Sunday, October 20, 2013

Isaac P. Christiancy and His Child Bride: There's No Fool like an Old Fool Part I

U.S. Senator (Michigan) Isaac Peckham Christiancy

This is a story that has it all:  Sex.  Politics.  More sex.  It begins with a May-December wedding:

The groom—Isaac Peckham Christiancy—was a sixty-four year old Senator, ex-state supreme court justice, widow and father of at least seven children.  

The bride—Lillian Lugenbell—was  a pretty, blonde clerk at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, only twenty years old and reportedly prone to bouts of giddiness alternating with depression—and ultimately lunacy.

They married in a small, private ceremony in the house on Indiana Avenue where she had been boarding—which just happened to be the same place where the old Senator resided.  The wedding was witnessed by Fellow Michigan Senator Thomas Ferry and Lillian's friend, Miss Belle Linthicum and officiated by a Reverend Dr. Sunderland. 

The way Lillie told it, their marriage was going swimmingly—at least for the first few minutes.

Galveston (TX) Daily News, Jan. 31, 1877
Let us start at the beginning:

Issac Peckham Christiancy was born in March, 1812, in Johnstown, NY, the son of a New York pioneer who died when Christiancy was only 13.  From then on, young Isaac had to work and support the family; he did so by teaching and studying law. 

He studied law and moved to Michigan when he was about 24, where he was admitted to the bar.  From 1841 to 1846, he served as a prosecuting attorney for Monroe County, Michigan.  In 1849, Christiancy was elected to the state senate.  From there, he was elected Chief Justice of the Michigan State Supreme Court.   Biographers credit him with being instrumental in forming the state’s Republican party and with being an outspoken abolitionist.

Birds eye view of the city of Lansing, Michigan 1866. Library of Congress
In November of 1839, he married Miss Elizabeth McCloskey, nine years his junior.  The 1870 census shows him to be a 58 year old justice, living a respectable family life in Monroe County.  He and Elizabeth had seven children, with total property worth $40,000.  

Elizabeth died in December of 1874 in Lansing.  A year later, the widower was elected a US Senator for the term ending in 1881.   Mr. Christiancy, now 63 years old, went to Washington.  He took his seat in the Senate on March 4th, 1875.

Lillian M Lugenbeel was born in Alexandria, Virginia on July 30, 1854 to John W. Lugenbeel of Maryland, the son of an immigrant Lugenbühl from Germany, and his wife, Mary Francis (nee) Simpson of Virginia. Lillie was the youngest of four siblings:  a brother, French Cross, born in 1849, a teacher, died Staunton, Va., 1896, buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, DC; a brother James, born in 1851, and a sister Bettie, in 1853.  In addition, she had a sister M. Emma, born in 1850 and died in 1878 at the age of 28. 

Her father had studied at Columbian College, which would later become George Washington University, and graduated in 1841.  There is no record that John W.  fought in the Civil War, but the census of 1860 shows him to be absent from the household.  His wife Mary, his mother-in-law Ann Simpson and the children are living together in the home of  Richard Cross, a well-to-do Alexandria, Va. shoemaker.

Lillian’s family moved at least twice over the next fifteen years, as her father took a variety of jobs.  By 1864, they are living on E Street, North, and Lillian's father is working at the American telegraph company.  By 1870, the family had moved to lower Howard County, Maryland, near the town of Savage, where John was working as a clerk. 

By the winter of 1876, Lillian was 20 and working at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), where like so many young women of the age, she hoped to find herself a husband.

"Lady Clerks Leaving the Treasury Department at Washington," by Alfred Rudolph Waud, a sketch which originally appeared in Harpers Weekly, Harper's Weekly, Feb. 18, 1865, p. 100.

Women had been working at have worked at the BEP since it opened in 1862, operating hand-cranked machines that cut and separated bank notes. By Lillian's time, women had assumed more complex tasks, operating seal presses, inspecting currency, or assisting printers.

“A notable feature on the streets of the capital is the female Government employees; especially the Treasury girls. They are generally young and of good families – for it takes some influence to get into a department. There are many black sheep among them, however. They get $600 a year which is little when board is hard to get at $30 per month, and an ordinary room costs $20 per month." William Emile Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War, page 240.
Vernon Row, 900 block Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 1871

During the winter recess of 1876, Senator Isaac Christiancy took a room in a boarding house run by bookseller Warren Choate and his English wife, Susan at 310 Indiana Avenue, NW, adjacent to Judiciary Square.  He brought his youngest son George, then only ten, from Lansing to live with him.  Also boarding there was a pretty young woman named Lillian Lugenbeel.

"'How fond Lillie Lugenbeel is of little George Christiancy!' remarked the ladies of the house. 'It is really touching to watch her kittenish gambols with him, and to watch her sometimes sitting at the Senator's feet!'" - Helena Independent, February 3, 1881

301 Seventh Street, Northwest at Indiana Avenue & C Street, Washington, District of Columbia, DC


The 64-year-old gentleman clearly found her as lovely and charming as did everyone else in the house, and he told Lillian that if he were a younger man, he would “pay her attention.”

Lillian wrote him a letter claiming that she took his compliment to be a marriage proposal. 

Alarmed, perhaps even horrified, Christiancy tried to talk her out of marriage, owing to the discrepancy in their ages. Or so he later claimed.

“I was led into it by her skillfully turning what was intended as a mere compliment to her into a proposition for marriage, which, at the first moment, I suspected that she intended to misconstrue into such a proposition, I promptly apologized for, when she as promptly declared her wish that I should marry her, to which I did not assent until after I had honestly and earnestly, on several different occasions, endeavored to convince her of the unfitness of such a marriage, on account of the difference in our respective ages, but I finally yielded to her solicitations upon her repeated assurances that she loved me better than any other man..." Atchinson Kansas Globe, January 15, 1881.
And so they were married on February 8, 1876, a few weeks after meeting, in a small ceremony in the boarding house where they both resided; Reverend Byron Sunderland officiated.  Fellow Michigan Senator, the much-younger and much more attractive Thomas W.Ferry stood as best man, and one of Lillie’s girlfriends as maid of honor.  The couple set forth for a honeymoon in New York.

