Commissioner Roosevelt

“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

Today in History, May 6, 1895:

Theodore Roosevelt is sworn in as the President of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City, effectively, the Police Commissioner. That’s right, TR was a cop. He instituted numerous policies to root out corruption in the city’s police department, making several enemies along the way. Officers on the beat grew used to Commissioner Roosevelt showing up at all hours of the day and night. The corrupt officers hated him; the honest officers loved him. He was tireless and relentless, a trait his family was well aware of, and that the national politicians were soon to become well acquainted with.

At this point in his storied life, Roosevelt had “built his body” as a sickly child, successfully completed studies at Harvard, traveled Europe, become a NY state legislator, lost his mother and wife the same day after the birth of his daughter, and secluded himself to the Dakota Territory in grief.  While in the west he took on his persona as a “cowboy”, having chased and captured thieves, fought in barroom fights, raised cattle, and hunted frequently.

NYC was TR’s hometown, and when he got the job as Police Commissioner he was driven to rid not only the police department but the city of it’s rampant corruption.  He would make “Midnight” walks around the city, catching officers sleeping or taking solace in the bawdy houses.  He also worked against real corruption within the department, making enemies.

Roosevelt also took steps to provide the officers training, firearms and equipment they’d never had before, intent on making them into a professional agency.  These efforts won him many fans within the rank and file.

One of his less popular actions…obviously a mistake…was when he ordered all of the houses of liquor closed on Sunday.  The only problem is that the high society Roosevelt did not realize working class German and Irish voters worked 6 days a week…Sunday was their only day to “throw one back.”

Of course after his adventures on NYPD Roosevelt went on to be Under Secretary of the Navy where he helped build a modern force, the Colonel of the Rough Riders in Cuba, NY Governor, Vice-President, President, and then adventurer and hunter.

You never know what will be the final epitaph or testimonial for someone.  To this day it can be argued whether Theodore Roosevelt was more hated or more loved by the officers he worked with.

However a chance encounter at his funeral near Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY in January of 1919 proves TR’s influence for me.

As the mourners trailed out after the service, a Police Captain stopped Roosevelt’s sister, Corinne.  It had been nearly a quarter century since the man had worked for “The Commissioner.”  Do you know how much time hardens a policeman?  The Captain was in tears, overcome.

“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

The Battle of Alcatraz

Today in History, May 4, 1946:

Call in the Marines! The Battle of Alcatraz.

On May 2nd, three inmates on D Block of Alcatraz prison managed to overtake the block of cells. One of them managed to expand and crawl between bars leading to the catwalk above the cells and overpower the guard there.

Soon they had imprisoned the guards in two cells and taken their weapons. Now they only needed to find the key to the “yard” and they could steal the island’s launch to escape. However by the time they found the key, they had tampered with the lock so much that a security feature kicked in and they were sealed inside.

Over the next couple of days they fired on guards outside and on the guards they had imprisoned inside, killing 3 and injuring 14.

The Warden called for help from Marines stationed at the nearby Treasure Island Naval Base, many of whom were fresh from fighting Japanese hidden in caves in the Pacific. The Marines assaulted D Block with machine gun fire, grenades and mortars. When the guards went to secure the building, they found the three ringleaders dead in a utility corridor to which they had retreated. Two more inmates would later be executed for their role in the attempted escape.

Living Where You Please – Shelley v. Kraemer

Today in History, May 3, 1948:

The US Supreme Court hands down a decision in Shelley v Kraemer, asserting housing rights for minorities.

In 1906 a nice two-story home was built in the 4600 block of Labadie Street in a neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1911 residents of the neighborhood established a covenant which was common in America in the early Twentieth Century; the agreement ensured their neighborhood would remain “white only.” Home owners agreed not to sell to African-Americans or Asian-Americans.

In 1930 the Shelley family moved to St. Louis from Mississippi to escape pervasive racial bias. They were raising their six children when in 1945 a home owner agreed to break the covenant and sell them the house on Lebadie Street.

Another owner, Kraemer, filed suit to prevent the sale. The local court ruled in favor of the Shelleys, the Missouri state court against them. The case was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In a decision reminiscent of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court set things right. The covenant was a private, not a state agreement. Therefore, the court system did not have the authority to prevent the covenants. This also meant the courts could not ENFORCE them. The Fourteenth Amendment protections of equal enforcement of laws and property rights had been been upheld.

