The Re-Burying of Colonel Beau Hickman


One of the great characters in Washington, DC lore was Colonel Beau Hickman, who was a notorious yet popular figure around Washington for 40 years beginning during the administration of John Tyler. He was easily recognized by his beaver hat, cane, and diamond stick pin, and he never failed to practice his vocations of gambling and confidence games on unsuspecting strangers, especially those intrigued by his reputation. Eventually, he came to be immortalized in a 1879 pamphlet entitled "The Life and Anecdotes of Beau Hickman, Prince of the Bummers".

After squandering an inheritance on high living and gambling, he still remained convinced that he would survive and prosper on his good looks and prowess with a deck of cards. He went on to spend 40 years in Washington, doing just that, living a high life beyond his means, and always present wherever gambling, spirits, beautiful women, and fun times were being had.

Near the end, his times were not quite so high, and when he passed to his great reward in 1873, he was buried in the pauper's graveyard.
The Re-Burying of Colonel Beau Hickman
Upon learning of his fate, a group of his gambling buddies, after a long, late night of drinking to his honor, in the saloon of the ramshackle old hotel that the Colonel had called home for his 40 years in Washington, decided that the Colonel deserved a better fate, and they set out to retrieve his body and re-bury it in a place of honor at the city's Congressional Cemetery.

In the dark of night, they traveled to the outskirts of town, and upon arriving at the pauper's graveyard, they found a sight common to the times - body snatchers were in the midst of stealing the Colonel's body, not for the noble task of finding it a more suitable resting place, but for exchanging it for the premium bounty dead bodies brought either directly from medical schools or from brokers who as middlemen hired the thieves of the night to procure the corpses that they would in turn re-sell to such schools.

Seeing the snatching in progress and the Colonel's body half out of its grave, the Colonel's fine friends confronted the thieves, and chased them off. They then finished the job of retrieving the body, placed it in the back of their wagon, and raced off to the well manicured and tastefully attired expanse of the Congressional Cemetery. There, the group quickly dug a new grave, and lowed the Colonel into what would become his final resting place. The grave was covered and a brief prayer recited. One of his friends had prepared a makeshift tombstone, and with a piece of burned wood inscribed the Colonel's name and date of death.

As no noble deed ever goes unpunished, the Colonel was far from pleased with his fate. It was insult enough to have first been buried in a pauper's grave, but then to be the victim of grave robbers and then to be completely dug up, thrown into a wagon, and then reburied
in the dead of night without a coffin, without proper clergy, and with a makeshift, scribbled headstone, was just too much for the sole of the old, dead Colonel to accept.

That old hotel where the Colonel had lived, where the plot to retrieve his body and re-bury him was hatched, and where his friends were to thereafter revel the night away, located at Pennsylvania Ave. and 6th St. NW, and named for most of its 100 year existence the National Hotel, became the site of decades of suspicious activity, allegedly perpetrated by the ghost of Colonel Beau Hickman.

For several years, the objects of strange and erie happenings, disruptions during both card games in the saloon and during amorous interludes in the hotel's upstairs rooms, were the friends of the Colonel
The Re-Burying of Colonel Beau Hickman
who perpetrated the events of that unique evening in 1873. The Colonel's presence at Pennsylvania Ave. and 6th St. NW even continued after the National Hotel was torn down in 1892. Replaced by the new headquarters building of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, for decades thereafter the ghostly figure of the Colonel could be seen about the building and in the shadows of the streetlight outside its entrance, wearing his beaver hat and his diamond stickpin, and carrying his cane, forlornly searching for his friends, and for the card games he so intensely missed.


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