Rosine et le Docteur. 1876. Etching. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte

To be continued...
© Cecily Hilleary, 2013

Friday, May 25, 2012

Noah E. Sedgwick: A Black Cop in DC's Gilded Age

March 17th, 1892:

34-year-old Noah E. Sedgwick dipped his pen in ink and began a letter to John W. Ross, Commissioner of the District of Columbia:
Dr. Sir, I have the honor to make application for a patrol driver or the like under your branch of the District Government. I will faithfully discharge the duties assigned me. Your obedient Servnt, Noah Sedwick.
A month later, Sedgwick once again took up his pen and filled out an application for appointment to the Metropolitan Police Department.
13. Have you ever been indicted and convicted of any crime?   Have not.
14. Are you addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors, morphine or opium?  Not.
15. Have you ever been addicted to the use of any of these articles?   No.
16. When did you last drink intoxicating liquors?   March 11th, 92.
The application even asked whether Sedgwick suffered from piles or rheumatism, but it did not ask him his race.

Sedgwick attached to his application endorsements from some of Georgetown’s most prominent businessmen:  Lumber merchant Samuel E. Wheatley; Frederick L. Moore, who owned an agricultural warehouse; Druggist William D. Brace; N Street physician, Dr. Henderson Suter; George T. Dunlop; and about a dozen others, all of whom agreed that the former schoolteacher and waiter Noah E. Sedgwick was cheerful, hard-working, and honest.

From his application, we know that Sedgwick was born on August 5, 1858 in Montgomery County, Md., just four years before the institution of slavery was abolished, and was a resident of Georgetown, D.C.

We know that his father had earlier died of typhoid fever and that Noah was now supporting a family of four—his mother may have been among them.

Noah may have been the son of Richard Sedgwick, born about 1845 in Berry’s District (just northeast of Wheaton) Montgomery County, who later moved to Georgetown, D.C. 

On November 19, 1878, Noah was licensed to marry Emma L. Senkfield in Georgetown, and by 1880, the couple were living in Cracklin, Maryland (before it was incorporated in 1892, Laytonsville in Montgomery County was called Cracklinville, after the popular Cracklin bread, which was baked in a local tavern. After awhile, the entire district around the area was nicknamed “Cracklin.”).  He was listed as a school teacher.

Grifton School, courtesy Sandy Spring Museum
Nina Clarke and Lillian Brown's History of the Black Public Schools of Montgomery County, Md: 1872-1961 show that in 1880, Noah taught at the tiny Grifton school on Mt. Zion road, halfway between Laytonsville and Sandy Spring, Md., which had been built four years earlier.

A year later, he was teaching at the Emory school in the black settlement of Emory Grove, near Gaithersburg, Md.  Emory Grove had, since the mid 1800's, been the site of a black Methodist camp meeting that predated the white meeting site at Washington Grove.  Camp meetings, usually held in late summer, gathered together Methodist and non-Methodist Christians for several days of preaching, prayer, bible study and socializing--and baptisms.

By 1883, as the chart below shows, he had an average of 35 pupils enrolled for at least three terms of the year.  This number fell in summer, when children were needed at home to help with farming.  That year, he was paid $172.41--based on enrollment.

It is assumed that Noah's wife Emma died sometime before 1883, which was the year he married his second wife, Mary.  The same year, Mary gave birth to the couple's first son, William.  Records show that they were still living in Maryland at the time of his birth.

According to the Washington Bee, Noah taught school in Virginia for some time.

By the late 1880s, Noah was living in Georgetown, where he worked over the next few years alternately as a cook, laborer, teacher and waiter. At the time of his application to the DC police force, he was both living and working at Charles Field’s Saloon at 3004 M Street (where the Latham Hotel now stands), supporting a family of four.

On August 1, Sedgwick was accepted onto the Metropolitan Police Force and appointed a Private, Class 1 D.C. Police Officer and was assigned to the 9th District in Northeast (pictured in 1894, below.  Sedgwick is standing, second to right figure in the back row).

It is not difficult to imagine his feelings as he donned the private’s uniform for the first time: It was single-breasted blue “frock”--or long jacket--ending two inches above the knee, with a single row of nine buttons extending up to a stand-up collar. Sedgwick’s trousers would have had two pockets behind and two in the front: One of these was a regulation five inches wide, seven inches deep and lined with chamois or buckskin, to accommodate his firearm. Lastly, he would have pinned the final symbol of his authority, Badge 379.

Sedgwick was hired at a salary of $900 a year—that is, $75 a month, a very decent salary in the last decade of the 19th century. He had no way of knowing that his time on the force would be limited and that like black officers in departments across the country, white officers would watch his every movement, looking for an excuse to let him go.

Left, abandoned 9th Precinct Building today
© Cecily Hilleary, 2010
The District of Columbia had always had some type of police presence. In the first half of the 19th century, the force consisted of only a handful of constables who kept watch and enforced the laws of the fledgling capital. After the outbreak of the Civil War, however, the safety of the Federal City became a greater concern. Congress officially established the Metropolitan Police Department (hereafter, MPD) on August 6, 1861.

In July, 1869, the MPD accepted its first black officers, Charles C. Tillman and Calvin C. Caruthers. This was not to satisfy any concerns about equal opportunity; this was purely because black cops would be “convenient” to walk the streets of black neighborhoods.

Racial tensions were high in Washington as in nearly every urban center as blacks came to terms with the reality that emancipation was not the same as political freedom. White officers were prone to the use of excessive force when dealing with blacks—and those blacks who tried to challenge the system were met with resistance, if not violent reprisals.

