Strange Times 78: Blood Streamed From His Wounds

Today brings desperate bandits, pie-stuffed Californians, and an old man who just really, really wanted to adopt a 29-year-old woman. Go out in a blaze of glory on…

March 19, 1921

  • The British government offers to give away 10 airships to any firm that can operate them.

  • 25,000 gather at Madison Square Garden to demonstrate against the “Rhine Horror” conspiracy theory.

  • The Cook County States Attorney announces a new indictment against the eight Chicago White Sox accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.

  • George Washington Knight, the so-called “ripper” of Perth Amboy, is indicted for murder. His trial is postponed until next week, however, when the National Baptist Convention asks time to provide a mental examination of the accused killer.

  • Commodore Charles B. Lockwood, a wealthy yachtsman, pledges $100 to the cause of Romanian stowaway John Jacobson, and demands Congress admit the child to the United States immediately.

  • The Weather: Partly cloudy and warmer today; Sunday, unsettled and warmer; fresh east to south winds.

Surely this isn’t real. Surely it’s more likely that a print of White Heat or Angels With Dirty Faces fell through a time warp to be projected on a wall in 1921 Chicago, where a group of policemen mistakenly believed they had gotten into a gunfight with the great James Cagney. 

CHICAGO, March 18.—A “two-gun” bandit fought thirty policemen here today until riddled with bullets, and died trying to fire his last shell. Barricaded on a back porch at 3127 Fifth Avenue the bandit mad his stand, laughing, swearing and joking while blood streamed from his many wounds. Police have sent his description all over the country. They believe that he is wanted for murder and preferred to die in battle than surrender to the executioner.

The battle started when Policeman James Nix attempted to question the man at Madison Street and Francisco Avenue. His answer to Nix was a bullet that penetrated the policeman’s left leg. Nix sounded the alarm and pursued the bandit, keeping up a running fire. Policeman Walter Berndt joined the chase. Nix, weak from loss of blood, fell after following for several blocks.

Just west of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows the bandit scaled an iron picket fence. Policeman Berndt had his first clear shot. He put a bullet in the right shoulder of the man, who screamed as he returned the fire. He at last reached the alley, climbed the stairs of the two-story brick building and crouched in a dark corner prepared to shoot it out.

Police Lieutenant William Fitzgerald arrived at this time with a squad of policemen. In a few moments the shotgun squad from the Detective Bureau reached the scene.

Sergeant C.J. Fitzgerald and Policeman John Finerty located the bandit on the porch. Others had climbed to the roof of a two-story building across the alley and started a steady fusillade. Mrs. Anna Sutherland lives alone in the apartment where the gunman took refuge. Going through her apartment Sergeant Fitzgerald, Garrett Brennan and Policeman Finerty kept up a rapid-fire, sweeping the back porch. The bandit drove six bullets at the police through the glass door.

“Come and get me, you ——,” he called at them. Finerty took aim and fired. His bullet struck the man in the temple. The tree rushed out on the porch; one revolver lay by the fallen man. He gripped another and tried to fire the last shot, as he sank back dead.

On the inside coat pocket of the bandit, a label bore the name “John Yeager” and the name of an Akron, Ohio, tailoring firm. The firm has gone out of business and police of Akron were not able to identify the man, who was about 30 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed about 185 pounds.

This is one of the worst-written articles I’ve encountered in the Times, whose prose is usually clear if occasionally awkward. It was all I could do not to rewrite it myself.

WASHINGTON, March 18.—When D. E. Ciphers, Civil War veteran and very fond of home made mince pie, wrote to congratulate Mrs. Harding on the election he was also elated over the fact that it had insured a regular flow of pies all Winter at his home in Haywards, Cal.

Mrs. Ciphers, her husband said, cast her first vote when she marked her ballot for President Harding, and promised in case of victory to keep the home fires burning in celebration with pies as the fruits of victory. She has kept her promise, he added.

There is so much in this story that’s going unsaid, too much for me to confidently parse it out. At the heart of it there seems to be something genuinely sweet—an old man who, for reasons unsaid, wants a firm legal connection to a younger woman who seems to want the same thing. It’s almost touching until you reach the part about “placing negro songs before the public,” and you realize in a classic Strange Times twist ending, “A-ha! They were all in blackface the entire time!”

Surrogate Cohalan denied yesterday an application by Herbert N. Curtis, a bachelor, 67 years old, who lives at 47 East Seventy-fourth Street, for permission to adopt Mary Lois Fox, a professional entertainer, 29 years old. Mr. Curtis told the Surrogate that he met Miss Fox six years ago through his sister and that she taught him modern dancing steps for two years. He has assisted her in placing negro songs before the public, he said. He wants to make her his foster daughter, he says, that she may be a comfort to him in his old age.

“If that is your reason for wanting to adopt this young woman you won’t do it with the aid of this court,” said the Surrogate. “It is a parody on all laws of society, and if I were to be a party to such an adoption we would have a lot of old roues coming in here wanting to adopt young girls.”

Miss Fox’s attorney had her go on the witness stand to tell the Surrogate her reason for consenting to the adoption. She said the elderly man’s interest in her was purely platonic and that his attitude had always been that of a father. She said she expected to be married soon and wanted to be in a position to treat Mr. Curtis as her father and to have him live with her and her husband. She met him in a church choir, she said.

The Surrogate decided that Miss Fox should wait until after her marriage, and then she could either become the foster daughter of Mr. Curtis or she could adopt him as her son.