Collectibles collected by Irvin Williams, White House chief groundskeeper, are on sale in Herndon

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Weirdest – and, in my opinion, most historic – item up for grabs at Fire Herndon House Estate Sale Irvin Williams, the longest serving head groundskeeper in White House history, is a bag of 13 tennis balls. Historic and, ultimately, timely.

Williams retired in 2008. In his 46 years overseeing the grounds of the White House, he had accumulated many things related to his job, from wooden Easter eggs printed with by Bill Clinton signature on thank you notes Pat Nixon.

Williams died in 2018 at the age of 92. his widow, Dorothy, left the Herndon home they shared. An estate sale is taking place there on Friday. Earlier this week, I went to check inventory.

The Williams have collected many things: Depression glasses, clocks, ceramic cookie jars, Little Red Riding Hood salt and pepper shakers, automobile vases (small glass vases that adorned the interiors of luxury cars a century ago ). What makes this a unique real estate sale in Washington is the White Housiana. This includes White House Christmas tree decorations, photos, invitations, signed presidential letters and “President Nixon: Now More Than Ever” campaign buttons.

Then there are these tennis balls, in a plastic bag labeled “protest balls,” priced at $120 for the set. I think they belong to the Smithsonian.

On April 5, 1992, approximately 500,000 people marched in Washington in favor of abortion rights. At one point during the rally, some of the protesters made their way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW to deliver a message. They wrote their feelings on tennis balls and threw them over the White House fence.

It was then that the bullets entered the field of Irvin Williams.

“I guess at the first george bush presidency, there was a protest and these people were throwing little messages on the White House lawn,” Irvin’s son said. Richard Williams, 68. “For some reason he picked it all up and brought some home. I only learned of their existence after my father died. I was in the garage looking in a cabinet and I said, “What’s in that box?”

Some of the writing on the bullets is a bit crude – one of the most tame I can name reads: “Bush’s ass is made of mush” – but most of the messages are pretty straightforward, including “I believe that ‘Anita Hill’ and ‘Pro-Choice.’

Richard said his father also brought home a few living beings from the White House. There is a large magnolia near the driveway that may have grown from a cutting taken from Jackson’s magnolia, a magnificent specimen that must have been felled in 2017. And the old house in Vienna in which lived the family – Irvin, Dorothy and their five children – had another resident: a dog named Pushinka.

Pushinka was a gift from the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at John F Kennedy in 1961. The pooch was the puppy of Strelka, one of the dogs that the Soviets had put into orbit. After the assassination of JFK, his widow, Jacqueline, apparently no longer wanted the dog. She asked Williams if he would take her.

“Pushinka has been our pet for many years,” Richard said.

She was a bit surly at first, he added.

“The first time I tried to pet her, she cracked me up,” he said. “She was very good with adults; then finally she came to the children.

Details of the sale of the Williams estate can be found at

Marilyn, ready for her close-up

Speaking of estate sales, there’s an interesting exhibit at the Artspace gallery in Richmond: works from the collection of Frances Wessel. Wessells is a dancer and choreographer who helped found the dance department at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is 102 years old and moves from her home in Crozier, Virginia. The artwork that once filled it is on display – and for sale.

This includes her own sculptures and the work of other artists, including her late husband, John Bailey. Bailey created the mural of Marilyn Monroe which since 1981 has looked down on the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street NW in Woodley Park. Items from Artspace include an original 2001 John Bailey gouache painting of Marilyn’s mural ($550), as well as signed serigraphs ($200) and artist’s proofs ($150).

Artspace (at 2833-A Hathaway Rd., Richmond) is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The Wessells Collection is in place until June 18. For more information, visit

Laura J. Boyer