White residents blamed blacks for rising crime and asked the city to hire more police (from 1866 to 1880, the police force employed only 200 officers; differing shifts meant that at best, there were only about 125 stretched over a territory 75 square miles). It was hoped that black residents could better identify with black officers.

Tillman and Caruthers faced considerable opposition within the MPD. One white officer, Samuel H. Ellis, refused to work with a black man and was dismissed. He was later pardoned and reinstated. Some black residents would have resented the two, seeing them as agents of white authority and oppression.

It would be difficult to find statistics on how many black officers served at any one time in Washington—histories of the police force do not provide statistics, nor do service records.

What is certain is that they remained the minority: 1890, there were over 74,600 police-and firemen in the United States; only about 2,000 were African American. Another certainty is that a black man never served on the force for long: In 1879, only a single black officer remained of the previous 50 black officers hired.

In Washington as in cities across the U.S., 19th Century black officers would never be assigned to white neighborhoods, and certainly any attempt by a black policeman to enforce the law upon whites would have generated resentment, if not all-out retaliation—never mind the legendary arrest of Ulysses S. Grant by a black officer who did not recognize the President. Grant had been racing his horse buggy at a breakneck clip through the streets of Washington. After the officer impounded both buggy and horse, the president cheerfully commended him on his work and walked back to the White House. Or so the story goes.

Black officers, not surprisingly, were subjected to severe discrimination by both the department and fellow officers: They were given the most undesirable shifts and beats, were passed over for promotions, and in many cases actively driven from their jobs.

Sedgwick’s beat was vast:  It ran from Twelfth Street N.E. to the Eastern branch of the Potomac River and from North Capitol Street all the way to F Street N.E. He does not appear to have worked with a partner, but it is clear that white officers kept a close eye on his comings and goings.

Like other policemen, he was in charge of keeping law and order on his beat. This did not simply amount to chasing criminals. More often than not, it was mundane work: helping the homeless, searching for lost children, returning stray livestock to rightful owners, checking doors and escorting the inebriated back to their families.

Sedgwick distinguished himself in at least two sensational cases: In May, 1894, he made the newspapers by arresting the so-called “Candy Man,” a 40-year-old German pedophile named Henry Windelberg, tried to lure two young girls away from Lincoln Park by promising them candy.

A year later, Sedgwick went unassisted to investigate the unreported death of an elderly woman at “Aunt” Hetty Green’s, a notorious “cook shop” (saloon) and brothel at the corner of 17th and B Streets, N.E. (today’s Constitution Avenue). He found a large group of men holding a “wake” over the woman’s body.

This in itself was not an unusual practice among the city’s poor residents; funerals were often conducted in alleys and neighborhood streets, where family members took up collections to pay for a coffin and other funeral expenses.

However, the men gathered at Green’s saloon this particular evening were drunk and made a huge racket singing “indecent” songs. Sedgwick ordered them to disperse, and they did—that is, all but one, who sneered and challenged Sedgwick’s authority.

“What are you afraid of?” the man called out to the others and he cursed “that there man in brass buttons.” In no time, a crowd began to surround Sedgwick, and when he tried to arrest the instigator, as many as thirty men attacked him.

Sedgwick fought bravely. In fact, said the Post, the only way he escaped with his life was with the “free use” of his nightstick. Somehow, Sedgwick got away--cut, bruised and missing both a tooth and his police badge.

These and other examples of Sedgwick’s diligence and bravery are not noted in his service record.

The Washington Bee ran an editorial in October, 1895, urging that Sedgwick be promoted to sergeant:
"He is one of the most feared officers in the east and one of the most respected among all classes. So well has he done his duty that the citizens in the northeast, especially the white property owners, want him promoted to a sergeant. There is no reason why Officer Sedgwick cannot be promoted to a sergeant. He is competent, and there is
nothing that can prevent his promotion except his color, and it is not believed that the color prejudice will be strong enough to prevent his superior officers from promoting him to the position the people want him to fill.

Officer Sedgwick is a man of family. His wife is a very interesting and pleasant young woman. His boy is about 14 years old and attends the public schools of this city. He loves his family and is a good provider.

The Bee joins in with the people and recommends to Lieut. Heffner and Major,
Moore, who have no prejudice on account of color, to appoint Sedgwick sergeant at the next vacancy."
Noah's personnel file also contains a series write-ups, complaints and charges of neglect of duty, each of which resulted in $5-10 fines—and recommendations that he be released from the force.

Sedgwick was not the first—and would not be the last—cop, white or black, to be charged with misconduct. Browsing service records and newspaper accounts, officers seemed to spend as much time as possible finding ways to break the rules and avoid the sharp eyes of 9th Precinct House Inspector Isaac Pearson. “Uncle Ike,” as he was called, was a Civil War and Navy veteran noted for his toughness. His job was not only to inspect the officers, as his title suggested, but to prowl their beats to ensure that his officers did not stray from duty.

The most common offenses were “hoodling”—that is, the practice whereby one partner would keep lookout while the other napped, consorting with hookers and drinking on duty. Every corner had its saloon, and all a man in blue had to do was tap on a window, and a glass of whiskey or beer would be passed to him.
On October 19th, 1892, Sedgwick was up before the Trial Committee for the first time:
That said Noah E. Sedgwick, a private of Class 1 in the Metropolitan Police Force D.C., while on duty on or about the 10th day of October, 1892, did leave his beat and enter grocery and liquor store kept by John T. Cheshire, No., 1168 20th Street, N.W.
Sedgwick pled guilty and gave several excuses which were rather lame. He was fined $10, half of which was to be paid in November and the other half in December.

Sedgwick was tried for neglect of duty again in August, 1893. Both he and a new white recruit, D.M. Reidy, were accused of having failed to patrol their beats between 3:50 and 4:20 A.M. Both men pled guilty and were fined $10, payable in two installments. No further details were noted. It can only be presumed that one of them caught a half-hour nap while the other kept guard. Figuring out who did which is a matter for guesswork. Sedgwick promised it would never happen again.

