Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro history: Remembering D.C.'s rogue streetcar driver of 1957

October 19, 2011 - 01:28 PM
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The District's trolleys of old. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Washington, D.C. once was a town of trolleys. Our streetcar network lasted decades and was phased out about a half century ago. Now people hope to restore streetcars — to H Street, to Anacostia, perhaps even Georgia Avenue in time.

But what of the rogue trolley drivers, D.C.? Have you considered the danger of those?

I kid, of course, but I do want to highlight a fascinating automotive theft that happened 54 years ago in our little District. More than five decades ago, a 40-year-old laborer discovered his own passion for streetcars. He leapt into one and took the driver's seat, steering it down Pennsylvania Avenue for 15 blocks at 60 miles/hour, according to an account in a November 1957 issue of Jet magazine. This laborer managed to strike five cars, injure one person, and — here's the truly fantastic part — only stopped after this rogue streetcar "jumped the track" designed to restrict its path. All of this unfolded over the course of about four minutes. Police quickly discovered the driver on the floor of the darkened floor. His quote to them?

"I ought to go out to the National Airport — it looks like I'd make a better jet pilot than a trolley driver," said Clayton Morgan Jr.

Little more than a month later, Jet included another dispatch on the streetcar rebel. The follow-up article revealed that Morgan was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for an "unsound mind." The account notes that before taking his Pennsylvania Avenue joy ride, he had been under psychiatric treatment for 30 days. But who's to judge a laborer for wanting a fun ride through the town? D.C.'s streetcar days were a romantic, special time in the 20th century ... but they also included characters worth remembering like Morgan. His speeding, gleeful ride was immortalized in 1957 and showed that a trolley could race with the best of 'em.

Read the two original accounts in Jet magazine here and here.

Read more pieces of Metro history here.

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