An Attack of the Jim Jams

A note to my readers:  A good number of researchers scour old newspapers for obituaries, birth, death and marriage notices.  After all, they are usually rich with names of relatives and biographies and satisfy so much of the personal data we are looking for.   Occasionally there is a relative that tells you more.  Charles Wallace Jennings is my great great grandmother’s brother and he served as a Union Soldier in the Civil War…enlisting when he was barely sixteen.  He was also the Chief of Police for a few years in my hometown of Auburn, New York.   The Chief’s newspaper reports went from the ho-hum administrative stuff of counting the unlit street lamps and inspecting the awnings of Auburn’s commercial establishments to the 1880’s version of “COPS”.    He had a desk…and a PHONE!…that he promptly had moved to a meeting room.  I assume even in those days the danged contraption became a nuisance to a busy man of law. 

Auburn, New York Chief of Police Charles Wallace Jennings was a hands-on guy.   Good thing, too!

In the early 1880’s Auburn was a hotbed of scalawags and flim flam men, horse thieves, drunks,  ladies in distress and non-functioning street lamps.   And then there was the constant corralling of those that sank into the clutches of the demon rum.

One frigid night in December of 1880 was particularly full of colorful events.  The police report couldn’t be more poetic.  It goes….

Timothy Arundel was arrested for assaulting a Russian with an unpronounceable name; he paid $1.

Constable Mulvey found Moses Howe lying in a snow bank on North street this morning.  He conveyed him to the station house to thaw out.  Howe was stiff as a dead mackerel when Mulvey found him and the officer brought him in on a bob sleigh.

At about 3:30 o’ clock this morning, officer Callanan saw a man running through State street hatless and coatless.  He halted him and from the man’s incoherent talk, the officer thought him crazy, and being unable to find out where he belonged he locked him up in the cooler for safe keeping.”  Chief Jennings is of the opinion the man is suffering with an attack of the “jim jams”.

In fact, the Chief seemed to come across all manner of folks with a taste for gin.

“Chief Jennings was serenaded last evening while on his way through Franklin street.  On looking about to see when the music proceeded, he found the singer lying on his back, happy and full, gushing with vocalistic melody and primed to the full with gin and lager.  The combined solo and chorus in one were invited in (to the calaboose) when it was discovered that the concert was from Skaneateles and “loaded for a bar.”  A small fine released the mellow melodist and he skinned out for Skaneateles today.”

Of course, it wasn’t all tales of Mayberry’s Otis Campbell…there were some serious moments when it was a matter of life and death.

April was a very busy month for Auburn’s finest and it seemed that intoxicated individuals gave the Chief and his force an attack of the “jim jams”.  John Hughes from Waterloo, a father of seven, after coming out of a saloon on North street was observed reeling by Officer Crosbie, “who thought he was about ripe enough to harvest”.  Hughes spotted Crosbie attempting to evade him by entering another saloon.  Crosbie staggered and threw out both hands to balance himself when he fell against a plate glass window fracturing it.   The Officer escorted the bleeding man to headquarters “their passage to the building being marked by a crimson trail”.  By pressing his thumb on the severed artery, Chief Jennings checked the flow of blood “which was running in a stream almost equal to a garden engine”.  When the doctor arrived, he found that one of the main arteries and tendons and muscle had been completely severed.  “But for the timely assistance of Chief Jennings, the injured man would have bled to death before I could have got there to render him any aid, “ the doctor said.  After his wounds had been tended to, Mr. Hughes was locked in a cell.

Newspaper Auburn NY Evening Auburnian 2 FEb 1881 Jennings saves dogThe Chief was no stranger to rescue.  In February he had found a small black and white dog nearly frozen to death near his home and carried the pup into the house and “by application of friction to its body it was thawed out.  The animal passed the night under the folds of a warm blanket and this morning was very lively and frisky.”

Auburn wasn’t the only community that called upon the Chief and his force.  No sirree!    A postcard (YES A POSTCARD!) was sent to Chief with a description of a horse and sleigh stolen from Marcellus.   The fine folks of that village had had enough of horse thieves making off with their carriages, sleighs and horses and formed the Anti-Horse Thief Association to nab the scoundrels.  On a bitter March night, George Baker had discovered his horse and cutter (sleigh) had disappeared from the Presbyterian sheds.  At first it was thought some young boys had made off “intent on a ride” so the vigilante group set a watch to catch the “sportive chaps”.    Men were dispersed throughout the area to lay in wait, but to no avail.  Cold, tired and disgusted they set out to search the area – one fellow all the way to Cortland and another to Moravia upon reports of the stolen rig being seen in those areas.  A telegram from Weedsport stated that the stolen animal had passed through going westward.

Citizens of Union Springs also made their way to Auburn to seek help from the Chief.  Peter Yawger had hired a young man who gave his name as Charles Smith to work on his Springport farm.  Mr. Yawger locked up his house and went to the village to meet his wife on the five o’clock train from Cayuga after she had visited Auburn.  When the couple returned home, they found that the new hired man had disappeared leaving his old duds and taking with him Mr. Yawger’s full dress suit, a pair of pants, boots, hat, shirt and a gold ring.  The next day the hapless Yawger made his way to Auburn and the Chief’s office at police headquarters.  Meantime, Mr. Smith…who was really Mr. Kinney…had “tramped” to Auburn and disposed of the “plunder, getting gloriously drunk on the proceeds” when he had been arrested by Chief Jennings.  According to the chief, Mr. Smith “stands a fair chance of going to Copper John.”

I am sure the Chief was more than relieved when his concerns for the moment ran to unlit street lamps, a tattered awning and warming up a pup.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


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