Some sort of charges were pending against Sedgwick in May, 1895--which prompted a Mr. A.S. Richardson to write a letter to DC Commissioner George Truesdell in support of the officer:

Dear Sir:  I understand that there are charges against Noah Sedgwick, a policeman within whose beat I reside and whom I have known some years.  I beg to say a word in his behalf or rather to suggest that from my observation and knowledge of him he is a very efficient officer and a man of strictly temperate life.  He is popular and well liked and any consideration extended to him will meet the approval of the citizens in this section.
Trusting that you will excuse this, perhaps seeming trespass, I am, very respectfully yours...
On July 3, 1895, Sedgwick once again went before the DC Board of Commissioners:
That N.E. Sedgwick, a private of Class 1 in the Metropolitan Police Force, D. of C., did, on or about the 25th day of June, 1895, at or about the hour of 10:40 p.m. enter a bar room premises situate [sic] on B between 13th and 14th streets, N.W., and remain therein three minutes. This while on duty.
This case would have been thrown out of any modern trial room. Sedgwick left his beat to use a privy located in an alley stable, which happened to be situated a few yards behind a saloon. Uncle Ike Pearson had observed the entire thing from the street and was the first to testify against Sedgwick:
Q: Inspector, state what your knowledge is concerning this case.
A: On the evening in question, I saw Mr. Sedgwick enter these premises and remain in there about three minutes, and then come out.
Q: What premises were they?
A: B Street [Constitution Avenue] between 13th and 14th North-east.
Q: What kind of premises?
A: Bar room premises.
Q: Did he enter the bar room proper?
A: No, sir; he entered through the alley, through a stable.
Q: Was he gone from your view long enough to have gone to the bar room?
A: Yes, sir.
Well, no, admitted Pearson, when pressed, he didn’t exactly see Sedgwick go into the bar. He saw him enter the premises.
Q: Did you discover any fumes of liquor on his breath?
A: I thought I did at one time; one time I got pretty close to him, I thought I smelled liquor, but he got away from me every time I got close to him; he would step away, back away…
Q: What excuse, if any, did he give for entering the place?
A: Said he went in there to urinate.
Q: Was there any other place in the vicinity where he could have gone that was not a bar room premises, for this purpose?
A: This was an alley, a very dark alley, and there was a cart in this alley where no one could have seen him…
Q: Suppose, Lieutenant, instead of urinating in the stable he had gone to a privy, and found a man there, and had to wait a minute or two, you would not have reported him?
A: No, sir; if he had gone there, and a man was in there, and Mr. Sedgwick had to wait there a few minutes, and I knew that he went in there for the purpose of urinating, and there was no other place for him to go, I would not have reported him, but there were other places to urinate, but he selected this place to urinate, and also that I had a complaint that he went there every evening on duty to drink.
In what had to be an excruciatingly embarrassing experience, Sedgwick desribed how he had entered the stable from the alley and found the privy occupied.  Unwilling or unable to wait any longer, he said he had stepped out into the yard between the stable and the saloon and urinated there.  
 Q: What did you go in there for?
A: To urinate.

Q: Is that or not a part of the bar room premises?

A: I would not consider it so.

Q: What premises are the?

A: Mr. Calahan has charge of that stable; he rents that stable.

Q: Was it on your beat?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And you don’t think you were in there three minutes?

A: No, sir, I don’t.

Q: The Lieutenant thinks you might have secreted yourself in some other place than in that water closet to urinate, how about that? Do you know of any other place?

A: Yes, sir, the whole commons is wide open.
The privy occupant, Mr. William Clayton, supported Sedgwick’s testimony; in fact, he said, Sedgwick had inadvertently opened the door on Clayton, and exchanged brief words with the man. Clayton could hear Sedgwick urinating outside.

In addition, the bartender, A. W. Clark, testified that Sedgwick had never entered the bar room nor had any drinks delivered to him in the yard.

In spite of all the testimony in his favor, the trial committee found Sedgwick guilty of a neglect of duty and fined him $5, due on or before August 5th.

To be continued...

© Cecily Hilleary, 2010

Photos of Ninth Police District and detail of Noah Sedgwick from:  Young, J. Russell and Feeney, James L., The Metropolitan Police Department:  An Official Illustrated History.  Washington D.C., Lawrence Publishing Co., 1908.

Washington DC Police and Fire Precinct Map arranged by Richard Sylvester, from Report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia [1898], courtesy Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Noah E. Sedgwick Part II - Sedgwick's Ghost

Officer Noah Sedgwick

Ghost stories ran rampant among the 19th Century police officers, both white and black. Every precinct boasted its ghosts—but none became more publicized more than the ghost of the Ninth Precinct, known as “Sedgwick’s Ghost.”

It was five minutes past midnight on a pleasant evening in September, 1895. Private Sedgwick had nearly completed his nightly beat. As he neared the corner of 10th and D Streets, N.E., he heard the sound of shuffling. He assumed that it was his relieving officer and in a moment of mischief, Sedgwick decided to play a little joke on the man. He picked up a cobblestone and, just as he was about to throw it, he saw the ghost for the first time.
I saw that the thing was dressed in white and had no head.
A stunned Sedgwick dropped the stone.
… and as I did so there was a gust of wind and an awful groan, and the ghost fell against the fence, knocking down three panels. I looked and the ghost was gone, but there were the three boards to prove that it had been there.
The next time I saw it near the Twelfth street colored church. I thought it was a stray cow, and as I went close I saw that it was a headless man, and then it disappeared.
He saw the ghost for a third time on Sunday, November 22, at 2:20 a.m., according to a statement he was required to make:
I was walking along the commons at Fourteenth and Warren streets, when suddenly I saw a figure crouching by a tree box near a lighted naphtha lamp. I could see it as plain as I see you now. It looked like a man, and didn’t seem to be in white. I was not afraid, for I thought it was a man. I started to go up close, but it kept ahead of me. When I would stop it would stop. I could not get closer than twenty feet, no matter how fast I walked. At last I called to it:

“Charley,” said I, “stop, I want to see you.”

