19th Century Policing: The Night Toilers

In 1884, the Cleveland Daily Herald ran a feature on the “Night Toilers,” the Cleveland Police officers who patrolled the city’s streets during the evening hours. Below is a transcript of the article, which gives us a window into the work of 19th-century police officers as well as the difficult circumstances many of Cleveland’s residents lives at that time.

Cleveland Daily Herald, March 3, 1884
One shift of Cleveland Police Officers assigned to the First Precinct in 1878 Top Row: Matthew Ostermeyer #56, Charles Miller #116, A.M. Blood #87, John Burns #72, Wenzel Havlicek #29, John Williams #30, Daniel Cantillon #7, James Waite #110.
Row 2: Kilian Dienst #13, James Edwards #91, Jacob Schumacher #106, Charles Tressel #70, A.J. Marx #6, Cyrus Thomas #15, Theodore Keegan #47, Phillip Siegrist #10, Edward Bradley #78.
Row 3: Jacob Ganss #46, Jacob Reese #83, Frederick Lambert #99, Lieutenant Charles McHannan, Captain Henry Hoehn, Lieutenant John Schreiber, John Bashold #124, William Mylechraine #23

The Central Police Station is a rendezvous of twenty-four of the night workers, or rathermore of the night walkers, viz., the patrolmen.   It is a fair representative of the other eight police precincts.  From the nature of things it is the busiest of them all.  It is 7 o’clock and the night lieutenant, a short, thick-set man of iconic speech, comes on to relieve the day man.  He is Lieutenant Charles McHannon, who has been on duty at the Central Station almost ever since the First precinct has been in existence, with short intervals of service in other districts.  Sergeant Ertelman (Andrew Ertelman, Badge Number 69; Appointed 04/01/1876; Retired as a Lieutenant 01/26/1895; End of Watch 10/20/1911) the stolid blond Teuton, whose protracted and deliberate wrestle with the English language has not been entirely successful, comes next.  Jack Reeves, the detective on night duty, who always wears a diamond and never wears an overcoat, drops in to report to the lieutenant.  He begins the day as he ends it, with an anecdote.  No man on earth loves to tell a story so well as Jack, or chuckles with greater glee over his own anecdotes.  It is said that there was once a resident of a years standing in the city whose anecdotes and history Jack did not know, but this is hardly probable. 

Captain Henry Hoehn (1878 Photo) Badge Number 32; Appointed 05/01/1866; Retired as Superintendent of Police 08/16/1896; End of Watch 01/28/1903.
Superintendent Henry Hoehn (1898 Photo)

At 8 o’clock Captain Hoehn, a man of few words and no smiles, drops in, 8 o’clock being his time for duty.  He disappears in the roomy, well-lighted office in the southeast corner of the building, and lights a cigar.  The difference between Hoehn and Deputy Superintendent McMahon is that the later always smokes a pipe and the former pulls pretty steadily at a cigar.  The sergeant and lieutenant ensconce themselves behind the high, reporter-proof wire railing in the main room.  In the enclosure are also the little closet containing its restless telephone and the tall desk where the valuables of prisoners arrested the night before are stored.  A little window opens through the easterly wall of this reception room into the smaller room, with its one worn bench, its stolid, stern turnkey, and its portrait on the wall of Ira Ayers, the king of tramps, who wore six coats, any number of vests, several pairs of pantaloons and was so ragged that he scared horses on the street.  This little room opens out into the hall, leading to the cells, full of cockroaches and prisoners.  A box of insect powder on the lieutenant’s desk is the means employed to get rid of the former, and the big Police Judge’s docket on the desk, outside the wire railing, shows what has been done to get rid of the latter.  The sergeant goes below into the cramped quarters of the patrolmen, calls the roll of the twelve men on the first relief and sends them out.  Then one relief of the day men come in.  An hour later, at 8 o’clock, the second night relief of twelve men goes out.  The men are on night duty four weeks and on day duty two.

Lieutenant Charles McHannan (1893 Cleveland Plain Dealer Drawing)
Lieutenant Charles McHannan (1878 Photo)Badge Number 63; Appointed 05/08/1868; Retired as a Lieutenant 07/10/1893; End of Watch 07/19/1893.

