Eddie Bernstein, a legless beggar who worked the streets of Washington over a 40-year period, died in his sleep last month in Florida at the age of 79.
He left an estate valued at $691,676.
Known as "Edie the Monkey Man," he used to spend the spring and summer months panhandling from a small wooden platform in the 1200 block of F Street NW. He would smile and talk to passersby while his monkey did antics. People would drop coins and bills into a tin cup or wooden cigar box next to his platform.
During the winter, Bernstein reappeared in Pensacola, Fla., as an elderly gentleman who walked on artificial legs with he aid of a cane. He lived in a middleclass neighborhood, "dressed like a prince," liked to read Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and history books, and owned a popular Pensacola bar called "The Red Garter," where he often treated friends t drinks on the house.
Bernstein's estate, according to his Florida attorney Phillip B. Beall and estate papers filed in D.C Superior Court, .includes $16,200 in cash and about $364,000 in a bond account with Merrill, Lynch, pierce, Fenner and Smith Inc.; tens of thousands of dollars in banks in the District of Columbia and Pensacola; a home in Pensacola worth about $45,000, and a topless bar, lounge and delicatessan in Pensacola valued at about $80,000.
Because he let no will, Bernstein's estate will be divided equally among his brother and two sisters.
For years, Bernstein, who had only a fifth-grade education, was a Washington fixture, someone people could count on seeing in front of Reeves Bakery and Restaurant at 1209 F St. or across the street at Chandle's shoe store for women. His presence gave stability to an area of Washington that has undergone drastic changes in recent years.
"As soon as the weather turned warm, he would be out there," said Leonard Martinko, manager of Chandler's at 1212 F St. NW "He would hit the street about 11 a.m. and leave about 5 p.m. He would be out there six days a week.
"I had left the store for a number of years to work in another store," said Martinko, "and when I returned here recently, he looked up at me, threw out a hand, and said, 'How are you? Where in the hell have you been?'""
In the 1930s and '40s, news stories brouight Bernstein attention and sympathy. After his dog "Snowball" died in 1938 under the wheels of a car along F Street NW, Mrs. Alwrence Wood Robert a well-known Washington socialite, donated another dog.
Several years late, Evelyn Walsh McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond, gave Bernstein a capuchin monkey named "Gypsy" which entertained Bernstein's benefactors for more than 25 years.
In 1972, another beggar accused Bernstein of using money earned on the streets of Washington to buy property in Florida. Angered by the charge, Bernstein scooted himself of the office of the newspaper that had printed the story to complain that his business had dropped sharply as a result.
"If I had money and property, do you think I'd be sitting out in the cold all day?" he was quoted as saying. "That guy who told you those stories was pulling your leg, to say the least. If you think begging's a good life, just try it."
Born in Atlanta to Russian Jewish emigrants, Bernstein lost his legs at about age 10 while crawling beneath a train that suddenly started to move. He was coming home from school when the accident occurred, his sister Mable Golfdwag said.
Bernstein's father was a peddler who eked out a living selling dry goods throughout the South in the early 1900s, according to relatives and friends.
As a teen-ager in Pensacola, he traveled about on a cart pulled by a goat, selling pencils and newspapers. No one could be located this week who knew when or why Bernstein chose to make his living in Washington, but it apparently was in the mid-1930s that he began dividing his time between here and Florida.
Every spring, about mid-April, Bernstein boarded a Greyhound bus for the 24-26 hour trip from Pensacola to the bus station at 1110 New York Ave. NW, two blocks from his Washington apartment. In late summer, usually in Septembe, he would pack a few possessions and make the return trip to Florida.
In the balmy winter evenings in Pensacola, he could be found sometimes standing on artificial legs in front of the Saenge Theater on South Palafox Street, according to longtime acquaintance Abe Levin who owns a luggage shop there.
At other times Bernstein woukd sit in front of his bar, "The Red Garter," a popular watering hole for Navy enlisted men a block or so from the waterfront, and talk about the weather, politics, Israel, or any other of his trips to Spain, Greece or Israel.
"He didn't want people down here to know he was a panhandler," said George Overby, Bernstein's Pensacola business partner and confidant. "He would dress up in a polyester sports coat and slacks, the and straw hat -- he always wore a hat -- and sit outside in front of his bar, his artificial legs wide-open, and tell friends, 'If you want anything to drink, see my manager George insie, and tell him Eddie sent you.'"
Bernstein lived a pauper's life here, renting a small run-down, foul-smelling apartment for $105 a month above the Connecticut Optical shop at 929 H St. NW.
He would wait outside on the sidework until someone the could trust walked by, and then ask that person to open the door to the building. When it was opened, Bernstein would tuck his platform under his shoulder. Then, using both arms, he would lift himself up 16 wooden steps to the second floor landing. From there he would roll himself down to the door of his apartment.
David Repp, a clerk at the Bargain Bookstore at 808 9th S NW, just around the corner, held the door for Bernstein one dark rainy evening about two years ago.
"I had closed the store about 6 and was walking over to where he lived and he looked up at me and asked if I would hold the door open for him," Repp said. "I felt odd, sort of a creepy feeling. I can't explain it. I held the door open. It was heavy. It was a rather steep flight of steps and he was picking himself up with his arms. He must have had powerful arms."
Washington native Lee Philips, now 53, was a child when he first noticed the unusual-looking beggar with the straw hat, tie and thin-line moustache.
"He would always be grinning at somebody," said Philips, manager of Joe Philips' police department store on H Street next door to Bernstein's building. "He was a handsome fellow despite his handicap."
Albert Brick, an attorney who gave Bernstein free legal advice, said the women along F street "went for him in a big way."
Women often were his biggest contributors, according to those who knew Bernstein. The 1200 block of F Street NW where he stationed himself is lined with stores that cater to women, including seven stores that sell women's shoes.
"He used to brag he was the bellwether in 'Beggar's Alley,' the F Street corridor," said Brick. "He used to say that if he did not make anything on a given day, nobody did."
"On a given day, he could make as much as $100," said Fred Lott, assistant vice president of McLachlen National bank, who would talk to Bernstein about investment trends during their 20-year banking acquaintance.
"There were times when he would come into the bank with $150 worth of change to be made into bills," Lott said. "He took the contributions he received from the corner, and invested wisely. He apparently studied the stock market and he had good brokerage contacts.
"He devoted his time and energy to financial pursuits. I think the money was a source of price with him, that he achieved success through the acquisition of money," Lott said. "Even after he achieved a good sum of money, I think begging was a life-long habit."
Brick remembers asking Bernstein, an orthodox Jew, why he didn't get out of the "shonorring" business, a Yiddish term for begging.
"He told me that he didn't beg, but that he just sat there and people gave him miney," Brick said. "He thought he was doing people a service because all those people came to him. He said, "They're my clients.'"
But Bernstein knew how to evoke the sympathy of strangers, according to Overby, his Pensacola partner.
"He could travel by himself, and when it was time for him to go back up to Washington, I would take him to the Greyhound bus station. He always wanted the first seat. He would use his handicap to get it. He would tell me, 'Watch this,' and I would put him on the bus and he'd go up to the person in the first seat and say, 'Please, please, give me the seat, I have no legs.'"