It didn’t answer, but commenced to get white and to move away.

“Stop,” said I again.

It would not stop, so I drew my revolver and fired. I was cool and collected, and shot straight at it. The spook disappeared instantly. I could see the smoke from my revolver, but the ghost was gone.
Because firing his pistol without reason was in violation of police code, Sedgwick was required to write a statement, and there was reason to believe he would be called before the trial board. Sedgwick worried about one more trial, but he stood by his actions and told the press that if he were called to trial, he would have no trouble finding a dozen witnesses had also seen the Ninth district ghost.

Officer Lewis Gee stepped up to say that he had seen the ghost just a week earlier at the corner of Eleventh and C streets northeast, just a half block away from the precinct house.

Station-keeper W. H. Burkhart also corroborated Sedgwick’s story: One evening, Burkhart had spotted the creature—headless, robed in white, with short arms, it was leaning against a tree box and moaning eerily. When Burkhart approached, it vanished “as if by magic.”

“Sedgwick’s ghost” was the talk of the station house and certainly increased newspaper sales for a few days. Some of the officers believed Sedgwick. They decided that the ghost was the spirit of Joseph Beam, who had murdered his stepdaughter Annie Leahy the previous December and had been hanged for it. Others believed it may have been the ghost of Annie herself.

On November 24th, two nights after Sedgwick had fired on the ghost, an unnamed Post reporter decided to take a walk with Sedgwick on his beat. Accompanying them was a new night Inspector, Lieutenant Francis E. Cross, who was skeptical, to say the least.

The reporter described the scene as “desolate.” The streets were, for the most part, unpaved and unlit, and houses were few and far between. As they walked, they passed the occasional alley church holding evening services; the “quavering” voices of both preachers and congregation drifted and faded into the dark night. Was it any wonder, asked the writer, in the racist prose of the times, that Sedgwick, “himself a colored man” saw ghosts—“and when such reliable men as Officer Gee and Station-keeper Burkhardt” also claimed to have seen them.

The writer indulged in several more lines of hyperbole (“It was just such a night as ghosts are said to like. The wind was roaring and groaning, and the shaking of the branches of the leafless trees sounded like the rattle of dry bones.”). Then he returned to the subject of his walk with Sedgwick and the Inspector—the modern reader marvels that a reporter could have remembered such conversations with any accuracy, lacking any kind of recording device and it being too dark to take notes:

“Well, Sedge, have they been around tonight?” asked Inspector Cross.

Sedgwick said no, but it was still early. Then, catching the smile on Cross’s face, he said:
Lieutenant, you may not believe what I said that I have seen, but as sure as I stand here, as sure as there is a judgment day coming, I’ve seen that headless ghost. It was over here again last night. There’s a dog over yonder that often comes out and walks with me for company, and gets some of my lunch. Well, last night, I was walking along and I heard the dog come up behind me and sniffed at my pocket.
“Hello, Jack,” says I. And then I happened to think that I didn’t want the dog with me that night, and I turned around to drive him away, when, what do you think? It was a ghost in the form of a dog. Just that quick it got as big as a horse and as white as the driven snow. Then it changed into a man without any head, and says, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!!—just like that—and disappears right through the fence.
Sedgwick reportedly went on to say that he was going to order a set of silver bullets—to the tune of $3 a set.
You can’t kill a ghost, you know, but my grandmother and my mother used to tell me that with silver bullets you could lay the spooks so that they wouldn’t bother you no more.
Cross, still amused, told him, “While you are out shooting as spooks be careful that you don’t shoot me or any one else. I would advise you to shoot in the air.”

Meanwhile the two white policemen, Officer Lewis Gee and Station keeper W. H. Burkhart stood by their stories, and endured ribbing from their colleagues. Over the next week or two, thrill-seeking youth from elsewhere in the city explored Sedgwick’s beat by bicycle in the hopes of seeing the ghost. No one saw a thing.

Had Sedgwick seen anything? If so, were his eyes playing tricks on him in the darkness—or were his fellow officers playing tricks?

That is the most likely scenario--and lest that seem unlikely, consider the great detective Alan Pinkerton, who in his 1878 memoirs, Criminal Reminiscences and Detective Sketches, describes playing a cruel joke on a superstitious Irish officer named O'Grady, on guard duty in a cemetery overnight.

After Sedgwick fired his gun, the ghost was never seen again. But by the time the newspapers were done with Sedgwick, he had been reduced in the public eye from Brave Cop to Timid and Superstitious Negro.

Sedgwick's ghost must have boosted readership, because in December, the Post published a lengthy feature cataloging supernatural goings-on across the city. Of interest in the Sedgwick case is the ghost that two veteran cops—Tom Lynch and Bernard McCormick, then with the Eighth precinct—stepped forward to report: They had seen a woman robed in white, with skin like alabaster and strange glowing eyes.

Here’s how Officer McCormick told the tale:
One raw misty night, after the ghost scare had run on for some time, Lynch and I were on a side street. It was away past midnight. Lynch was stretched out on a cord of wood that had been stacked in the road, and I was standing by the side of the pile, keeping a lookout for the night inspector.

Suddenly, I saw the ghost. There is was flitting along the other side of the street looking for all the world as if it had just come out of the grave. I gives Lynch a rap with my night stick, and says in a whisper:

“Tom, the ghost is here.”
Lynch hops up as if he had been bitten by a Jersey skeeter. You see, he thought it was the night inspector.

When Lunch jumped up, that kind of scared the ghost. The thing jumped back and didn’t know what to do. It turned its face, and such a face I never saw. It was only half way across the street from us, but I could see that it had the face of death. The ghost puts its hands down at its sides and draws back its white robe a little. And I saw that it had small white feet, like a woman. Then it gave a shriek that ended in a mocking laugh, that seemed to freeze the very marrow in my bones.

