Roistering Past

Baltimore Has a Roistering Past

Once Known as the Wickedest City in the Country
16 September 1928
2 o’clock and all's well – all's well and Cornwallis is taken!

Old Middle District

Long ago with a narrow dirt streets of Baltimore Town the night watch, calling the hours, notified the sleeping populates that the 13 colonies had it last achieved in the freedom for which they had struggled so long.

With the birth of the new nation was born the Baltimore Police Department and organizations which had changed with the times, but which has survived in the growing pains of the early 19th century, the era when Baltimore was known as the wickedest city in the country, the Civil War riots and the railroad strikes, until the present day witnessed a police force of 16,000 men under Commissioner Gaither.

In 1775, when open hostility against the motherland was coming to a head a volunteer organization to guard the city from male factors which established, on which every adult male inhibited capable of performing the duties of watchmen was required to serve a specific time

Shortly after Cornwallis surrendered came the first paid night watchman, as Street lamps, an in event innovation in Baltimore town, were introduced in the community. The new illumination greatly reduce the crime and the thriving town and made the task of the Constable much easier. Anything favorable must’ve been appreciated, two, four in those days a watchmen was paid 3 pounds a month, unless $15

The familiar cries of 10 o’clock and all was well, - 5 o’clock and a rainy morning, continued without variation through the days and nights when the town was growing into a city, through the years of struggle and Barbary pirates, English men of war and French privateers, until 1843, when the monotonous calls were stilled forever. In that year the custom of calling the hours was abolished when taxpayers convinced city authorities that the loud cries sole value was to thieves, burgers and rogues, who were thereby notified of the whereabouts of the Constable and so enabled to commit their crimes elsewhere with impunity.

10 years later came the first large reorganization of the department. The pay of the marshal of the police was established at $1500 a year, a Capt. receives $13 a week and a patrolman $10 a week. In those days patrol wagons were undreamed of luxuries, and the police were forced to walk their prisoners to the station houses. In many cases officers had to carry drunken or injured persons on their shoulders or requisition passing vehicles.

On one occasion a patrolman in the Southwest district with an unconscious DRUNK on his hands hailed the driver of a passing hearse and deposited his charge in the vehicle of death. Mounting the box beside the driver the patrolman started the hearse on its way to the station house. The old narrative goes on, “All went well until the drunk, awakened by the jolting, set up opened his eyes, saw what kind of equipage he was riding in, and with a yell of terror plunged through the glass sides to the street, and sobered by his unusual experience, started to run!

In 1857 Baltimore, flooded like other cities with the “Know Nothing” ideas, became known as Mob Town. In this year almost 9000 arrests were made by the small police force of that day. Fights and riots were well of common occurrence and a fire was chiefly an excuse for starting a battle. Volunteer Fire Companies answered the alarm, instead of uniting with their efforts to check the blaze, would resent rival efforts and serious fights became the companies often resulted. In place of establishing fire lines, holding back the crowds and regulating traffic at the scene of the fire as the police do today, the patrolman of the 1850s were called upon to pacify the bickering fireman or to club them into insensibility and fight the fire themselves.

Corruption and graft were right, gangs ran unchecked, and the police were handicapped in their efforts by indulging and tainted magistrates, the release prisoners on “Straw Bail” almost as fast as they were locked up. One man was arrested 147 times by a Capt. Daniel Western district and was invariably released when he came up for hearing.

With the approach of the Civil War, days the populace became more and more unruly, gangs of youths below military age abounded in East Baltimore, police of that day were hats with large plumes, dark blue single breasted coats was standing collars, and dark blue trousers.

The youth of that day took exception to this uniform, the first ever warn by Baltimore police, they greeted the officers with the following doggerel:

We like Turkeys
We like Geese
But we don’t like
The New Police

With Lincoln’s election came the secession of the South Carolina, the formation of the Confederate states of America and a practical dismemberment of the Union. Buchanan compromised and pleaded, but took no decisive steps to avert the threat of chaos. Maryland like other border States knew not where to turn. Although her sympathies were largely Southern and or tendencies were toward secession, especially after Virginia left the Union, there were enough Unionist in the state to sway public opinion like a bubble wafted a fickle breeze.

