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The Horrible Tragedy of Columbia Heights in 1906

Explore the tragedy of Columbia Heights in 1906, where nine mysterious deaths occurred in the span of 12 months. Read about the horrific events that took place in this DC neighborhood.
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I came across a very sad article in the Washington Post the other day. This is from September 2nd, 1906 and given that a large number of GoDCers have demonstrated their interest in the macabre and tragic posts, I’ll share this with you.

1907 Baist real estate atlas of 14th and Monroe St. NW
1907 Baist real estate atlas of 14th and Monroe St. NW

In the span of 12 months there were nine mysterious deaths in Columbia Heights, all within two blocks of 14th and Monroe. There was much speculation in the public and the Post wrote about some of these deaths.

The skillfully planned suicide of Dr. James Donald Wilson, of 1325 Park road, who was found by his father, Ebenezer Wilson, sitting dead in his chair, on Friday morning, adds one more horror to the list of persons who have met sudden or violent death in that immediate vicinity in the last year.

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Using the corner of Fourteenth and Monroe streets as a pivot and drawing an imaginary circle two blocks in circumference, there have been within this circle in the last twelve months, seven deaths by suicide, one by accident and one person found dead.

The neighborhood is becoming aroused over the constantly recurring tragedies, and when Dr. Wilson’s death was announced, the questions was, “Who or what will be next?”

I live quite close to 14th and Monroe, so this creeps me out a little bit. Good thing I don’t believe in ghosts.

Let me warn you, newspapers were a little more graphic at the time, so the imagery is going to be a little brutal. Also, as a reference point, the Stratford Hotel was located at the southwest corner of 14th and Monroe.

In January last Mr. McCormick, a contractor and builder, happily married and with two half-grown children, walked out of the Stratford Hotel, after kissing his family good-by, and boarded one of the Norfolk steamers. When the boat reached Norfolk, Mr. McCormick’s coat was found in the stateroom, but the owner has never been heard of since.

Just around the corner from the Stratford on Monroe street lived Mr. and Mrs. Du Bois, the former an official in the government. Early last fall, after grieving for months over the death of an only child, Mrs. Du Bois procured a bottle of poison, lay under the trees, drank the contents of the bottle, and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

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In October, a Mrs. Hempson, who occupied the ground floor flat in the Berwick apartment house at Fourteenth and Park road, maddened by the thought that her husband had left her, called to her two tiny children, who were playing in the back yard to “look at mamma.” As the children looked up, she sent a bullet crashing through her brain, and was dead when the janitor reached her side.

Dear God, that’s horrible and it’s crazy that the newspaper would print that. The tragedy continues.

In this same apartment about two years ago, Miss Kitzmiller, a niece of Gen. Swain, was burned to death.

P. A. Carr, a conductor on the Fourteenth street car line, believing himself unrequited in love, shot and killed himself about four months ago.

Benjamin Parkhurst, formerly a clerk in the city post-office, came home from work one day last summer and while crazed by drink, attempted to kill his wife. Neighbors rushed to the rescue and the woman was saved. Three months later Mr. Parkhurst went to Chester, Pa., on business, and was killed in a street brawl.

At the corner of Monroe and Sixteenth streets live a family by the name of Truitt. About six months ago, Mrs. Ida Squires, a Virginia woman, came to pay Mr. and Mrs. Truitt a visit. A few mornings after her arrival Mrs. Truitt heard moans, and upon investigating, found Mrs. Squires lying on the grass in the side yard. She had, while despondent, jumped from the second story window and broken every bone in her body. She died an hour afterward.

Thomas Haines, a butler in a private house on Park road, tired of living, selected a pile of lumber near the corner of Park road and Sixteenth street, and blew his brains out.

What the hell was going on in Columbia Heights in the early 1900s? This is unbelievably awful.

At the home of Harry Wallis, 1428 Newton street, Pickney Smith, for many years a department clerk and an officer in the District Militia, was found by Mrs. Wallis, the 10th of last March, lying dead on the bathroom floor.

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The son of John Barry, the proprietor of a grocery store at 1438 Newton street, was killed while playing in the White Lot. The little fellow attempted to jump into the back of a pony cart, but caught his foot and was thrown under the wheels. He died in the arms of a policeman who was carrying him to the Emergency Hospital.

What might have been a terrible calamity at the Berwick apartment house was happily averted. Last February fire broke out in the Berwick Flats and exit was cut off by the stairways vomiting up fire and smoke. Ladders were run up to the third floor, and the inmates rescued by firemen.

At the time that nine people were attempting to escape on one ladder, the ladder broke, and but for the awning, on which they fell, the whole nine would have been dashed to death.

One of the persons on the ladder was the mother of Nan Patterson. The small bones of her right foot were boken, and Mrs. Patterson is a semi-invalid as a result.

This is nuts. When you go to the Columbia Heights Farmer’s Market this weekend, you can talk about how you’re standing about a block from the former epicenter of tragedy. Crazy. Oh, three months earlier, an earthquake in San Francisco killed over 3,000 people.

This is so crazy that you have to share it on Facebook. Have a good weekend.

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