I tell you, it makes a fellow feel a little shaky when a ghost gets across the street from him and gives him the ice house laugh. The ghost seemed to be as badly scared as we were, so I says to Lynch, “Tom, let’s find out about this blamed thing, right now.”

“All right,” says my partner, and then we darts across the street right at the spook.

The thing never moved, and we grabbed it. Well, what do you think. It wasn’t no ghost at all. Just a woman. She was a little gone mentally, and the saddest looking woman I ever saw, and I’ve seen lots of ‘em a-lookin’ so sorrowful and a-making a fellow feel sorry for the misfortunes of mortals. This woman’s eyes were sunk away back in her head, and were as black as night itself. And her face was dead white, except around her eyes. And her hair was very long and all loose. She had on a night gown and was barefooted. She didn’t do anything but shriek kind o’ frightened like and then laugh in her awful way.

Tom and me took her over to the station, and the Sergeant said it wasn’t no use holding her, ‘cause it’s mighty hard to make a disorderly conduct cause against any one that’s crazy. So we went back to Le Droit Park and scouted around until we found out who were her relatives, and then we turned her over to them. They said that as a rule, she wasn’t very bad, only sometimes she was worse than others, and that they would take care of her. So that was the end of the ghost out in the Eighth.”
As an interesting side note, McCormick had recently been transferred from the Eighth to the Ninth Precinct.

Could creating a ghost to spook Sedgwick have been inspired by his tale?

Oh, no! the reader might be tempted to cry. They wouldn’t have done anything so mean, would they?

One wonders. Over on Brown Street in Georgetown, a few years later, “ghosts” rained rocks, bricks and even rotting vegetables for several nights in a row over the terrified black inhabitants of a certain alley. Police patrolled the area but did not seem to do anything more than stand around and declare they were mystified. Some residents blamed the supernatural; others blamed “pranksters;” but one thing is for sure, the incident nearly caused the “depopulation” of the black neighborhood which was, in the eyes of many white Georgetowners, an eyesore.

To be continued..

© Cecily Hilleary, 2010

Picture credits:  "Jim Crow," courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA 

Noah Sedgwick, engraving from the Washington Bee, Oct. 12, 1895

Portrait Francis Cross from:  Young, J. Russell and Feeney, James L., The Metropolitan Police Department:  An Official Illustrated History.  Washington D.C., Lawrence Publishing Co., 1908.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Noah E. Sedgwick: Part III - A Career Destroyed

By now, the press had begun referring to Officer Sedgwick as “Silver Bullet.” In a lengthy article about ghosts published in the Post on Dec. 15th, Sedgwick’s credibility was further damaged when it was revealed that he was not only afraid of ghosts, but of the “Night Doctors.”
Sedgwick, who is a colored man, used to be a school teacher in the District, and is quite an intelligent man, although extremely superstitious. Some years ago, Sedgwick used to be in the Third police precinct, instead of the Ninth. One night as he was lined up in the station, receiving instructions from the sergeant, just before going out on the midnight watch, the sergeant noticed Sedgwick’s mouth was all covered with grease.

“Sedge, what’s the matter with your mouth?” asked the sergeant.
“Nothing sir,” was the reply.
“Why, there’s grease all around it.”
“That’s so the night doctors can’t slap a plaster on.”
“What do you mean?”
“My mother told me that if I would grease my mouth, the plasters that the night doctors clap on the mouths of their victims, so that they can’t holler when they are being carried off, wouldn’t stick. That’s all. I don’t want to be kotched by no night doctor.
By the early 19th Century, anatomy instruction had become a central component to medical study.  The only legal cadavers were those of condemned murderers, however, there were not enough of these to satisfy the growing demands of science.  Doctors thus turned to the so-called Resurrectionists--or body snatchers.  In act, body-snatching became so common in Washington that the newspapers are peppered with accounts,and terrified family members often hired guards to keep watch over cemeteries to ensure that their loved ones remained buried.

This gave rise to a legend exclusive to Washington, D.C.'s African Americans, who referred to the grave-robbers as "Night Doctors."  They believed that if the Night Doctors couldn’t find fresh bodies in the cemeteries, they would kidnap the living. Writer Josephine Davis Leary, in her 1947 Backward Glances at Georgetown, wrote a rather patronizing account of the family's cook refused to work past dark in wintertime:  "Mother's word was of no avail, so that we had to have dinner that Winter at 5:30 in order to keep Lucinda from being cut up by the night doctors."

There’s no way to know whether there is any basis for the belief; certainly the medical profession paid grave robbers handsomely for cadavers and would not necessarily ask for details; further, Washington’s population had swollen tremendously in the years following the Civil War. Its alleys were filled with freed slaves; roustabouts, military deserters and indigents, any of whom could easily go have gone missing, no questions asked.

By now, the transformation of Sedgwick is complete: The former teacher who wrote so elegantly in his application to the force, who was brave and strong enough to tackle thirty drunken men in a brawl and come out alive, has by now been reduced to the superstitious and easily frightened buffoon of minstrel shows. 

And the charges were piling up:

On October 19th, 1895, Sedgwick was cited with failing to pay his legal fines. The police board ordered him to make good his debt in monthly $5 installments and warned him that “a failure to comply will be deemed sufficient cause for his removal from the force.”

On October 30, Sedgwick summoned to court yet again--this time, for failing to pay his lawyer, Aloysius P. Geier $34.75.  Even though the prosecuting witness failed to appear, Sedgwick pled guilty and was ordered to pay back the debt in $5 monthly payments.

April of 1896, Washington Post reporter William P. Spurgeon wrote a story that created a sensation, to the embarrassment of the Commissioners and Police Force:

Police Scandal Brewing in the
Ninth Precinct
The Colored Officer Who Loaded His Gun with a Silver Bullet to Shoot a Ghost
Declares His Intention of Bringing Charges Against Sergt. Pearson, Which Will Lead to an Investigation Similar to the Fat Men’s Club Affair of Two Years Ago
If Police Officer Sedgwick, of the Ninth Precinct, carries out his present intentions, the result is likely to be a sensation in police circles equal to that caused by the famous raid on the Fat Men’s Club room, in South Washington, which was followed by the dismissal of a number of officers who were found toying with the foamy growler when off duty.