The telephone rattles and McHannon answers. (James McMahon, Appointed 05/01/1865; Retired as Deputy Superintendent of Police 07/12/1896; End of Watch 04/24/1919.)  Some one reports a dead dog on Broadway, and the lieutenant leaves an order for the dead animal contractor, who will call in the morning.  A small boy comes in with tear marks on his smutty face.  A neighbor’s dog has bitten him on the right leg and he wants the dog shot.  McHannon examines the wound and promises to send a member of the police force around to shoot the dog.  The boy starts to leave the building when McHannon remembers that he did not ask the boy whether he was in the yard or on the street when bitten, and he calls him back and says: “Sonny, where did the dog bite you?”  “On the leg, sar.  Didn’t I just show yer?”  McHannon has not had time to more fully explain his question when a great noise is heard at the bastille entrance.  It is only a drunk,  but such a drunk.  “Leme ‘lone.  I guess I kin go zer bed wizzout you fellers,” says the happy man.  The lieutenant takes the name, age and address of the crank, records the fact not entirely apparent by reason of the dirt on his face that he is white, also the assertion that he can read and write and enters up in the remarks column, “Found drunk on the street.”  While he was undergoing this catechism about his history and attachments, Bramley, the tall, solemn turnkey with a patriarchal beard that the old masters ascribed to St. Peter, begins searching the prisoner’s pockets.  It is evident that he is not an old offender for he resents what he terms the undue familiarity of the officer and accuses him of theft.  The old-timer on the criminal turf will from force of habit, lift his arms to aid the turnkey in his search.  The prisoner’s knife and trinkets are stored in the big desk;  he is given a receipt for his money, which is placed in an envelope bearing his name, and the turnkey conducts him through the big iron door and into a cell.  Having reached his iron-bound bedroom, he sets upon a drunken boo-hoo, the noise of which is drowned by another scuffle in the hall. 

Cleveland’s Haymarket neighborhood, 1890s. Library of Congress

Two officers come dragging a struggling female from Hay Market.  Her swollen eyes glare at her captors as she utters in thick-tongued speech all sorts of invectives, and throws herself struggling on the floor when the turnkey attempts to conduct he to her boudoir.  After she has finally been locked up she sings in a shrill voice that diabolical melody “Sweet Violets,” stopping once in a while to indulge in a little deep-dyed profanity.

A move was once set on foot to employ a female turnkey at the Central Station.  Ask the average policeman what he thinks about such a plan, and he will smile derisively and say “Well, I would like to see the expression on a woman’s face when she would go into the female department of the jail and hear the language of the women locked up there.  The general run of the hard female cases that come here are the foulest mouthed wretches in existence.  I would like to see a female turnkey try to lock up Deaf Carrie, or Angeline the colored woman, or the little stubbed Commercial street tough known as Mollie Meyers.  It took five of us one night to put Carrie in her cell.  When it is necessary to search a female prisoner we send out and get a woman to do it.”

Cleveland Police First Precinct and Headquarters located at 97 Champlain Street in 1893, just before the building was demolished. Note the building to the right. That is the new First Precinct and Headquarters building.

There is a lull in business now.  Turnkey Bramley (John P. Bramley, Badge Number 98; Appointed 06/08/1864; Retired 05/15/1888; End of Watch 12/08/1905) devotes himself to his paper, when  a man slips in at the back door with the timid air of a wretch who is anxious to apologize for being on earth.  He wants to stay all night.  “I’ve been lookin all over fer work,” says he “but I couldn’t get none.”                                                                                                            ;

“Of course not; you fellers never do find work,” says Bramley with a sneer.  Nearly every lodger has to pay the price of a little mild abuse from the officers.  The tramp doesn’t mind it, but occasionally a worthy unfortunate winces under it. “Your name!” demands the turnkey gruffly.  The man gives it, as well as his age, occupation and the last place he worked.  Then Bramley hands him a little slip of paper.  His hands are so numb that he can hardly hold the paper, but he clings to it tenderly and hobbles out to the Poverty Barn.

“That makes seventy-four lodgers tonight,” says Bramley.  The paper that he gave the tramp was a ticket of admission to the hot, foul smelling stable known as Poverty Barn.  Unless the applicant presents a ticket, the boss won’t let him in.  There is no boss on the police payroll.  In fact the office of boss is entirely an honorary one without salary and no perquisites save the best bunk.  The incumbent of the responsible office last night was a local stroller known among the fraternity as Pat.  He knows and is known to all the turnpike treaders on the road.

An old police reporter noted for his eccentricity used always to return after going out for the last time, thrust his head inside the door and say to the lieutenant. “Charlie?” “Well what is it?” Charlie would ask.

“You are a whited sepulcher,” would be the solemn remark, following which the reporter would bang the door and dodge out.  After the remark had been punctually repeated for something like a month, Charlie became so exasperated that he rigged a tin pail shower bath over the door, and one night when the reporter thrust in his head to give the parting salutation, Charlie pulled the string and subjected the reporter to the most thorough shower-bath of his unwashed career.

Patrolman Cyrus C. Thomas #15 (1878 Photo)
Badge Number 15; Appointed 09/21/1872; Retired (UNK); End of Watch 02/12/1922

At 11 o’clock p.m. a patrolman, with his basket on his arm, whom the Lieutenant calls “CY” – there isn’t much stiff formality in the Cleveland Police Department, and officers and men are on the most democratic footing of familiarity- drops in.