How to Live Life with Honor; How to Die with Grace. Lou Gehrig Taught Us All

Today in History, April 30, 1939:

“The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.”

Lou Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive game in major league baseball, and his last.

A member of the original New York Yankees “Murderer’s Row” (1927), by ’39 Gehrig’s health was obviously failing and in his last game he failed to hit a single ball.

Two days later he walked up to the coach Joe McCarthy, “I’m benching myself, Joe.”

The fans were in shock when it was announced that Gehrig would not be playing. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that slowly degraded the body, but fiendishly left the mind entirely in tact, now know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

1939 was an eventful year…Hitler’s Nazi party was preparing to take over Europe, war raged in the Orient, Gone with the Wind took to the silver screen.

But after the news about Lou Gehrig spread, July 4th was designated Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.

Fans, dignitaries, teammates and the press filled Yankee Stadium beyond capacity and the country watched. After Babe Ruth and many others gave their tributes, Lou stepped to the microphone and announced that he was the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth, in spite of “catching a bad break”. There wasn’t a dry eye in stadium, likely few in the country.

New Orleans Surrenders

Today in History, April 29, 1862:

The surrender of New Orleans.

The Confederacy was determined to protect the jewel of the South, it’s largest port and therefore source of supply from abroad.

They were convinced the attack would come from the north, and placed the bulk of their army forces and naval forces in Tennessee and Mississippi. This left New Orleans to be defended by about 3,000 militia and two forts below her on the River, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip.

Union Flag Officer David Farragut took his force of Union ships and tried to silence the forts, and failing that decided to run past the batteries in a fierce battle. By the 28th his fleet lay off the city on the Mississippi.

If you’ve ever been to the French Quarter and watched ships move by ABOVE you on the river, you’ll understand why the Confederate commander there told the mayor the battle was already lost and withdrew his forces.

The next day, the 29th, Farragut’s childhood home surrendered to him. David Farragut was adopted by Capt. David Porter after his mother died, and began his naval career at age 9. He would become the first Rear Admiral, the first Vice Admiral, and the first Admiral in the US Navy. His adoptive brothers, David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be naval heroes that attained flag rank.

The capture of New Orleans by Union forces helped cut off the Confederacy from outside supply, and from their territories in the west.

Magellan Killed

Today in History, April 27, 1521:

Explorer, navigator Ferdinand Magellan is killed by a poison arrow in the Philippines.

The Portuguese Magellan convinced Spanish King Charles I to bankroll an expedition to locate a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Americas. The Spaniards he led were not loyal to him; at one point he had to put down a mutiny.

He did, however succeed in finding the passage, around the southern tip of South America, now the Strait of Magellan. It took his small fleet 38 days to sail the strait, and 99 days to sail across the vast Pacific (which he named) to Guam. Continuing on towards the Spice Islands,

Magellan stopped in the Philippines, where he allowed himself to become involved in a squabble between tribes…during which he was shot by a poison arrow. His shipmates abandoned him, leaving him to die.

They then continued on to the Spice Islands, filled their cargo holds with spices, and completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Guess the lesson is if you’re taking on a big task…stay on task and try to pick people that can be loyal to you.

Lincoln’s Assassin Killed

Today in History, April 26, 1865:

Union Army forces track down John Wilkes Booth 12 days after he assassinated President Lincoln.

In the meantime, he had been hidden by Confederates, treated by Doctor Samuel Mudd (your name is mud) and hidden in a barn on the Garrett farm in Virginia, where he was found. The barn was set afire and his associate surrendered.

Booth refused…a Union soldier, Boston Corbett, saw Booth inside the barn and fired his Colt revolver…causing a mortal wound to Booth.

Many Confederates saw Booth as a hero. However many Southerners wept openly at Lincoln’s death, and Confederate Generals, including Lee and Johnston, denounced Booth’s actions.

Fortunately, in the interim between his deed and his death, Booth was able to see news accounts that recorded his benefactor’s denunciation of his act. So when he died, he knew what he was.