The modest plaque at N and 33rd Street in Georgetown stands in sharp contrast to some of the more traditional journalistic shrines in Washington. Situated behind a fence, eight feet off the ground, and above an earlier unrelated plaque about the Revolutionary War, most people walking by don’t even notice it.
The little sandwich-sized marker memorializes a small and otherwise forgotten moment of human generosity that occurred amid a historic international event. It hangs on the house that located across the street from then president-elect John F. Kennedy’s Georgetown townhouse, where a pack of freezing cold journalists warmed their toes and gratefully indulged in refreshments leading up to the inaugural ceremonies.
As the plaque notes, it was “Presented by the grateful newsmen who were given warm haven here by Miss Helen Montgomery and her father, Charles Montgomery.”
The weather in late January 1961 was indeed bone-chilling, with snow blanketing the capital and raw winds that one reporter likened to the Siberian freeze. Before Dwight Eisenhower handed over the keys to the White House, JFK was holed up in his N Street residence, issuing a flurry of announcements that filled out his cabinet and subcabinet positions. Helen Montgomery took pity on the shivering reporters on assignment to cover the scene, inviting them inside and offering much-appreciated coffee, saltines, and jellies.
And, by turning over her telephone and allowing the press men to set up two additional ones, the Montgomery residence became a listening post for a news hungry world audience. After the inauguration the reporters paid for a commemorative plaque, which Kennedy delivered in person to the Montgomery’s. Relatives of Helen Montgomery still live in the house to this day.
Know Before You Go
The Montgomery House is a private residence.