…These charges will not only affect Pearson, but will also involve a dozen officers attached to the precinct, including Sedgwick himself.

…Sedgwick claims that his action is inspired by Pearson’s subsequent display of inefficiency and unofficial conduct, which he will bring witnesses to prove. He will attempt to show that Pearson fails to visit policemen on their beats when it is his duty to do so. It is understood, however, that Pearson recently accused Sedgwick of leaving his beat twenty minutes before the proper hour, and also caught him standing in front of a saloon and changing some money. Sedgwick is thoroughly in earnest about the matter and it is said has interested a United States Senator in the case who will also go before the Commissioners in retaliation to the charges. Sedgwick is the colored policeman who not long since claimed to have seen a ghost on his beat, and loaded his pistol with a silver bullet to bring down the strange apparition which seemed to be haunting him.
According to Spurgeon, Sedgwick planned to expose the following:

One evening back in October, fire broke out at the Washington Brick Machine Company on Florida Avenue in Ivy City. Acting Sergeant John A Pearson brought roughly eighteen men from the 9th Precinct with him to preserve order at the scene and supervise employee efforts to save the premises.

Noah Sedgwick, from Washington Bee

When the fire was finally put out, the owner and general manager of the brick company, Theodore L. Holbrook, invited the entire precinct over to Bohn’s restaurant at the corner of Fourteenth and Maryland Ave for “refreshments.” The majority of the eighteen men present accepted the invitation, including Sergeant Pearson. In full uniform, they spent the next two hours drinking whiskey, beer and assorted other intoxicants at the bar, which meant that for that time, their respective beats went completely uncovered.

Sedgwick himself was among them. He would later tell the Board that he went along with the whole thing because he didn’t dare say no.
The article was not only a public relations nightmare for the Force, but placed Sedgwick in a very vulnerable position.  Two days later, the Post published a letter from Sedgwick, who denied having talked to the reporter—(whether he did or he didn’t and what he said would be taken up in detail during the coming trial):

As an officer of the Metropolitan Police Force, I am unwilling to lend my name to newspaper notoriety. In your article of the 4th instant I have been quoted without my knowledge and consent. I deny that I have knowingly met a representative of your paper, or that I have given out the information attributed to me. Desirous of acting fairly in this matter, and in the hope that you will publish this explanation, I remain, very respectfully,
N.E. Sedgwick, Metropolitan police, Ninth Precinct, Northeast.
Sedgwick then wrote a letter, dated only April 1896, in which he charged that Sergeant John A. Pearson had failed to visit Sedgwick as he was required to as Night Inspector:
Furthermore, the said acting Sergt. Pearson did on or about the 17th day of October 1895 enter a bar-room situated at the corner of 15th and Md. Ave., N.E. and at 6 o’clock AM did then and there order his men being officers of the Metropolitan Police Force to enter the abocve restaurant and partake of whatever they cherished. Furthermore that the said Act. Sergt. Jno. A. Pearson did cause several of the police territorial beats to be unprotected and at the mercy of Robbers, Murderous thugs & c. for over 1 hour, this while on duty in the District of Columbia.

Acting Sergeant John A. Pearson (not to be confused with Inspector Ike Pearson), an Ohio-born former machinist, had been a Metropolitan Police Officer for over ten years. There were strong rumors that he was a card-carrying member of the American Protective Association (APA), a secret society patterned after the “Know-Nothings” prior to the Civil War. The APA was a nationalist, nativist group hell-bent against Catholics—and any group that undermined the Protestant fabric of America.

John Pearson’s service records are peppered with charges of unbecoming conduct, neglect of duty and intoxication—nearly a dozen of them over his 28 year career. Charges were dismissed in most cases; where he was found guilty, he was cautioned. He does not appear to have been fined so much as a nickel. He was also promoted twice in his career, which ended with his death in December, 1911.

Pearson turned around and slapped Sedgwick with an accusation of neglect of duty, and on April 8th, only four days after Spurgeon’s revelations in the Post, Sedgwick was back before the Trial Committee on the following charge:

That N.E. Sedgwick…on or about the 31st day of March, 1895, at or about the hour of 6:00 A.M., leave his beat and visit the saloon of one George Reinsfels, situate [sic] at or about number 1101 C Street, N.E. and did, on or about the date aforesaid, at or about the hour of 12:00 P.M., did leave his beat and again visit said bar room premises, and did, on day and date unknown, make such statements and circulate such rumors as to create and cause to appear a scandalous and false publication in the Washington Post, concerning the conduct of several officers of the Metropolitan Police Force.
While they were at it, the Board then tried Sedgwick on the second charge of maligning the force to a newspaper reporter. Post reporter William Spurgeon was the first to testify.

Several pages of testimony reveal that Spurgeon  (photo below)  went to the 9th Precinct house and asked for Officer Sedgwick. It is not clear whether Sedgwick realized he was talking to a reporter—but he certainly talked some; Spurgeon admitted to filling in the rest of the blanks: “That was sometime ago and I have forgotten the exact words he used, but I know the impression he conveyed to me...

Q: In writing these articles, you judge from a man’s face of course and appearance, and if a man says, “never mind about that,” you judge from that just what it is?
A: (Spurgeon): You can do that under certain circumstances.
Q: Of course you think he would tell you right out if it was not so?
A: If I could not get information in any other way, I might be driven to reading his face.
Q: You would reason if it was not so he would say so, and if he did not say no or yes you could take it for granted it was so? That is the way these articles are written?
A: Generally, we have more to base our articles on than looks.

