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When the Hemming family bought their home in the Dunn Loring Woods community, the seller had an unusual condition: The Hemmings allow their yard to be used for an annual community block party.

Christine Hemming said the family readily agreed.

The residents of Syracuse Circle will have their 50th annual block party this Saturday.

Joe Murphy began orchestrating the event in 1962, inviting neighbors to a late spring cookout in his backyard and his neighbor’s yard, now the Hemmings’ home.

“It’s kind of an old bit of Americana that has gone away,” Murphy said.

For more than two decades, Murphy knocked on neighbors’ doors to get them to come, assigned dishes for the potluck, set the rules for the event, and collected a few dollars from each family for shared items such as plates and cups.

The early years featured “The Secret Movie,” which Murphy would project on a sheet hung in his backyard. For days in advance, the children would run up to him and say, “Mr. Murphy, what’s the secret movie?”

He even kept the film a secret from his own children, by hiding the canister somewhere in his house, he recalled.

“My sons would look all over the house trying to find out, what’s the secret movie,” he said.

Hemming said she has heard that, in the early days, the adults staged a poker game on her patio while the kids were watching the movie.

Murphy was named the “mayor” of Syracuse Circle on the 25th anniversary of the party and then-Providence District Supervisor Kate Hanley presented him with a plaque.

“That is something that I will never forget,” he said. “It just shows the type of neighbors that we have.”

Other families took over the party planning after Murphy “retired” from organizing the event.

The event has changed some during the years. It moved from June to September, because of frequent evening rains in June.

“My husband is in charge of making sure it doesn’t rain,” Hemming said.

Jim Dunne, one of the current organizers, also began inviting the Merrifield Fire and Rescue Department. Firefighters bring a fire truck, play with children, and join the neighbors for a meal.

“It’s a way to show them thank you for protecting our families,” Dunne said.

Like 16mm film, “The Secret Movie” has fallen by the wayside, but the children participate in a water balloon toss with the firefighters and play other games.

Syracuse Circle also has become more diverse throughout the years, Dunne said, with homeowners originally from China, Greece, India and England, along with people with a variety of ethnic heritages.

The residents said they cherish the opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.

“They’ve become very close friends,” Hemming said. “It’s just nice touching base with them.”

The younger generations who grew up on Syracuse Circle are continuing the tradition in their own communities. Both Dunne and Murphy said their children have launched annual block parties in their neighborhoods.

“They have continued their own tradition,” Dunne said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com