used “to shoot over in the old NRA range behind Union Station.”