Ghosts of DC - If Walls Could Talk: Big Bear Cafe

Excerpts from Post:

A stolen harness and a grand jury

December 16th, 1894:

John Russell was brought before Judge Miller yesterday on the charge of grand larceny of a set of harness worth $50 from the stable of William J. Holtman, of 1700 First street northwest, on July 12 1894. Officer Foley found the harness in the possession of William Hancock, of Fourth and Wilson streets, who said he brought it from Douglas Chicester, living at 342 Pomeroy street. From the latter, the harness was traced to Russell. The court sent the case to the grand jury, remanding Russell in default of $300 bonds.

Wilson and Pomeroy streets (between 6th and 7th St. NW) are long gone, but these were in the neighborhoods around Howard University. $300 sounds awfully steep for bail on a $50 charge

Stop that horse!

July 21st 1910. John Schamil, of 1700 1st St. NW was the owner of a horse that went crazy and bolted through the city for two miles, pulling a buggy behind.

Aresta, aged 5 years, the daughter of John O’Regan, an automobile merchant of 1354 Girard street northwest, had a narrow escape from death, four persons were thrown to the pavement, receiving slight injuries, and two policemen had a struggle with a maddened horse, which had traversed 2 miles of the city’s streets last night in a wild dash.

Samuel Posey, a clerk, of the Olympia apartment house, Fourteenth and Euclid streets northwest, was the first person struck by the horse. This happened at Fourteenth and Fairmont streets. Mr. Posey was thrown to the street with great force, and was treated by a physician. His injuries are not serious.

At Fourteenth and Euclid streets, Mrs. O’Regan was crossing Fourteenth street with her baby. The mother, in an attempt to keep the horse from striking the little girl, shoved the baby carriage across the car tracks. A front wheel of the buggy struck the baby carriage, throwing the occupant out. Mrs. O’Regan, was struck by the horse, and received slight injuries. The child, apparently, was not hurt.

With one shaft dangling at its side, the animal was captured at Fifteenth and Pennsylvania avenue northwest, as it was about to dash into the windows of the Regent Hotel, by Bicycle Policemen Nolan and Cullinane, of the First precinct. It was turned over to its owner, John D. Schamil, of 1700 First street northwest.

Mark this down as something you’ll never see in Washington today.

Everything must go

September 7th, 1910 - Washington Post had a notice of an auction of all possessions from the grocery store at 1700 1st St. NW. This is clearly not good for the proprietor of the store, and it sounds like some major disagreement between the property owner and grocery store operator. And this story involved the horse owner from the previous story.

Auction sale at 1700 1st St. NW – 1910

By virtue of a decree passed in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia in the case of Edith B. Fenton vs. John D. Schamel, Equity No. 29563, we will sell at public auction, in front of premises No. 1700 First street northwest, on FRIDAY, THE 9TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 1910, at 4:30 o’clock p.m., the following, namely: The stock of goods, fixtures, two wagons, one horse, harness, and good will of the grocery business heretofore conducted on said premises under the name of Schamel & Co., together with the unexpired portion of the lease of said premises, except as to the apartment on the second floor thereof, and a rental agreement to a stable in Reeves court heretofore used and occupied by said firm.

TERMS OF SALE–All the purchase money to be paid in cash. $100 deposit required upon acceptance of bid. All conveyancing, notary fees, and recording at purchaser’s cost. Terms to be compiled with [sic] within 10 days, or receivers may advertise and sell at the purchaser’s risk and cost after five days’ previous advertisement of such resale published in some newspaper of Washington, D.C.

WM. J. BACON, Jr.,

Things are looking bleak for John Schamel (same as in the earlier horse story).

Digging through the papers, it appears as if Schamel and Fenton were business partners in the grocery store and this partnership was being dissolved in the courts.

This wasn’t the end of John’s bad luck, because in the police blotter from February 3rd, 1916 his bicycle (valued at $10) was listed as having been stolen from the Columbia Heights Arcade (where DC USA now stands). Poor John. His bad luck ended July 25th of that year when he died at the age of 35, leaving behind his wife of 15 years, Elizabeth. She would go on to live 24 more years.

You might think that was the end, but it’s not. John’s premature expiration was due to asphyxiation caused by escaping ammonia fumes at work. That sounds like a horrible way to die. At the time, he was in the employ as the superintendent of the Old Dutch Market at 7th St. and Florida Ave. NW and Elizabeth filed a wrongful death lawsuit against them in the amount of $10,000.

Ernest bought a Ford

Antique bronze cash register

Back in the good old days, the paper would include a list of people who had recently purchased and licensed an automobile in the District. The whole city would know your name, where you lived, and what kind of car you just purchased (they could probably gauge your wealth as a result). On October 24th, 1917 — while the world embroiled in global war — license number 60958 was granted to Ernest D. Thorne for his recently purchased Ford. I’m sure that automobile was a great source of pride for Ernest, his wife, and three sons. It was likely his mode of transportation to his job as a supply clerk at a local bakery.

Another story about Ernest … his grocery store at 1700 1st St. NW was also ransacked on December 5th, 1925 when robbers forced entry through the front door and stole the bronze cash register, which was valued at an astounding $250.

Three youths rob a grocer and his wife

The September 11th, 1952 edition of the Post has small article on a robbery that happened in front of, what is now, Big Bear Cafe.

A grocer at 1700 1st st. nw. reported to police Tuesday that, he and his wife were about to enter their parked car after closing the store when three youths robbed them of about $150.

Carl Kaplan, 53, said one youth held and choked him while the second went through his pockets and found $120, the day’s receipts. The third bandit knocked down Mrs. Kaplan and, as she screamed, the took her purse containing $30, Kaplan said.

Robber gets $200

December. 23rd, 1967 - Sounds like this corner was a hotbed for criminal activity and I’m guessing that’s because the grocery store was a cash business and any manager closing up for the night was an easy and attractive victim.

Jack Mehlman, 35, manager of the Big Bear Market, 1700 1st st. nw., was forced to give an armed bandit $200 shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday, police reported.

First, an afternoon mugging? That’s not good. Second, Big Bear Market? I’m going to guess that at least handful of the readers did not know the current name is a derivation of the former name. It’s really nice to see local business owners with an appreciation for history and continuity in the District.