In Baltimore minor clashes between northern and southern sympathizers were frequent, but as affairs came to a crisis the city leaned more and more toward the south. On April 19, 1861, when human passions had been supremely stirred by the events of the past few months and the city was seething and rest list, about 2000 troops from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and route the Washington DC attempted to march through the streets of town getting from one railroad to another

The Baltimore Police Department have been formed of the troop’s movement and the force, under Marshal Kane, had made special preparations to avert riots. The troops were did disembark from their 35 cars at the Old Pres. Street station and were to be transported to Camden Station by force cars. The first nine carloads made the trip through the narrow, mob crowded, cobblestone streets and arrived safely at their destination, with a re-embarked for Washington under the watchful eyes of the police.

The crowd however gained courage with numbers and at last a few leading spirits inflamed the mob to action. The horse cars were one from the sales and demolished the crowd, working furiously with crowbars and sledgehammers, pride up the rails and destroyed the tracks. The small police force was powerless to stop the riders, but when it was decided to march the remainder of the troops through the city, a police guard under Marshal Kane, and Mayor Brown and the police Commissioner was formed to protect the van’s flank and rear. 

Leading Pres. Street station the March through the shouting, hooting, milling mobs to Camden Station was begun. Almost at once the crowd began to demonstrate, pressing against the police guard and hurling stones and bricks at the soldiers. Several policemen were struck by flying missiles. Although they were not seriously injured. At President and Fawn streets, two soldiers were knocked down by stones and so severely hurt that they died afterward, and several citizens were shot. The Massachusetts troops retaliated by firing into the crowd. The troops, escorted by the police, finally reached Camden station these tumultuous days continued throughout the Civil War.

Just after the city had run the gauntlet of war, it was visited in 1868 by a devastating flood which inundated all of the lower section of the town and turn streets in the rivers houses were flooded to their second-story windows and the swift rushing water threatened destruction to many blocks of dwellings. Policemen were turned overnight in the sailors an entire force, under the direction of Commissioner James E Carr, devoted itself to rescue and relief work. Both were secured and many persons were rescued from death in the swirling currents.

Commissioner car himself narrowly escaped drowning when he fell overboard from a small boat while attempting to rescue a Negro in the second floor of a house was swept from the site of his companions by the time and was reported drowned. His death was actually published in several Baltimore papers, but almost an hour after his fall into the waters, the Commissioner, still afloat, was cited by a group of men on the corner of Fayette and Harrison streets. He was almost exhausted, but was still struggling with the waves.

One of the men says an old account recognizing the Commissioner made him the odd Fellows sign of distress and China rope around his wrists swam out into the stream while the other end of the line was held by friends the Commissioner was ill for some weeks.

In the early 1870s Negro militia companies were founded companies which had no official status, but which nevertheless paraded, uniformed and armed. Through the streets the town some of the marchers became so arrogant at this order resulting in several persons being shot and killed. The police, after troublous times, finally managed to put an end to these organizations, but no sooner were they out of the way than the unhappy officers of the law were greeted with gang wars. The Game Cocks at Thames and Bond streets, the Double Pumps at bond and Lancaster, the Canton Rackers, the Found Knockers, the Skinners, the Stay-lates, and the Fountain Rackers, all caused trouble. The martial spirit of Civil War days pervaded the city, and these gangs bought up a large quantity of drums and arranged nightly parades.

Battles quickly followed with stones and clubs at first the only weapons, as in the old days, but finally the Skinners arm themselves with the old powder pistols of the day, making of the 70s a turbulent Period. 

In 1877 came the great Baltimore and Ohio Railroad strike which lasted almost a month and door in which scores were killed and hundreds wounded.

The strike started and Cumberland Maryland and when the old six Regiment, Maryland National Guard, was order to embark for Cumberland, a crowd of strike sympathizers gathered about the armory of the Regiment at Fayette and front streets. Officers of the Regiment ask for police protection, but the mob was so great, that the few policeman available at such short notice were unable to disperse the crowd. When the troops marched from the armory, the yelling thousands pressed upon the soldiers, greeting them with taunts and curses. One away could not be cleared for the March to Camden Station and order was given to fire in the air. 

This had no effect upon the mob, which was now ready for violence, and the men were ordered to fire into the crowd. The firing was general all along the way to Camden Station, the 12 men were killed and scores wounded. The fifth Regiment reached the station without firing a shot, but one barking the crowd set fire to the station and when the firemen arrived to quench the blaze they were set upon by the rioters and would have been driven off that the police had not opportunely rescued them. While the soldiers were waiting to embark, the police frequently charged to the mob, using their Espantoons, to drive back that hooting thousands.

The situation became worse and worse, and finally a detachment of men under the command of Deputy Marshal Jacob Fray, who was guarding the station, were forced to draw their revolvers and fired into the crowd. Some eight men were killed and a large number wounded, and about 50 arrest were made.

