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Uncovering the Stories Behind the Blue Home at 2509 Cliffbourne Pl. NW

Uncovering the history of the blue home at 2509 Cliffbourne Pl. NW. Read about the bicycle accident, the prominent patent attorney, the Axis Sally trial jury selection and the body found in Rock Creek. Plus, a surprise story involving a P-B Automobile popularity contest.
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This is the last post in a four-part series covering the photogenic houses on Cliffbourne Pl. NW, between Calvert St. and Biltmore St. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the set on Flickr, the Washington Post and other local media sites. They look like a complete set, but have completely different histories (as you’ve read). Let’s find out the stories behind the blue home … the one at 2509 Cliffbourne Pl. NW.

Bicycle rider strikes and kills elderly woman

This is an unpleasant and unfortunate incident. In 1927, a freak accident took the life of Caroline Whitesell, 83 years old. She was an active worker in church circles and with the Daughters of the American Revolution. The boy riding the bike was James Burruss, a resident of 2509 Cliffbourne Place. Below is an excerpt from the November article.

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A coroner’s inquest to be held Tuesday morning at 11 o’clock was ordered yesterday by DR. J. Ramsay Nevitt to ascertain the cause of the death of Mrs. Caroline F. Whitesell, 83 years old, who was struck by a bicycle ridden by 16-year-old James Burruss, 2509 Cliffbourne place northwest, on June 27 near Eighteenth street and Columbia road. Mrs. Whitesell died Tuesday at the home her [sic] daughter, Mrs. Catherine Hamlet, 1526 Monroe street northwest, but Dr. Nevitt did not learn of her death until Friday afternoon, when the body was being prepared for burial.

Sounds like another freak accident that happened as the boy was riding his bike close to home.

Prominent patent attorney dies

William H. Finckel, Sr.
William H. Finckel, Sr.

I came across an article in the Washington Post from March 7th, 1935 which mentions the death of a William Henry Finckel, Sr., 83 years old and resident of 2509 Cliffbourne Place. He was prominent in D.C. legal circles and was still practicing law at his advanced age.

Mr. Finckel was born in Washington January 4, 1852, and lived here throughout his life, except for a single year he attended the preparatory school which later became Gettysburg College.

Mr. Finckel was the son of the Rev. Samuel Finckel, pastor of the German Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Mrs. Harriet Keller Finckel. In his family there were 12 children, and he was the tenth. Of these, Mr. Finckel was the last to die.

In 1869, Mr. Finckel was graduated from Columbian College, now George Washington University, as bachelor of philosophy. He then began reading law in the office of Judge Andrew C. Bradley, and some time later opened his own office, where he specialized in patent law.

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Among his clients and friends Mr. Finckel numbered many of the Nation’s most famous inventors. A member of the American Patent Law Association since 1898, Mr. Finckel served for many years as an official of that organization. He was president in 1909 and 1910.

Always active in church work, Mr. Finckel was a member of the Luther Place memorial Church from the time of its foundation. He served as a deacon for a number of years, was superintendent of its Sunday school, an elder and president of the church council.

As director of the church choir when he was a young man Mr. Finckel met Miss Mary M. Davis. They married in 1880.

Mr. Finckel was active in the work of the Lutheran Home for the Aged, serving as its trustee and corresponding secretary, and as choirman of the building committee. He also was a member of the Association of Oldest Inhabitants.

The ‘Axis Sally’ trial jury selection

Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (aka Axis Sally)
Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (aka Axis Sally)

Whoa, this one is cool. During World War II, Mildred Gillars, an American, was living in Germany, working in radio. She was engaged to a naturalized German citizen and chose to stay in The Third Reich during the war, swearing a written oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi regime. She began broadcasting propaganda over the airways in attempt to demoralize American soldiers and have them doubt their mission.

After the war ended, she was arrested by the Counter Intelligence Corps and flown back to the United States at the request of the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General (and future Supreme Court Justice) Tom C. Clark.

The trial began in January of 1949 in the District Court, presided over by Federal Judge Edward M. Curran. A full 92-member panel was filtered down to six men and 6 women. Seven of the 92 highlighted their Jewish faith in response to Curran’s panel screening questions during voir dire, disqualifying them from serving on the jury.

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Two alternates were selected for the jury and one was a Harriet E. Greene, of 2509 Cliffbourne Place NW, who was present for the duration of the trial. Watch a clip of Mildred Gillars entering the courtroom during the trial.

Also, you can listen to one of her broadcasts here.

A body is found in Rock Creek

Here’s a shocking and sad tale. On June 7th, 1953, the Washington Post reported the discovery of a body 100 yards downstream from Taft Bridge. While not officially categorized as a suicide, the 70-year-old woman died under suspicious circumstances.

An autopsy report disclosed that Miss Hattie V. Bennett, 2509 Cliffbourne pl. nw., reported missing Friday night apparently fell from the bridge. Dr. A. Magruder MacDonald, District Coroner, said Miss Bennett died of an “awfully heavy blow, which indicated a fall.” Pending a routine police investigation, he has not issued a certificate of suicide.

Miss Bennett was identified at the scene by Detective Sergt. Walter N. Cook who said the woman was his first cousin.

A resident of Washington for 40 years, Miss Bennett was a retired artist. She formerly was employed by Brentwood Engravers, 1217 G. st. nw., and also by the Army Map Service.

The body was discovered by Mrs. James E. Waddell of Arlington, Va., police said.

Filling in the gaps

One short story I came across for 2509 Cliffbourne Place was a notice in the October 13th, 1945 Washington Post. The SS Rensselaer was arriving in Boston, from Europe, bringing American soldiers home from the war. Among those on the ship was a Corporal John V. Greene (related to the Harriet Greene mentioned above).

Another story, which was a little odd, was a popularity content for boys in December of 1914. P-B Automobile was having a popularity content in which the winner was awarded a new white and gold automobile. Coming in about 75th place with 4,300 votes was Mannix Walker of 2509 Cliffbourne Place. I’m sure he was bummed he didn’t get the car, but still … 4,300 votes isn’t too shabby. I wonder how one campaigned for this. The winner, J. Burke Wasch of 22 I St. NW received an astounding 137,430 votes, a full 25,000 more than Hulbert Bisselle in second place. Hulbert received $25 worth of gold.

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The "Rainbow Row" of homes on Cliffbourne Pl. NW
The “Rainbow Row” of homes on Cliffbourne Pl. NW
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