On May 15th, District Commissioners dismissed charges against Sedgwick, but issued a formal reprimand.
Ordered: That the charges against private N.E. Sedgwick…tried April 8…are hereby dismissed, but that said private be warned not to talk about his superior officers nor assist in circulating reports calculated to bring the Police Force into disrepute.
That the charges against acting Sergeant J. A. Pearson…for gross neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming an office, are hereby dismissed, but that Private Sedgwick be reprimanded and admonished that a repetition of his conduct will be deemed sufficient cause for his removal from the force.
A month later, John Pearson was and transferred to the Second Precinct, for street duty.

A few days later, the police received a letter from a Samuel Oppenheimer, likely the butcher who, in the 1890 is doing business at 1732 8th Street, NW.  He complained that Sedgwick owed him $45.75 in unpaid bills and threatened to sue.  This was a common practice at the time, and police files are filled with bills from creditors including tailors, grocers and other retailers. 

Sedgwick, fearing that he was about to be dismissed, turned in his resignation. Then he thought better of it and asked whether he could withdraw his resignation. The Police Commissioner told him it was too late.

Sedgwick appealed to the DC Commissioners:
May it please your Honorable Body:

By your direction I have been advised, through your Secretary, William Tindall, Esquire, that you were not inclined to favorably consider my application for reinstatement on the Metropolitan Police Force.

Feeling that your action was predicated largely, if not entirely, on my failure to fully explain my case, the causes, etc., which led to my resignation, I now ask permission to do so and most respectfully and earnestly request that my application for reinstatement be considered in the light of the facts herein presented.

So far as I know and am advised my record as a police officer is good. Sometime prior to my resignation three deaths occurred in my family, namely, my mother, my brother and my son, for whose funeral expenses I became responsible. I was also indebted to Mr. Samuel Oppenheimer to the amount of about $45 or $55, and in consequence of the other expenses above stated, I was not able to pay him the amounts, and in the manner he desired, whereupon he brought suit before a justice of the peace, and obtained judgment for the amount due and costs. Still being unable to satisfy the judgment in the manner desired by Mr. Oppenheimer, he threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the trial board, and have me tried for non-payment of debt. Rather than have the heads of the police department annoyed with the matter, I resigned. My resignation was purely and simply the result of my wish not to have the department annoyed by trying me for nonpayment of a debt, which I desired to pay but could not do so in the manner desired by Mr. Oppenheimer.

Within a few days after I sent in my resignation over two hundred prominent citizens, who knew me as an officer, sighed a petition requesting your Honorable Board of Commissioners to reinstate me.
This petition was handed to James L. Pugh, Jr., Esq., Assistant Attorney for the District of Columbia, who promised to look over it and return it to me. When I called for it, Mr. Pugh advised me that he had inadvertently misplaced it and could not find it, but that he would willingly endorse another application, in which I might use his name if I desired…

…That matter of debt for which Mr. Oppenheimer threatened to bring me before the trial board, and which caused me to resign…has been satisfactorily adjusted…

…I most respectfully and earnestly request that your Honorable Body may favorably reconsider your action in declining to reinstate me on the Metropolitan Police Force.

At the bottom of the letter appears a note in the DC Attorney General’s own hand attesting that he “lost or misplaced” the aforementioned petition. “When Sedgwick was on the force, he made a very good policeman,” added Pugh.

The Board refused to reinstate Sedgwick.

Sedgwick would never wear a uniform again.

Two years later, we find him listed as a cook in the City Directory.  He is still cooking the last time he's found on record, in 1903.

Noah's son, William Noah Sedgwick, a laborer, according to DC death records, passed away on  June 18, 1900, and was buried in an unknown location two days later.

Mt. Zion Cemetery, Georgetown, DC
"Nowah Sedgwick" died in Washington DC of causes unknown on February 27, 1906 and was buried on March 2nd, also in an unknown location.

Captain Isaac Pearson retired and was placed on the pension roll at $90 a month.

James Pearson died in December, 1911.

Journalist William P. Spurgeon ended up being promoted to managing editor at the Post and was elected the first president of the National Press Club in 1908. He died of typhoid fever in on June 4, 1920.

© Cecily Hilleary, 2010

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recognize This Man? Coming Soon!

There's no fool like an old fool...Quondam Washington will take us back to one of 19th century Washington's juiciest's the stuff you won't find in the history books. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting Around Washington Back in the Day

QW has been very remiss in attending to this blog, which she started with the greatest ambitions of maintaining. 

However, as so often happens in life, her diligence has faltered due to changes in job and personal life.  She apologizes to her readers, and offers amends in the form of a couple of memories she discovered while surfing the Wonder that is the Web this evening.

Like many Washingtonians of a certain age, she remembers the street car and Capital Traction systems which once criss-crossed the city and made driving an option.  Metro has never quite managed to make up for the loss of the street car.  Regard these clips which demonstrate the evolution of public transportation in Washington--and note that QW owes full credit to the folks who posted these on YouTube:

The Turn of the Century

1941 in Washington - or so says
the post; to my eye it could be 

A Rather Sentimental trip from Georgetown to Glen Echo

And Lastly...

Monday, September 27, 2010

AME Zion Church Cemetery, Georgetown, Washington DC

It was a long shot--walking through this sad little cemetery in the farthest possible NW corner of Georgetown yesterday afternoon, hoping against hope to find the grave of the man, Noah Sedgwick, who I have been researching.

I knew that this cemetery would not likely be as manicured as its neighbor, Oak Hill. But I was stunned to see how neglected it had been over the ages, and that these mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were likely evaporated in the memories of the town in which they had lived and served.

So I began taking pictures. I took well over a hundred photos of every grave whose inscription was legible, and I shall try to post them here on this blog, so that any African Americans with a Georgetown heritage may be able to find long-lost ancestors.

I have looked up census info on a couple of the graves--ultimately, I will get as much information on each one as I can.

I've created a set on Flickr--AME Zion and Female Union Band Cemetery.  Go to:

Feel free to download--credit is appreciated, but not necessary!

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