Where a bench once stood in Turtle Park

Mary Wright, an ANC commissioner in 6B, has been trying to solve a crime. For some time now, she’s been attempting to find out who stole benches from a tiny triangular patch of green located across the street from Eastern Market. “To my recollection, there were six,” she says of the missing seating. Wright says the benches have been gone from the place known as Turtle Park for about a year.

Her top suspects aren’t the kind Capitol Hillers are used to blaming, like the “loitering” juveniles ostensibly well-meaning neighbors rant about via listserv. No, Wright’s suspects happen to be the well-meaning neighbors themselves.

“Neighbors around the area told me some other neighbors took the benches,” she says.

And why would concerned citizens steal stuff from public land? To make it better, of course. Wright believes someone swiped the outdoor furniture in hopes of ridding the park of the homeless people who sometimes snooze on the equipment. Visiting the community, City Desk found others share her theory. (It has some historical roots—there was a similar dispute over alleged nuisance benches in Columbia Heights last year.)

Contacted about the theft, a flustered D.C. Parks and Recreation Department wasn’t able to immediately figure out if Turtle Park ever had benches, much less where the missing ones got off to. “DPR will work with MPD and look into the situation,” says spokesperson John Stokes. But a resident who earlier inquired to DPR about the benches tells Wright she got this message from the department: “The department does not know what happened to the benches. We did not remove them.”

Scott Miller, who lives right around the corner from the park, remembers the benches, and noticed when they went away. No wonder: One of them stood in honor of his father. The bench, installed by his late mother, was placed in the park in 1986. “There was a memorial plaque on the back,” Miller remembers.

This isn’t the first time the bench went elsewhere. When it was first placed in the park, it vanished into a then-crime-plagued city. At that point, something surprising happened. “There was an outcry in the neighborhood,” says Miller. Neighbors put up posters about the hijacked bench and what it meant to them. It worked. “Whoever took it had a guilty conscious or something,” says Miller, because they brought it back.

After that, the bench was bolted down, he recalls. For over 20 years, it stood undisturbed. When the bench departed all over again in 2009, Miller was stunned. This time, there was no neighborhood outcry. Like Wright, Miller believes the park’s benches were hauled away by his neighbors.

Some neighbors do miss the seating. James Goodwin, who lives two blocks from the oak tree shaded area, liked sitting on the now-vanished equipment. “It’s nice over there,” he says. Goodwin didn’t mind sharing the park with the homeless. Told about rumors of bench-stealing neighborhood vigilantes, Goodwin doesn’t have  trouble imagining it. “Pretty typical I guess. People are pretty shallow.”