A Local Life: Franklin Weaver,
86, the man who loved pigeons
By Emily Langer, Published:
Franklin Weaver never in his
life shooed away a pigeon.
As a boy, he played with the birds
on the Mall and climbed church
steeples to see where they lived.
He took a young lady, who later
became his wife, on pigeon-chasing
dates in the park.
During World War II, Mr.
Weaver joined the Army hoping for
an assignment with carrier pigeons. The Army had other plans, and he wound
up in the infantry on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion.
When the war ended, Mr. Weaver came home and made himself one of the
best pigeon racers in the Washington area. “He lived and breathed pigeons,”
said his son Harry Bates Weaver. “That kept him alive, I know, for pretty
much as long as he lived.”Mr. Weaver died Oct. 15 at his home in Clinton of
giant cell Arteritis, a blood-vessel disorder. He was 86.There are about 60
pigeon lofts within a 40-mile radius of the Washington Monument, according
to Sam Pixley, a vice president of the International Federation of American
Homing Pigeon Fanciers. Two of them, housing as many as 150 birds,
belonged to Mr. Weaver. He built the coops, one for breeding and the other
for his racing birds, with his brother.
Mr. Weaver was a founding member of the Hillside Racing Pigeon Club in
Maryland and a lifetime member of the Capitol City Racing Pigeon Club.
Before the civil rights movement, when some clubs were segregated, Mr.
Weaver was among the white racers who supported integration.
“Mr. Weaver was in the group that said, ‘Hey, enough is enough. We need to
come together, and we need to have one sport,’ ” said Pixley, 64, who is
African American. Mr. Weaver specialized in long-distance competitions, in
which birds are released at dawn more than 500 miles away from their coops.
The best pigeons — and Mr. Weaver raised many of them, his fellow racers
said — make it back by nightfall. Mr. Weaver left the lights on for them, his
son said. He lived in a world the pigeon-shooing class will never know. In
daylight hours, healthy coops swell with a sound that resembles the cooing of
a dove. It’s a soft noise, Pixley said — comforting, never irksome. By dusk,
when the pigeons begin to roost, the lofts are almost silent.
“You go out in the loft, and you have a certain solitude, a certain peace,”
Pixley said. “You know the birds.”Mr. Weaver’s friends described his love for
his pigeons: patient, kind, never boastful. He is said to have known them all
by name or band number. He fed them foods that were “sweet to their
palate,” said Eddie Wych Sr., 71, another racer. Some pigeons like canary
feed, the stuff of unluckier caged birds.“It’s just like steak for us,” Wych said.
“You’d be thinking about that during the day while you’re working.”No
matter how many races his pigeons won, Mr. Weaver did not brag. The fact
that they wanted to come home was enough. Franklin Harris Weaver was
born March 22, 1925, in Washington. He built his first pigeon coop on the
roof of his family’s apartment in Southwest.
After graduating from the District’s old Central High School in 1942, Mr.
Weaver joined the Army. His son said he never got his wish of handling
carrier pigeons during the war. Mr. Weaver worked in the Washington area as
a Coca-Cola delivery route driver and a milkman before retiring in 1992 as a
meat distributing warehouse supervisor. The money he won from pigeon races
helped him pay bills, treat his family to dinner at restaurants and buy
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Ann Stephan Weaver of Clinton; five
children, Harry Bates Weaver of Prince Frederick, Patricia Kay Weaver of
Lusby and Becky Warring, Cheri Alderson and Steve Weaver, all of
Mechanicsville, Md.; two sisters, Dolores Judd of Tappahannock, Va., and
Gerri Rollins of King George County, Va.; 11 grandchildren; and four great-
Pixley remembered one of Mr. Weaver’s star racers, which in three
consecutive races had flown 500 miles in a day. Mr. Weaver entered the
pigeon in another race and waited at the loft to celebrate its homecoming.
That time, a day, a week and then a month went by with no pigeon. Mr.
Weaver continued to believe that the bird would find its way home, and four
months later, it did.
“You look for that bird and look for that bird,” Pixley said. “When you do get
it home, it is a very joyful moment for you.”
(Family photo/FAMILY PHOTO) - Franklin
Weaver, a top pigeon racer in the
Washington area, died Oct. 15 at his
home in Clinton of giant cell arteritis, a
blood vessel disorder. He was 86.