by HANNAH NEUHAUSER
In the 1980s, the Harry Ransom Center received a scrapbook from John and Vera Hills along with an extraordinary unpublished account of their survival of the Knickerbocker Theatre roof collapse in Washington, D.C. on January 28, 1922. The scrapbook and testimony are available for research in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Graduate assistant Hannah Neuhauser offers these insights on the material.
We started out for an hour’s walk that was to last seven months and almost an eternity…
—FROM JOHN HILLS’S TESTIMONY
Vera Kreger Hills did not wish to go out on the evening of January 28, 1922. It was cold, brutally cold, and a whirring blizzard encased Washington D.C in over two feet of snow.
The weather did not deter her husband, Captain John Huntington Hills, however. He thought it “would be fun to take a stroll through the heavy snow.” After a few blocks, they passed by the Knickerbocker Theatre on 18th Street and Columbia Road. That night the theater was featuring a silent comedy, Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, that heralded good reviews.
Vera Kreger Hills preferred to finish their walk rather than go to the theatre, but consented to her husband’s idea. They had not been in the theatre for over a year. They bought their tickets for 25 cents and took their familiar seats under the balcony in the second row. Unbeknownst to the couple at the time, their seating arrangement would save their lives.