The situation finally passed beyond police control, although several hundred special officers were sworn in, including such well-known then as C Morton Stewart, Alexander M Green, William M Pegram, and E Wyatt Blanchard. All the local militia were called out, but was unable to cope with the moms. United States regulars from New York and other points were sent to the city and to war vessels with decks cleared and ready for action anchored at the Patapsco. Patrolling the narrow cobblestone gas lit streets was no easy task in those days. Many vicious characters roam the streets and some showed little respect or fear for the law or its representatives.

One night as Sgt., while patrolling a narrow, backstreet, that a gigantic deaf and dumb Negro, who was who was wanted for an assault.

The Sgt. placed the Negro under arrest and attempted to take him to the station house, but the giant black man held both the Sergeant’s arms and pick the policeman up, threw him over his shoulder like a sack of meal, and carried him up three flights of stairs in a house in the neighborhood. They are, in the attic, the Sgt. recognized three other Negroes of desperate character, and he realized that his life was in great danger.

He told the three Negroes that if they did not help him to arrest the deaf and dumb giant he would hound them forever, if he got away alive. The three scoundrels were frightened and taking sides with the Sergeant, the four men attempted to overpower the giant. Struggling, fighting, clawing with the giant Negro uttering the weirdest cries of the Dom, the five men stumbled, fell and rolled down the steps of the house to the sidewalk, where the policeman beat his ass band tune on to the pavement for help. Eight policemen were required before the Negro finally was subdued.

In 1883 the days of walking prisoners to police stations came to an end with the first police patrol came into being. It was patterned after the wagons used in Chicago and was described as a model of convenience. According to the old account of its advantages, it can binds lightness with strength, is conspicuous by its blackbody and bright red running gear and is tastefully marked and numbered. The first police patrol was a thing of never ceasing joy to the urchins of the city, and crowds would stare after it as it rattled down the rough streets. 

To be Baltimore patrolman in the 1880s and 1890s one needed not only brains and brawn. And inmate ability to grow braggadocio mustachios or long flowing beard was almost a necessity. Policemen with faces hidden behind a mass of whiskers were the rule, not the exception. A patrolman of those days, now a Lieut. in the Northwestern district said that when he joined the force the Commissioner ask him why he didn’t grow a beard. I told him I couldn’t, said the lieutenant laughing as a fitting accompaniment to things gone and forgotten, horses, as well as whiskers, were an important part of police equipment. The one worse patrol wagon was in use first, but sometimes later it gave way to its more glorious descendent, the two wars patrol. These old wagons used to gallop at full speed over the rough cobblestone streets, the bearded character excitingly climbing his gone to warn careless pedestrians. Small boy used to gape and wonder, then as now, and follow curiously the progress of a prisoner to the station house.

For a long time said a Sgt. at the Western they would let us have tops to cover the wagons, said the tops would hide the view with the people on the streets and they were afraid the police would be the prisoner. So we as to ride around in the rain and snow until finally in 1896 I believe it was they gave us tops.

The days of the 1890s were long before that of the municipal ambulance system, consequently when injuries occurred the strong police patrol used to be pressed into service as an ambulance. A canvas like contraption suspended by springs to spare the patient the jolts caused by the rough streets was rigged between the seats in each wagon fortunately automobile accidents never occurred in those times and traffic mishaps were few and far between. Different to where the uniforms and equipment of the old-time police. Long coats that reach halfway to the knee were in style, with a three button jumper underneath. Sometimes a vest was born, but more generally under the open code only the jumper showed. The star shaped badges the old helmet which used to keep your ears warm were featured of the equipment of the day.

For a while when Col. Swan was Commissioner we were cork helmets in the summer when one the veteran. Hatched just like the white wings you know. The Commissioner had been down in Panama and he thought the helmet would be comfortable for us in the hot weather. So they were warned to but the first rain they used to melt up and change shape and droop so we got rid of them. Shortly after the installation of the old horse-drawn patrol wagon there came the installation of the box signal and call system and the patrolling of Baltimore streets and the maintenance of peace and order took another upward bound

Athletes, too, began to be recognized, and police gymnasiums were established in the various district station houses. Pictures of old-time athletes depicted brawny men with chest expanding and biceps pushed out, posing proudly, their faces obscured by the luxuriant whiskers of the day.

