Death By Parrot

Judge William Nott and his wife Sarah lived in Washington DC until they died in 1896 and 1897. Their unmarried daughters Mary (born 1863) and Alice (born 1876) then started a boarding house at their home at 803 Twelfth St Northwest.

On September 12 1899, calamity struck, and the first report in the Washington Times was factual (although all of the newspapers misspelled their last name).

Shortly after 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon Miss Alice Knott was found dead on the floor of a small room at 803 Twelfth Street Northwest. The gas jet in the room was turned on and the fumes filled the apartment. A physician was quickly summoned and efforts made toward resuscitation, but the woman was past human aid. Near the body on the floor, as though on guard, almost unconscious itself, was a large green parrot, the dead woman’s special pet. The parrot is belleved to have turned on the gas while playing on the fixture.

Miss Alice Knott was twenty-three years old and assisted her sister, Miss Mary Knott, in conducting a boarding house at the number given. The two women have lived in the city all their lives, it is said, and they had many friends. A few years ago their mother died, and Miss Mary with her sister, opened their home as a boarding house The dead woman was especially liked for her cheerful disposition and her sympathetic manner. For some time, however, she had been in ill health, and was hardly able to attend to her duties around the house. She spent a great deal of her time in her room at the end of the hall on the first floor attending to her pet parrot. She had had the bird about three years. Its favorite occupation, when no one was around to watch it, was to pull the tips off the gas jets with its claws and hide them. Gas jets seemed to be the favorite perch of this parrot.

Yesterday morning Miss Knott was not feeling well and retired to her room. She took the precaution to close the door so that noises from the street might not disturb her. As usual the parrot accompanied her and took his accustomed place on the gas jet very near the key, at least that is the supposition of persons at the house who are acquainted with the bird’s habits. Shortly after noon persons in the house next door heard a noise such as is made by a body falling to the floor. Soon after 1 o’clock some one called for Miss Knott and when she did not answer the summons the door of her room was opened and the body was found lying on the floor a short distance from the bed. Dr. Atkinson was immediately called in and efforts were made to resuscitate the unfortunate woman, but to no effect, and after an hour of hard work the doctor pronounced her dead.

The friends of Miss Knott are convinced her death is the result of an accident, and that the gas was turned on by the parrot while its mistress was asleep. She is beIleved to have been awakened by some noise after the gas was turned on, and realizing her dangerous position, had attempted to leave the room. She had already inhaled too much, and before makIng more than two or three steps from the bed fell to the floor, where she was found.

Washington Times, September 13 1899

Subsequent local reports were less sympathetic to the parrot.

There were things uncanny and unparalleled about the sad death from asphyxiation yesterday of Miss Alice Knott, at 803 Twelfth Street Northwest. She was killed by a parrot, a little evil-eyed, green thing that cannot speak a word or fly a yard, but has learned the malicious trick of turning on gas. Hating the rest of the world with a spite that makes its eyes gleam and its sharp beak spread threateningly at the approach of all but its late mistress, this parrot followed Miss Knott from floor to floor and from room to room with a constancy and affection remarkable in a bird of its ugly nature.

This parrot turned on the gas in Miss Knott’s room early yesterday morning while she lay sleeping, and the young woman was suffocated. She was found dead about 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon and the bird that had brought its mistress to an untimely end lay half-suffocated at the foot of the door, instinctively seeking the fresh air that reached the death-laden room through that aperture only.

Washington Post, September 13 1899

The sad tale was told in newspapers nationwide, and the farther you were from DC the more villainous the dastardly bird became.

Alice Knott, 23 years old, of No. 803 Twelfth Street, Washington, came to her death the other day through the instrumentality of her pet parrot, an evil dispositioned bird, who was cordially detested by everybody except his mistress, but who seemed to have a strong affection for her. He would follow her from room to room and was never happy except in her presence. He was generally regarded as a devil by the negroes, and as a bird of ill-omen by the whites. His unpopularity was increased by an uncanny habit of pulling the tips off the gas burners with his strong beak and inhaling the gas until it stupefied him. He was a gas fiend, a feathered victim of the gas habit.

While his young mistress was sleeping the parrot took off the tip in her room and started on a gas debauch. This time there was no one near to avert the consequences of his deed. When Miss Knott’s relatives, alarmed at her long absence, broke open the door they found her dead. Her little murderer was found half unconscious by the door. When he found himself succumbing to the gas and was not relieved as usual by his mistress, he realized that something was wrong, and had wit or instinct enough to make for the door and shove his bill as far as he could underneath it. He recovered, and while the coroner was in the house the malignant little bird was caught trying to turn on the gas again.

Freeborn County Standard, Minnesota, October 4 1899

There is no report of what became of Evil-Eyed Polly. Mary moved to Arizona, and died in Phoenix in 1926.

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