Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Wild Man of Tennallytown

Some years ago, the author read an account of a wild man who lived in a cluster of rocks on the Virginia side of Long Bridge, and she has been collecting tales of these “half men-half beasts” ever since. Most of these savages have simply turned out to be homeless indigents or aged victims of dementia.

The following is one of her favorites:

In July of 1894, farmers in Tennallytown began reporting having seen a half-naked man roaming the pastures and byways of their village, ranting as if he were wild. A local butcher reported seeing a white man of heavy build running through the woods just south of old River Road. When he called out, the running man simply shook his fist. The same day, a milkman on Conduit Road, about a mile and a half away, caught sight of a half-clad man running on his property. He thought it was a joke.

Streetcar No. 5 Motorman W. M. Vogt reported that while on a run through Tennallytown, he saw the wild man running down the middle of the road, flailing and threatening to tear up the track. Later, on a return trip, Vogt saw him crouching by the track. As the car passed, the wild man scurried away with a speed impossible for a drunk.

When a guest at the Woodley Inn claimed he saw the wild man in a ravine outside his window, authorities began to sit up and take notice.

Citizens began to talk about forming a posse to track down the wild man, but their efforts were hindered by rain over the next few days.

Police had found a pile of clothes in a ravine behind the Woodley Inn—a dark grey serge vest and coat and a brand-new straw hat. They joked that these likely belonged to someone too embarrassed to claim them.

Word of the wild man was beginning to spread. Housewives, who stayed at home alone during the day, became nervous. Though no one had been harmed by the wild man, the newspapers reported that there was no telling what he was capable of. It was supposed he subsisted on nuts and berries he found in the woods.

Concerned citizens checked with the mental asylum to see whether any inmate had escaped. None had.

Tennallytown resident Edward Brooks claimed his black servant had come across the wild man sleeping in the brush on the side of the road: The latter wore only “pantaloons", i.e., boxers, and a pair of worn socks, as well as several days’ growth of whiskers.

Patrolman Lohmann was sent to look for the wild man, who had by that time absconded.

Next, a carpenter who lived near Woodley Inn told mounted officers Heide and Murphy he had sighted the wild man just south of the Inn.

Under pressure from a nervous public, police arrested a black man named George Douglas, a hitherto harmless Tennallytown resident who was said to be nearly insane with grief over the death of his wife two years earlier. It was doubtful he was the “wild man,” in spite of his light complexion, because the clothes found in the woods were far too large for him.

Late on the evening of July 23, the night watchman in the powerhouse of the Tennallytown Electric Railroad Company heard an “unearthly shriek” from the engine room. Workers searched the building twice—and twice more heard the “demonic yell,” but found nothing and no one. They returned to the office, their hair standing on end. Perhaps the sound had come from outside, for there was no sign of forced entry into the powerhouse, and all its doors and windows were locked tight.

Then, just as suddenly as the wild man had appeared, he disappeared—for at least a few days. Locals theorized that the rain had forced him to seek cover in a local barn. Some believed he may have died from exposure or hunger. Search parties were called off. Tennallytown women and children breathed a sigh of relief.

And then on the afternoon of July 25, a man who called himself Mr. Lamb walked into the Seventh Precinct station house and asked for his clothes. Yes, he said, he was the wild man who had been terrorizing the vicinity. He blamed his antics on the kind of insanity that comes in a bottle.

It seems that Mr. Lamb had gone into the country some time in the preceding week, carrying with him “a large load of vinous stimulants.” He didn’t remember anything else, save for waking up to find himself nearly naked. He hitched a ride on the wagon of a butcher who he met on the road.

Officers told him his clothes had been sent to police headquarters and would be sent for immediately. Lamb could claim his clothes the next day. When he did, he announced that the hat they presented him was not his original $3.50 hat, but one of a much more inferior quality. Police believed that the officer who delivered the clothing from downtown headquarters had exchanged his own inferior hat for Mr. Lamb’s hat. They promised to keep their eyes on Officer Hauptman, just in case he should ever show up with a new straw hat.

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