Alexandria Gazette Packet

Grand Brawl
Assault during GadsbyÕs TavernÕs Grand Ball is now headed to General District Court
By Michael Lee Pope
July 19, 2007

Gadsby's Tavern

GadsbyÕs Tavern has the most colorful reputation of any building in Old Town Alexandria. It was a favorite haunt of George Washington, and Room 10 was the location of death for a mysterious woman who is now buried in the Old St. Paul Cemetery under a headstone bearing the inscription of a "Female Stranger." The tavern hosted Thomas JeffersonÕs inaugural banquet, and it continues to be the scene of unforgettable Alexandria history Ñ some famous and some infamous. Earlier this year, the tavern hosted a "Grand Ball," a 1780s-themed costume ball that that became the scene of an unusual assault that is now headed for trial in AlexandriaÕs General District Court.

"If only we had video," joked Lt. Jamie Bartlett, spokesman for the Alexandria Police Department. "You have to wonder what this must have looked like."

ACCORDING TO A CRIMINAL complaint filed with the cityÕs clerk of court, one costumed participant of the ball is charging that another woman in 1780s attire assaulted her on the ballroom floor as tavern guests were performing an 18th-century contra dance. The statement explained that Grand Ball participants were progressing through the ballroom in parallel lines, then reversing direction upon reaching the end of the line. When the couple in front of her stopped moving, Patricia Sandefur wrote in the criminal complaint, she placed her left hand on the womanÕs rib cage "to guide her in the proper direction."

"Please move," said Sandefur, according to her written statement.

ThatÕs when Sandefur said she was assaulted by Anna Louise Oliver, a Beverley Hills resident who was later served a warrant at her Alabama Avenue home. She was released from custody on an agreement to appear in court for an advisement hearing scheduled for July 24. The criminal complaint in the case alleges that the fight began when Oliver struck SandefurÕs right arm with a closed fist, then became obstinate.

"DonÕt tell me to move," the assailant then said, according to SandefurÕs written statement.

Later in the evening, according to the complaint, Oliver kicked Sandefur with her right shoe heel "by throwing her leg backward and slightly outward in a cow kick," then threw a drink at her. The two-inch heel struck the victimÕs right shin, Sandefur wrote, "raising a hematoma that immediately began to swell so that an area on my shin measuring about three by five or six inches protruded approximately half an inch from the bony area of my leg."

"Take yourself and your bad manners back to the gutter where you belong," Sandefur recalled saying to Oliver.

COMMONWEALTHÕS ATTORNEY S. Randolph Sengel, whose office will be prosecuting the case, said that the City of Alexandria logged 343 cases of assault and battery in the first six months of 2007. The offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and possible punishments could include anywhere from one day to 12 months in jail or a fee of up to $2,5000. Sengel said that General District judges have a great deal of autonomy to craft a sentence suitable for the conditions of the offense.

"Those who are found guilty could face jail time or a fine or both," said Sengel.

Lyceum Director Jim Mackay said that GadsbyÕs Tavern is no stranger to quarrelling. As the center of AlexandriaÕs social scene during the early days of the cityÕs history, the tavern became a meeting place for people from all walks of life. As the alcohol began flowing, Mackay said, sometimes incidents of violence were reported. Nicholas Crestwell, a visiting English businessman, recorded one such late night drunken brawl at the tavern in his journal.

"But you have to take everything Crestwell said with a grain of salt," said Mackay, who wrote a masterÕs thesis on the culture of Alexandria tavern life in the 18th century. "He was a proper English gentleman looking down his nose at life in colonial America."

OliverÕs advisement hearing is scheduled for July 24, when a date will be set for trial.

Return to the articles section of the web site.
Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on November 3, 2007.