Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Officer Miller: The Early Years

In the week before the Fourth of July, I searched issues of the Evening Register from 1915 for clues about how Hudson celebrated Independence Day a hundred years ago. Little was discovered on that subject. Instead what was found were almost daily reports about Officer Miller. Every day for a week, I reported Officer Miller's exploits on Gossips, but my interest in him didn't end there. I discovered that it is possible, based solely on newspaper accounts, to put together a fairly complete and certainly interesting account of Officer Miller's career on the Hudson police force--one that also provides insight into life in Hudson during that time.

Officer Miller, whose first name was Frank, joined the Hudson police force on March 3, 1914. His earliest newsworthy adventure, reported on April 4, 1914, was finding a mule wandering the streets of Hudson and seeing it safely returned to its owner in Greenport. 

Officer Miller's regular beat during his first decade as a police officer was downtown, patrolling the length of Front Street but especially around the train station, where he often arrested people for public drunkenness. The offenders--usually described as "foreigners"--would spend the night in jail. The next morning in court, they would be fined and told to leave town. There were exceptions. In September 1915, Officer Miller arrested a farmhand from Germantown, whom he discovered "unable to navigate and . . . holding onto the fence above the depot like a good fellow." In court the next day, Office Miller did not press charges, "declaring that the man caused him no trouble, was married and seemingly a good worker." The farmhand, who told the judge he had come to Hudson "to do some shopping," was allowed to go.

Things did not go as well for a man intercepted by Officer Miller endeavoring to board a train on an afternoon in May 1915, with a kit of tools he presumably intended to use for some nefarious purpose. On the way to jail, the man got "real lippy" and "threatened to 'trim up' several persons." In jail, he blackened the eye of a fellow inmate and had to be placed in a padded cell. The next morning, he was sent to "Albany penitentiary" for sixty days.

The train station and its environs were the scene of other arrests as well. In December 1914, Officer Miller arrested a "hobo" who had stolen a pocket watch from a watchman at the train station in Poughkeepsie. (The watchman was apparently napping on the job, which left him vulnerable to having his pocket picked.) In November 1915, Officer Miller arrested two people for stealing coal from the railroad yards. He caught one coal thief at four in the morning, and the other at six. Before the city magistrate, the first explained that his child was ill, and he had never gotten into trouble before. The second explained that her husband was sick. The judge suspended the $15 fine for the man with the sick child but required the woman with the sick husband to pay the fine, because it was not the first time she'd been caught stealing coal.

Young Officer Miller also dealt with fires. In the summer of 1914, he put out a fire on West State Street that had been started by "a trio of Polish children," and he was on the scene to reprimand a five-year-old on Mill Street who had started a fire because he wanted to see "big smoke." In December 1914, Officer Miller burst into a burning building on Warren Street to wake the people asleep in the apartments above the store and get them to safety.

Officer Miller was often called upon to deal with domestic squabbles. In July 1915, he had to intervene when a housewife on Columbia Street got into an argument with her landlord that escalated into fisticuffs. The summer before, he arrested a man on Diamond Street for carrying a concealed weapon--a knife with which he intended to kill his wife and her mother. When arrested the man told Miller menacingly, "I've got a right to do what I want to my own family, haven't I? I'll get you yet!"

Officer Miller was one of the arresting officers in what the police believed was an attempted burglary at Wardles pharmacy. The accused, presumably caught in the act, had been a student at Albany Medical College and had served as an intern in a few hospitals in and near Buffalo, but he had abandoned his medical career to explore the world in a motorized yacht. Accompanied by his wife, he had been cruising the Caribbean for two years, visiting Cuba and the Bahamas, prior returning to New York. They had stopped in Hudson because the boat was having mechanical problems. He was discovered in the yard behind the Wardles shop. The police said he had jumped the fence to gain access to the rear of the building; the accused said he had jumped the fence to answer an urgent call of nature. The police alleged that a black cloth with holes in it that Officer Miller found in the yard was a mask the accused planned to use in the burglary; the accused claimed it was a cloth he used to cover the magneto on his boat.

The best stories from the early years of Officer Miller's career involve automobiles. On an evening in July 1914, Officer Miller arrested the chauffeur of a "big touring car" that was dashing down Warren Street at the reckless speed of 30 miles an hour. In the car were the chauffeur's employer and "some ladies." When arraigned before the judge, the chauffeur stated that "the party was en route to Albany, being in a hurry to get there. He boasted of being able to drive through the principal streets in New York at 25 miles an hour without being molested by the 'coppers.'" In New York maybe; in Hudson never.

In December 1916, Officer Miller played a role in stopping a stolen car and arresting the car theft. Here is Officer Miller's part of the story, as reported in the Hudson Evening Register for December 18, 1916.

Shooting at the tires of the speeding car was the extent of Officer Miller's involvement in the escapade, but the rest of the story is too good not to be told. Officer Kennedy, "in the upper part of the city," heard about the stolen car heading his way. He went to the Crescent Garage (at Eighth and Warren streets) and "secured a touring car to give chase." (This is before police officers had cars.) The car, being driven by Crescent Garage employee Walter Hazelton with Officer Kennedy as a passenger, headed south on Worth Avenue. Just over the Hudson border, they found the car abandoned in front of the Ten Broeck property. Apparently, the driver had tried to turn around and got one of the wheels stuck in a culvert. He had left the car and headed out on foot.

After arranging for the car to be towed, Hazelton and Officer Kennedy headed back to town and were hailed on Warren Street by a young man seeking a ride to the train station. Suspecting this was the car thief, Officer Kennedy surreptitiously removed his hat so the young man would not realize he was getting into a car with a police officer, and Hazelton agreed to take him to the station. He drove him not to the train station but to the police station.

No comments:

Post a Comment