Active in the athletic work of those days was Capt. Charles H Claiborne, of the southern district, and besides the promoting of athletes he succeeded in the clearing out many of the crooks and gamblers and reading his section of the city of their presence. Capt. Claiborne had served as a first lieutenant in the South Carolina infantry during the Civil War, and during the bombardment of Fort Sumter by federal gunboats in 1862 he had climbed to the top of the parapet and under murderous enemy fire had nailed back to the broken staff the Confederate colors which had been torn down by a chance cannonball. 

With the beginning of the 20th century, although the police force and its methods had advanced with the times, Baltimore was still experiencing acute growing pains, and perhaps the after effects of the Spanish-American war had given a new stimulus to the gang battle prevalent all over the city, especially in the eastern section.

Gang battles were fought in back of Patterson Park and the clay hills and gullies which ran southeastward to Highland town became a veritable no man’s land. In fact the highest Clay Hill was called Bunker Hill. The Bluebirds the Canton Rackers and other gangs actually fought in some semblance of military order, and firearms were used at times by those young ruffians, although the slingshot was the most use weapon.

Some of these young gangsters later became full-fledged criminals, says an old account. One of the most dangerous bands of safe blowers that ever operated in this country made their headquarters in the 700 block of S. Caroline St. Thanks post offices and stores throughout rural Marilyn and many such places in this state and other states were burglarized by this notorious band. They recruited during young boys and train them to be finders were in the vocabulary gay. Their duties were to scout around the town or village in which the bank to be looted was located. Because of their youth they arose little if any suspicion, and then to if picked up by the police they had no criminal record. The police of Baltimore in 1904 exterminated the last of these yeggmen men having fixed headquarters here. The youngest member of that gang was only 17 years old. He died at the Carolina Street headquarters of pneumonia resulting from exposure. 

Strange and different were the scenes of those days

Patrolman taking prisoners to the station houses in their topless horse-drawn patrol would frequently have trouble with the captive and it used to be a common sight to see a prisoner vault the rail of the patrol wagon and jump into the street. The policeman would leap after him and exciting chase would begin.

Flickering gas lights lit the police stations, and silk had it, speeded and came carrying reporters lowered the languidly before the desks. One of fire alarm was sounded in the ancient apparatus started pumping down the streets, the young gentleman of the press would call a horse-drawn hack and be driven by some old Negro cavity to the scene of the conflagration.

It was not thought an incongruous spectacle is a silk had it reporter, carrying a cane, mounted the box beside the driver of the patrol wagon and accompanied the police on some of their ventures into the notorious locus point, Kaufman’s court, and Sandy bottom sections of Baltimore the Northwestern section of the city was then known as the silk stocking or fashionable district, and what is now Roland Park and Guilford was then open country. The southern and eastern parts of the city were rendezvous of the criminal, and many were the adventurous which present-day captains, and spectators and lieutenants, had while patrolling their beats in peach alley and other dangerous criminal localities 

Election days were signals for general gang fights and disorder, and wholesale arrests were made by the Police Department. Station houses were crowded overflowing by the prisoners were kept under lock and key until the polls closed, when they were set free.

Go to roamed at large over the city streets, and Baltimore, in places, resemble the goat festive islands of Malta. An ordinance passed long ago, providing that a goat roaming at large in public property, finally put an end to the animals. In 1904 came the great conflagration, a blaze was destroyed not only property but took a long with it the dreams, customs and habits of the past amid which Baltimore had lived, and created from the ashes of the dreamy city, a new town, body ideas and habits far into the old.

With the dawn of the new inventions and with the growing bustle of the 20th century commercial city the police force changed also. Soon the old uniforms, the ancient horse drone patrols and the old weapons disappeared, and there came to replace them with a high powered automobile today, the automatic pistol, teargas and all the modern inventions of a change in age. Even now the change is incomplete, and slowly fading into the past are the familiar blue coats with high standing collars which button tightly around the neck. To replace them, came they naughtier, double-breasted, rolled collar and brass buttoned blouse adopted some years ago by the Army and Navy. 

Changed to are the Department’s and the new districts. Baltimore once a town with a few volunteer night watchman, is now guarded by a paid police force of more than 1600 men and the city is divided into seven districts and bracing great areas of land.

The traffic department came into being when an air of modern transportation arrived, and even the harbor has its own police. Riot and machine guns are part of the equipment, and in this age of aviation it may not be long before Baltimore has aerial police division to direct traffic of the skies, tagging planes for various violations and maintaining the peace and order of the heavens with the same patients which marks the efforts of the watchmen and constables of the Baltimore town long ago


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