23 Mar 2020


Lost Capitol Hill: The death of Beau Hickman

Beau Hickman (LOC)

Beau Hickman’s fame was such that in the run-up to the inauguration of James Buchanan (That’s him on the left) in 1857, the Washington Evening Star published an ad encouraging readers to buy their newspaper so as not to miss anything:

From the most important movements in matters of state to the pressing solicitations of the boquet man and the gabble of the notable Beau Hickman in his hunt after that inevitable “quarter,” everything said and done in the federal metropolis will be faithfully shown up in “The Star” – daily.

Nonetheless, this lifestyle was not conducive to a long and healthy life, and thus, on September 2, 1873, the same Star reported that Hickman had expired at 4 a.m. that morning at Providence Hospital “after an illness of about two weeks.” He had been living at a boarding house at 6th and Maryland SW.

The article, which represented a fairly complete look at Hickman’s life, ended with this scene:

After his death this morning the Sisters at the hospital called on Mr. Burgdorf, the undertaker, to make the interment, and he promptly furnished a plain neat coffin, in which the remains were placed, and they were taken to the burial ground attached to the almshouse, and interred about 11 o’clock. This morning a party called at the hospital, and asked to see Col. “Beau” Hickman, and receiving answer that he had died a few hours before turned on his feel and left, apparently fearful of being asked to contribute towards giving him a respectable funeral. With this exception no one called at the hospital to see him or was present at the interment except the undertaker’s assistants.

Hickman scamming a Baltimore restaurant by asking if his money were good there. When told ‘yes,’ he ate like a king – then presented a pittance to pay. When called upon this, he said that he had determined that his money was good enough, and this was all the money he had. (HathiTrust)

Which is a pretty dour way to end. Fortunately, the book on Hickman tells the rest of the story.

On the following day after the burial several of his friends who had not before heard of his death contributed a sum sufficient to give his remains more decent interment in the Congressional Cemetery. Hacks and carriages were furnished at the various hotels for the accommodation of all who wished to attend the second funeral and thus give expression to their kindly remembrance of the famous celebrity who so long contributed to their social enjoyment.

Sadly, even in death, nothing went smoothly for Hickman:

Arrangements had been made for the disinterment of the remains, and when the grave had been opened the coffin was found broken open and the body most shamefully mutilated. The scalp had been removed from the cranium and the brains taken out, the heart removed, and other disgraceful mutilations to the body. The grave had evidently been robbed by some “body-snatchers,” and being frightened from their inhuman purpose, fled and abandoned the remains. The sight was as sickening as it was revolting to decency, and the last rites were hastily performed and the new grave closed up forever over the mortal remains of a most remarkable man, possessed in life of a character strangely compounded of all the contre temps of an eratic genius.

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