August 29, 1998

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A cheerful little title, isn't it? Oh, well. When has the news ever been jolly? Not in 1897. On August 8th an Italian anarchist in Havana assassinated the Spanish premier of Cuba. In another world capital, the London theatre scene was thrown into turmoil shortly before Christmas, when unemployed actor Richard Archer Prince walked up to theatrical actor-manager William Terriss in front of the Royal Adelphi Theatre, and stabbed him to death. This rounded out a year filled with crime, vice and corruption. Printers around the world must have run low on police blotters in 1897.

Oklahoma Territory saw its share of action, as might be expected of the still-Wild West. Outside Checotah a posse of lawmen lead by marshals George Lawson and William Busey shot and killed outlaw Dan Clifton. And in October the Jennings gang robbed a Rock Island train near Chikasha. Their plan fell apart when faulty dynamite failed to break open the safe in the mail car. Down yonder in New Orleans a legend was born, when Storyville's official red light district was established.

Here in Rochester, the Law and Order Society generated grand jury indictments and issued bench warrants to baseball players for violating local laws against playing on Sunday. And the Rochester Herald double-checked downtown police files and found that many of lurid journalistic crime "scoops" of previous years were based on extremely suspect research.

But of course New York City never settles for second best. There's an old story told about the Brooklyn policeman in the 1920s calling the precinct to report finding a dead horse on Kosciuszko Street. After a number of false starts spelling the street name for the desk officer, he replies, "The heck with it (or words to that effect), I'll drag it over to Fulton Street and call ya back."

Which brings to mind the story reported by George P. LeBrun in his 1962 book It's Time to Tell, recounting his career as a New York coroner/medical examiner. Up through the late 1890s coroners were paid by the corpse. One Brooklyn coroner got himself into a whole lot of trouble when he was called out to examine a corpse found floating in the East River. Having completed his examination, he then got the brilliant idea of paying a policeman a few dollars to drag the body to another location. Another examination. Another fee. Another location. Another examination. Another...well, you get the idea. Someone back at the morgue began getting suspicious when none of the bodies were delivered. An investigation turned up the fact that the crooked coroner had made close to $10,000 from the same corpus no longer delecti . With the new 1898 city charter, the post became a salaried job.

OUTRO
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

 

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte