Cries of Murder on Pennsylvania Avenue (1884)

1880s pen knife
1880s pen knife

Here is some old craziness to (I hate to use the word) entertain you. This is from the Washington Post on December 6th, 1884. By the way, this just happens to be the same day the Washington Monument was completed.

A few passers-by on Pennsylvania avenue northwest, opposite the Botanical Garden, at midnight last Wednesday, were startled by loud screams and cries of “Murder!” and “Help!” By the dim light of the lamps they discerned the form of a woman in the third-story window of the house No. 213 on the Avenue, occupied by Mrs. Mary Padgett, a widow, for the accommodation of boarders. Her screams soon brought a couple of policemen, and, in answer to inquiries, the woman who was shouting for help said: “There is murder going on in the room below.” The officers immediately dashed through the front entrance, which was open, and as they ascended the stairs a man and a woman ran from the landing on the second floor into a room. Once inside, they placed a trunk against the door–and for an object. While the policemen were forcing their way into the room the man jumped from the window–a second-story front–and catching hold of an iron awning rail slid down, dropped to the sidewalk and dashed up Pennsylvania avenue in an easterly direction. In the room the officers found only a woman, whom they arrested.

Where is Officer Sprinkle when you need him? The story would be over by now and Sprinkle would be putting back a beer. Well, it gets better (and crazier of course).

By this time Mrs. Padgett, the proprietress of the house, came down stairs and stated to the officers that Mr. W. H. Ballinger, a printer in the office of the Sunday Capital, came to the house three weeks ago and engaged a room for himself and his wife, the woman whom the officers had in custody. Wednesday was his pay day, but he did not come home until after 6 o’clock. His wife, who was much incensed at his delay, began stabbing at his face with a pair of scissors. Finally the couple became quieted, kissed each other affectionately, and retired, as supposed, for the night. Mrs. Padgett, Mrs. Pope, an elderly lady, and the latter’s son, M. J. Pope, a carriage driver, also went to bed. At midnight the whole family were alarmed by cries for help. Mrs. Padgett hurriedly dressed herself and, going down stairs, found Ballinger beating his wife, who was prostrate upon the floor. In trying to separate the combatants she received a severe blow over the nose. Then the husband and wife recommenced the quarrel and Mr. Pope ran down stairs to try and stop it.

Standing at the bedroom door, he expostulated with Ballinger, who became exasperated at the interference. Ceasing his attack upon his wife, Ballinger seized a pitcher and hurled it with all his might at Pope. The latter fortunately dodged the missile, which struck with such force against the jamb of the door as to make a deep and long indentation. Seeing that the missile missed the intended mark, Ballinger seized a large-bladed penknife and sprang toward Pope, slashing him at first under the left eye. Continuing the attack, he followed his victim step by step, up the stairs to the third story. There a terrible struggle took place. Mrs. Ballinger, who had followed her husband, snatched the knife from the latter’s hand, and, as Ballinger yelled, “Kill the —,” she dealt Pope two savage lunges on the top of the head. After this husband and wife descended the stairs, and were just hurrying into their room when the officer ascended.

Mrs. Ballinger was arrested and taken to the Seventh precinct station. She was afterward released on collateral on a charge of assault. She denied having taken any part in the cutting.

Pope’s wounds, seven in number, were dressed by Dr. Street. The most serious one is a gash extending down the cheek from the corner of the left eye to the throat. If erysipelas should set in, Pope’s chances are looked upon as small.

The police are in search of Ballinger, and not having yet been successful have kept the matter quiet. On the morning following the affray Lizzie, a colored girl in the employ of Mrs. Padgett, picked up a bloody penknife from the avenue in front of the house. As she was carrying to her mistress two colored boys grabbed it from her hand and ran off.

Okay, I’m not sure how to comment on this because it’s completely crazy. First there’s a fight, then a loving kiss … then a fight again where Ballinger is beating his wife, then he brawls with Pope and is aided by his wife stabbing Pope? What the hell?

Sadly, I found no report of Mr. Ballinger’s arrest in later papers.

Pennsylvania Avenue circa 1875
Pennsylvania Avenue circa 1875

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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