Jeremiah Clifford: Among Washington’s Last Blacksmiths

Jere CliffordJeremiah Clifford took to the trade of blacksmith in 1884 when he was 17. His shop was located at 813 Otis Place, NW, where he shod the horses of the mounted policemen, tended to fire horses and cavalry horses. By his reckoning, he’d shod over 100,000 horses and mules in his lengthy career.

As the automobile — slowly at first but with a momentum that couldn’t be stopped — replaced the horse, the number of blacksmiths in Washington dwindled. By 1929 Washington had 23 blacksmiths left. Clifford was still plying his trade in 1937 when the number of active blacksmiths in Washington had decreased to 8. Gnarled and strong after 53 years at the forge, at age 73 he was quick to point out that horseshoers were not blacksmiths as they only did one thing. He could forge parts of fences, make tools sharper, and had even made sabers. Why, he’d even forged an iron dog.

One of the more humorous stories involving Jeremiah happened in 1926. Being proud to have shod horses and mules for 42 years without being kicked, he succumbed to his Rhode Island red rooster.

While feeding his chickens at his home at 506 Longfellow street, NW, his rooster became excited and in the ruckus landed a two-inch spur against  the bone of Jeremiah’s knee.

The injury cause temporary paralysis. He was still unable to walk an hour or so later and ultimately was forced to close shop for two days. As his leg mended, he was able to first use a crutch, then a cane, for mobility.

He claimed it was the first time he’d ever been kicked. While he was cautious with horses and mules, he had let his gaurd down around his rooster, not considering it dangerous.

(Note: Information gathered from several Washington Post articles, 1926-1937. If you have additional information on Jeremiah Clifford or a better photograph, please contact dckaleidoscope (at) gmail.com)

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