A Season of Discovery at St. Elizabeths

Elton Hayes | 8/1/2012, 3:14 p.m.

Fun-Filled Day Draws Crowds to the Southeast Landmark

As a teenager, Drew Dunmore recalls scaling the towering black iron rod fence that runs along the perimeter of the 183-acre east campus at St. Elizabeths Psychiatric Hospital with his brothers. Each week, the boys would climb the fence and comb the property, chock full of mighty Oaks, in search of firewood.

The Dunmore brothers would empty their weekly bounties into a Radio Flyer wagon, which they strategically placed on the other side of the fortress, and together they'd haul the branches and broken limbs back to their home at Douglass Dwellings in Southeast.

"That's how we would make our little change," said Dunmore, a retired business owner and Ward 8 resident.

Dunmore, 65, returned to his old stomping grounds and relived memories of his youth on Saturday, July 28 when St. Elizabeths East Campus opened its gates to District residents for its Season of Discovery celebration. The event attracted a diverse group of longtime Ward 8 residents and new gentrifiers, along with former St. Elizabeths' patients and employees who took advantage of the beautiful summer day and headed to the iconic landmark to participate in a host of fun-filled activities.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor of Planning and Economic Development and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), kicked off the celebration with opening remarks before the three blended seamlessly into the crowd to mingle with guests in between stops at the numerous vendor stands located throughout the grounds.

Vendors from the Ward 8 Farmers' Market, McCleaf's Orchard and the Rainbow Hill Farm lined tables with an assortment of shiny and succulent red tomatoes, emerald green zucchini and pints of plump blueberries, among other fresh and organic fruits, vegetables and meats. Some customers filled shopping bags with the tasty treats to enjoy later, while others seized the moment, and quickly peeled the skins off of Navel oranges and popped the juicy slices into their mouths.

Farmers weren't the only ones on-hand to hawk their wares.

Proud St. Elizabeths' patients beamed as they displayed their artwork which consisted of watercolors and charcoal drawings, still photographs of area landmarks and hand-woven bracelets and necklaces that caught both the eye of seasoned art collectors and novices during the festival.

But, the fun didn't stop there.

Children enjoyed a variety of activities that included games and arts and crafts. Balloon artists helped youngsters create animals and light sabres, while classically trained artists used young, supple cheeks as their canvasses, daubing an assortment of tangerine orange, black, white, gray, brown and yellow water-soluble paint on their faces and transforming their tiny visages into lions, rabbits and tigers.

Carla Merritt brought her young son and his friend to the event. The two Olympic-bound fencers engaged in an intense sword fight using balloons as their foils. Touche!

"It's a play date," said the Southeast resident, with a laugh, as she watched the make-believe sword fight unfold.

Patricia Allen knew that she would be babysitting her niece, Kyrsten on Saturday. So, she decided to bring her to the Season of Discovery celebration. And, judging by the looks of it, Allen made the right decision. The little girl appeared mesmerized with her paintbrush in hand and a bucket of scarlet red paint by her side. She created her very own masterpiece on a gigantic canvas that was specifically set up for young, aspiring artists to hone their craft.