Alexandria Library -- Special Collections
Document of the Month
November 2007

Around the Potomac:
Verses about Places and People I Love

Written by William J. Dickman


Illustrations by Lily Spandorf

The Old Town

This poem, by long-time Alexandria resident William Dickman, pays tribute to Alexandria and its distinguished history. “The Old Town” is just one of several poems featured in Around the Potomac: Verses about Places and People I Love in which Dickman expressed his admiration for his wife and the city he cherished.

William and Ilka Dickman

A Bouquet of Stories (cover)

William and Ilka Dickman illustrate the modern American dream, going from impoverished refugees to pillars of the Alexandria community. On the eve of the second World War William Dickman and Ilka Deutsch fled their native countries, forced to abandon family members and plans to unite after maintaining a long-distance relationship. William fled from Berlin, Germany to join his brother in Copenhagen, Denmark and shortly after went to the United States. Ilka left her native Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and went to London, England to find solace and a place to stay with old friends. Although having escaped to different countries, William and Ilka's journeys of exile bear a noteworthy similarity as they attempted to rebuild life alone and penniless. Eventually joining in the United States and marrying in 1943, the couple wrote about the hardships experienced as refugees and the years that followed in their memoirs: The Long, Long, Trail with You, Stories We Lived, A Bouquet of Stories, and Appointment to Newfoundland. From the many travels by plane, train, or ship to a life-long love for each other, the Dickmans shared with the public a very personal story of life during this uncertain time.

Between 1944 and 1948 William and Ilka traveled to several countries while employed with the United States Government. Seldom together on these journeys, by 1948 they decided to settle down and returned to the United States. These one-time refugees took-up residence in Alexandria; a location picked for its history and charm. The Dickmans lived a long and happy life on Lee Street and were an invaluable asset to the community. William was Vice-President of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Commission, and a member of the Tourist Council and the Archaeological Commission. He also held a strong interest in Civil War and Alexandria history, having published Battery Rodgers, a book about the Civil War fortification site on Lee Street. Ilka served as a volunteer physician for the Alexandria Public Health Center and was an active voice on the Alexandria Library Board, the Environmental Policy Commission, and the Beautification Commission. Also a brilliant painter, she illustrated Appointment to Newfoundland with her watercolors. The Dickmans spent more than 35 years together in Alexandria before Ilka passed away on May 7, 1984 and William died several years later on October 28, 1987.

From the experiences as European refugees to a life of public service in their adopted city, we celebrate the Dickmans and their gifts to us. Mr. Dickman's books and papers are located in the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections branch and Mrs. Dickman's paintings line the boardroom of the Charles E. Beatley branch.


“Landing Stage at Rencontre West”
Watercolor by Ilka D. Dickman
Appointment to Newfoundland (cover)

The detailed accounts of William and Ilka Dickman's lives can be found in their memoirs and other related materials at the Special Collections branch:

Document of the Month Archives


Special Collections Home   ||   Guide to Special Collections   ||   Virtual Tour   ||   Online Exhibits   ||   Genealogy Resources   ||   Online Collection Guides   ||   Useful Links   ||   News and Events   ||   Bookshop   ||   Contact Us
Library Catalog   ||   Alexandria Library Home

Web Page by Michele Lee
2007 Alexandria Library