Jack was born in Rochester NY of longstanding Dutch immigrant stock. His father, a WW1 veteran, who had played the coronet in the US Army (and is buried, with Jack’s mother, in Arlington Cemetery), owned a printing business. In 1941, after a bankruptcy, he moved his family to DC and work at the US Printing Office, settling on Capitol Hill NE. Jack graduated from McKinley Tech in 1953, working during school at auto repair shops. His sister remembers him “usually under a car in our garage,” or riding motorcycles, and later never missing an Indy 500 in Indianapolis every Memorial Day.
At age 19, Jack enlisted in the US Army. The Korean War was ending. He was stationed at Bamberg, Germany, becoming an infantry squad leader. He recalled “beautiful barracks, made of finely crafted wood, which had housed Nazi officers”.
Upon return, auto work led to being his own boss driving a cab. “Jack would drive only a Crown Vic, his sister said, “Until his last – a Lincoln Continental, which was the best of all.” But better than all, Ms. Dixon adds, “Was his “personal” car, never used for cab work. It was a neon turquoise Plymouth Fury, which he drove for 30 years.” The Hill Rag captured Jack dusting the heavy snow off his favorite Fury after the huge blizzard of January 5-8 in 1996.
Jack Wandersee made his living driving a taxicab for 60 years on Capitol Hill.
Ms. Dixon says that the Sizzling Express on Pennsylvania Avenue was “really his home. He deeply missed engaging with people he would see there every day when it closed in 2019.”
In appearance, Jack looked ‘almost a vagrant’. Eccentrically, he never wore socks, even in winter. Contributing dozens of pairs, Ms. Dixon tried, but had to give up. He shuffled along neighborhood streets in what looked like old bedroom slippers – although Ms. Dixon adds, “They had to be all-leather, he absolutely hated any rubber, anywhere in a shoe.”
In conversation, Jack never held forth, but friends discovered a man of high intelligence and wide curiosity. He was reading a biography of Shakespeare the week he died. Einstein fascinated him. So did Hitler. He deeply questioned a German visiting professor who had become a friend, about his boyhood under the Nazis. When conversation about General Lee gravitated to the name of Lee’s horse, “Traveler!” came Jack’s instantaneous response. Jack was thrilled when Amy Klobuchar, whose name he never could pronounce, sent him personal thanks for his $300 contribution to her campaign. He was quiet about his sincere feminism, but would erupt in outrage at current campaigns to curb abortion rights. Among Jack’s possessions, Ms. Dixon said, he leaves more than a thousand books, some of them collectors’ items. An unassuming person who never talked about himself, Jack would be surprised so many people admired him. His friend of decades John Distad, also a man of few words, says it all: “Jack Wandersee was a good man.”
In addition to his sister, Jack is survived by a niece, Sue Wandersee Hohneke; and nephew, Billy Wandersee, both of Williamsburg, VA. Ms. Dixon states that, because they helped years ago when Jack’s beloved cat, Goldy, died, contributions in Jack’s name may be made to:
Humane Rescue Alliance
71 Oglethorpe Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
ODE TO THE CAT MAN OF
A STREET, SE
by Gerard N. Henry
Jack Wandersee of 322 A Street SE was known in the neighborhood as the Cat Man of A Street SE. Shortly after his arrival in the neighborhood eight years ago he adopted an existing colony of 17 cats — or more accurately they adopted him. He assisted in their feeding, neutering, vaccinations and periodic vet visits. In a short period of time the rat and mouse population in a two-block radius of the colony had disappeared and over the years an ever-increasing radius of rodent removal was taking place. With Jack’s assistance all but three of the colony cats were found homes and the remaining three were effectively adopted by Jack with two living next door in a heated tree house in a holly tree and the remaining cat in a nearby abandoned house which Jack visited several times every day. For the last eight years, he is most noted for his 10:00 PM cat walks every night with the cats that lived in the holly tree house. These two cats would come down from the tree house to greet him whenever he walked nearby, and walk along side him on these walks. In the last year one of the tree house cats passed away. Undoubtedly Jack is now again taking him for his nightly walks.