Hes been watching: the looming sentinel of Old Town

Hes been watching: the looming sentinel of Old Town

A silent watchman has kept vigil over North Washington Street in the untold decades since the grisly murder of his real-life counterpart.  

Now home to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 N. Washington St. has served at various times as a cotton mill, hospital, military prison, bottling house, sparkplug factory, apartment building and office space, all the while home to a mute sentinel.


When Bud Jordans real estate agency took up offices in the historic structure in the late 1970s, they stumbled across a wax mannequin in the attic. After learning the body double had stood watch in the buildings cupola in the past, they dressed him up in Jordans clothes, gave him a lamp and returned him to his post.

Jordan, now 87, laughs when asked about the one-eyed decaying watchman.

People used to stop and come into the office and say, you know theres a guy up there and he doesnt seem to be moving? he said, chuckling. I know thats my suit and tie and hat that we dressed him in Real estate was down at the time because we had nothing better to do.

Jordan believes the mannequin, visible from Pendleton Street, was a stand-in for a lazy watchman keeping an eye on Alexandria during the Civil War. 

The word that we had at the time was that during the Civil War this was a night watchmen that made his rounds and got a little sleepy and would take the mannequin and sit him in a window and go and goof off a while, Jordan said. 

Though similar, thats not exactly the same story Dan Rosenblatt, IACP executive director, has heard about Oscars (yes, he has a name) origins. 

As the story goes, somebody tried to break into this building, he said. Somehow they climbed in and my understanding was that [the night watchman] was murdered.

Though the murderers fled never to be caught or tried innovative police officers decided to spread the word that the watchman had survived and would be returning to the job that next night, according to Rosenblatt.

The police department tried to wait for some time to see if the perpetrator would finish the job, he said. They took a mannequin and clothed him with a light to draw people back.

The ruse apparently failed, at least in Rosenblatts telling of the story, which has its roots in some fact. 

On July 20, 1854, the Mount Vernon Cotton Factorys night watchman, Michael Kiggin, was found in the factory yard, head brutally mashed in, according to newspaper accounts. 

The Alexandria Gazette reported that a Mr. Nalls testified he was looking from his window near the factory, and heard a low conversation in that direction, in which a low voice said, You damned Irishman, you have been interfering with me and immediately after he heard a blow struck and someone fall against the factory fence.

Kiggin, 21, lived close to where he met his tragic end. The factory offered a $200 reward for his assailants capture, and not long after William Arrington was arrested as a suspect, according to a report of the building compiled by Michael Miller, former city historian.   

Arrington was never tried for the murder and as far as Rosenblatt knows it remains an open case. 

All of that makes it appropriate the IACP calls 515 N. Washington home, he said. 

We love the story and if we can ever nab the people who come back to the scene of the crime, wed be happy to do it, he said. Its an open crime, you need a police presence.

A handful of people drop by the building each year to inquire about the mannequin, he said. Not many people know about Oscar and thats fine by the IACP. While they appreciate being home to local lore, they dont need tourists climbing the rickety ladder to the cupola. 

Jordan wants to see the watchmen illuminated again and hes even dropped off a box of light bulbs to expedite the process. 

Im getting old and crotchety, he said. I want somebody to screw in a light bulb and I took them a six pack and offered to climb up there. I think that scared them.