“What’s the news down on the river?” asks the Lieutenant.

“Oh, the water is still running into the lake,” answers Cy with the utmost solemnity.

“You ought to be sentenced to six months in the County Treasury for that,” says Reeves, who supplements the remark with a story, after which the Lieutenant tells Cy that he may go home.  The river patrolman, of whom there are but two in the winter, are on duty from1 p.m. to 11p.m.   A policeman works ten hours a day, and the men at each precinct are divided up into two reliefs, one of which goes on duty at 7 p.m. and goes off at 5 a.m., and another of which reports at 8 p.m. and goes home at 6 a.m., just as the day men are coming on.  While one relief is at lunch the other, made of patrolmen whose beats alternate with those of the first relief men, are on duty and thus the city is not left unprotected.

Here comes the first of the midnight lunch.  The roll is called as the men file into the basement of the Central Station.  Only one is absent, and Sergeant Eitelman enters opposite his name 49 1/2, which means that he is absent with leave.  When a patrolman goes to get married, stays at home to attend a christening, or takes a trip to visit his relatives, this 49 1//2 is daily entered opposite his name.

Patrolman A.M. Blood #87 (1878 Photo) Badge Number 87; Appointed 11/16/1874; End of Watch while still on Active Duty 07/15/1894
Captain William Rowe (1898 Photo) Badge Number 71; Appointed 12/16/1900; Retired as Deputy Superintendent of Police 12/16/1900; End of Watch 06/30/1941
Chief William S. Rowe (1941 Photo)

One part of this Central Station basement contains a red-hot cook stove and a large pine table.  The men doff their overcoats and heavy boots, put on their slippers, heat their coffee on the roaring stove and eat their lunches.  Not much danger of the average patrolman being troubled with gout from too high living.  Having dined and lighted pipes or cigars, they saunter into the little waiting room to try and get warm.  They place their feet on a range of steam pipes in the center of the room, which is a veritable hollow mockery as far as heat is concerned.  One reads a paper, another falls into a short nap, two engage in a discussion about a case they have in court and two, Patrolmen Blood and Rowe get out their musical instruments.  Blood saws the fiddle with great force and dexterity and Rowe thrumbs the guitar.  Suddenly Patrolman McGraw approaches a short man with a rosy, droll face and says: “Johnny, may I have this dance?”  Johnny blushes to the roots of his nose and allows that he may, and a moment later the two men are whirling about the room in a giddy waltz.  Then Felhaber, a big six-footer, takes a partner and they bob around in the dimly lighted room, their revolvers and billies in their hip pockets give them almost the appearance of cowboys.

Patrolman John McGraw #114 (1898 Photo)
Badge Number 51; Appointed 04/06/1877; Retired as Lieutenant 12/01/1912; End of Watch 12/20/1925.
Lieutenant H.T. Fehlhaber (1898 Photo)
Badge Number 114; Appointed 04/07/187; Retired 06/01/1906; End of Watch 08/02/1927

All at once the sound of the sergeant’s hands, as he claps them to announce his coming, brings the dance to a sudden stop, the men hurriedly don their big boots, great coats and hats and Eitelman calls the roll.  When all but 49 1/2 have answered “Here!” the sergeant reads the reports, which sound somewhat as follows: “John Smith, of 2050 Alonquin avenue, reports that his daughter was robbed of an open-faced gold watch in front of his residence this evening.  Peter Jones, of 1000 Johnson street, reports a white horse with bay mane and tail stolen from his stable, etc.”  The patrolmen then file out, having had the benefit of the never-get-warm heater in their room and of the excitement of the dance for half an hour.

There is a glee club among the members of the force of the First precinct, but they bashfully refuse tossing before strangers.  While the lieutenant and captain are below eating a yeoman’s lunch of beefsteak, Detective Reeves reports that when the detectives used to sleep at the Central Station, the patrolmen used to disturb them with their instrumental music.  One night Reeves secured some skeleton keys, unlocked the lockers and soaped all the strings of the detested fiddles.  Then he sat in the dark at the head of the stairs and listened.  He heard them thrum the strings.  

Detective John “Jack” Reeves (1898 Photo)
Badge Number 114; Appointed 04/07/187; Retired 06/01/1906; End of Watch 08/02/1927

Finally Blood gave the word, “One, two, three, play!” but his violins emitted not a note.  There was a lull in the proceedings, and finally the awful hush of silence was dispelled by some second fiddler who exclaimed, “I kin lick the white-livered coward that greased them fiddle strings!”

The second relief comes in at 2 a.m. and the first goes out.  The police reporters call around for the last time, and finally, as day breaks the tired night workers drop off in reliefs and go home.

(Reprinted from the Cleveland Daily Herald, March 3, 1884)

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