On Saturday afternoon, Jessica Krueger was working at the Virginia Shop — just like every weekend for the past 10 years. She was making sure the display of peanuts was appealing, straightening the scented candles and chatting with customers when she heard a commotion outside. Then, her ordinary Saturday was transformed into an unforgettable international incident.
To the north she could see a coterie of black limousines and police cars. She could see the flashing lights and hear the sirens associated with an international security detail, blocking the street to traffic and making quite a commotion. The president of Yemen had just finished lunch at the Chart House and was preparing to head back to the embassy.
According to Brett Tank, a manager at the Chart House, the entourage dined on coconut shrimp, tenderloin medallions, herb-crusted salmon and a fish-and-shrimp combo. "They tipped very generously," Tank said.
Krueger was intrigued by what she saw to the north, but what she saw coming from the south was totally unbelievable.
"I was standing in the doorway of the Virginia Shop when I saw it," she said. "All of a sudden, a horse came galloping by pell-mell."
OLD TOWN ALEXANDRIA is, at best, a contradiction. The past mingles with the present in a way that lets modern folks believe they could be in a different century. Horse-drawn carriages are commonplace — completing the illusion and beckoning visitors for a ride down the streets where Washington once strolled.
But horses are not like cars. They don’t have brakes. They have minds of their own, and sometimes they get spooked.
The lights and sirens at the corner of King and Union streets spooked the horse that was traveling north on Union Street. Just after the horse and buggy passed Duke Street, the horse started picking up speed. The driver tried to restrain the horse, but she was not successful — and the horse started galloping at full speed toward disaster.
The buggy slammed into a parked car on the northeast corner of Union and Prince. Its driver was thrown from the buggy, but the horse broke free and galloped toward the flashing lights and the shiny black limousines.
"I heard this huge crash," said City Councilman Andrew Macdonald, who was working in a nearby office when the accident happened. "I came rushing out, and I could see somebody holding her foot and writhing in pain."
The woman sustained minor injuries and the horse was unharmed. An Alexandria police officer corralled the runaway in the 800 block of Gibbon Street. For Macdonald, the incident raises some questions about the presence of horses in Old Town.
"I think we’re going to have to take a look at this," Macdonald said. "How well are these people really trained to handle horses?"
RUNAWAY HORSES were commonplace in the old days of the city’s history. According to City Historian Michael Miller, who researched horse tales for a 1992 article in "The Fireside Sentinel," a spooked horse could appear at any moment — often prompting dangerous situations.
On June 27, 1893, William Clarke was standing in front of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop when his horse suddenly became frightened and rushed down Fairfax Street with a wagon careening behind. The incident was reported in the pages of the Alexandria Gazette. By the time it got to Duke Street, the vehicle had toppled over and the horse became entangled in the front wheel.
"A porker and five pigs were in the wagon, and when it capsized they scampered through the streets, and it was after much difficulty, and to no little amusement of spectators, that they were finally caught and replaced in the wagon," the Alexandria Gazette reported. "The hog was especially obdurate, jumping from the vehicle several times after having been placed therein."
On Oct. 31, 1896, the horse of Julius Dreifus ran away on King Street. It wasn’t halted until some time later, when it collided with a horse and buggy at the intersection of King and Washington streets.
"The fix was almost completely demolished, and the occupants were thrown into the street," the Alexandria Gazette reported. "The runaway horse continued on its way up King Street to the stable of Mr. Dreifus, where it stopped."
On March 29, 1897, William Harnaday’s horse became frightened by a passing electric train. It bolted west on King Street, toward Shooter’s Hill.
"At King and Patrick streets, the team collided with and badly damaged the carriage of Major E.H. Janney, and, some distance farther, dashed into the double team of George B. Hill & Co., badly damaging the carriage," the Alexandria Gazette reported. "The horse was quite badly injured and several pedestrians had narrow escapes."
ONE OF THE MOST serious runaway horse incidents happened on May 5, 1919, when a horse owned by A.F. Saum broke loose at the corner of King and Lee streets, galloping west until it reached Warfield’s Drug Store at the intersection with Pitt Street. The horse plunged into the doorway of the store, smashing the door and scattering glass in every direction.
The Alexandria Gazette report stated that Myrtle Clark, "a little girl residing at 519 North Alfred Street, saw the horse coming and ran inside the store to get out of its way, but was struck and injured, sustaining a cut on her head and bruises on one of her legs."