Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dead Man's Beat

If you were a policeman in Georgetown during the latter half of the nineteenth century, there was one assignment that would fill your heart with dread: Patrolling Cherry Hill, a rundown and disreputable neighborhood of alleys along the C&O Canal south of Bridge Street—today’s M Street, NW.

If you believed the papers and tales shared among officers in the Georgetown Precinct House, every policeman who had ever been assigned to patrol “Spooks’ Alley” had either died or suffered disaster and misfortune.

Police Officer [Samuel] Frank Burrows had been on the force for many years and told anyone who would listen that he’d rather resign the force than ever again walk the grim alleys around Cherry Street. It was haunted; plenty of folks had seen the ghost. He would appear every night, whether in summer or winter, just after St. John’s bells finished pealing twelve midnight: A phantom policeman wearing a heavy winter uniform, his collar pulled up to his ears. Whenever one of the officers would approach him—and few dared—he would disappear.

It was Dead Man’s Beat that had turned his hair white overnight.

In the beginning, Burrows didn’t believe in ghosts or spooks and thought less of his colleagues for being so gullible—that is until one evening when he was sent to the haunted beat. He didn’t get further than Thirty-second and M Street before he turned around and beat a hasty retreat to the station house. He begged to his lieutenant to either reassign him or dismiss him, for he was determined not to ever patrol the area again. He had seen the ghost in every conceivable shape, sightings so terrifying that he wished he had never been born.
The next day, Burrows woke up with snow-white hair.

And the officer who had been sent to replace him on the beat was found dead.

©Cecily Hilleary, 2010
Photo, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

No comments:

Subscribe to HistoricWashington

Powered by