Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Police Commissioner - Hanged In Effigy

History is a story of context. Each particular subject invites the elaboration of many related topics, and each in turn raise new topics to be explored. The articles below are no exception. In July 1904, the boys of Jamaica Plain saw fit to hang the Boston police commissioner in effigy - twice. To know why, we need at least a passing knowledge of the man, and the traditions of Fourth of July celebrations in Boston.

Taking the last first, Boston had a long history of bonfires and related mischief on the Fourth of July. Each year, police and fire departments would rush from place to place, putting out fires and dealing with excited mobs of revelers. Fireworks were manufactured in many places in the city - including Jamaica Plain - and firecrackers and rockets were a major hazard to body and property. By the early 20th Century, these lawbreaking revels seem to have lessened, but the tradition remained.

The police commissioner was a Judge Emmons. At the time, the Boston police commissioner was named by the Governor of Massachusetts. This is often described as an effort by the Yankee power structure to control the newly empowered immigrant population of their capital city. Judge Emmons was named commissioner by Governor Bates in 1903. Emmons was seen as a likely pick for a superior court appointment, but Bates chose him for the job as a political stroke, replacing the disliked incumbant, while not giving in to pressure to name a political favorite.

As it happens, Emmons was a temperance man, and saw no reason why a man would ever take a drink. As such, he was a stickler for the law when it came to drink. Illegal drinking establishments were shut down, and public drunkenness was rewarded with time in a cell.

Emmons the Killjoy also cracked down on the long-favored unofficial Fourth of July celebrations, which finally brings us to Jamaica Plain and our articles.

Boston Daily Globe July 1, 1904

In Effigy. Emmons "Hanged" at West Roxbury. Excitement in Neighborhood of Boylston Station. Figure Kicked and Stoned and Finally Burned.

To express their opinion of the edict issued by Judge Emmons with regard to the celebration of the Fourth, a crowd of boys and young men of West Roxbury hanged the chairman of the police commissioners in effigy at Boylston station last evening.

That part of the city is usually deserted after 9 p.m., but last night the square was alive with excitement, and the crowd paraded up and down the streets for some time making merry at the judge's expense.

How and where the movement originated nobody seems to know, and the greatest secrecy was observed by all those who participated.

Shortly after 9 o'clock, the crowd began to gather, and before long it had assumed large proportions. From some hidden corner a sorry figure of a man was dragged out amid cheers. A rope was fastened about the neck, and struggling to get a hold of the effigy, the crowd ran up and down the street shouting their disapproval of the chairman of the police board. Not content with dragging it through the mud, the crowd kicked and stoned it to their heart's content.

The episode created the greatest excitement in the neighborhood of the station and the word the "the gang was having some fun with Judge Emmons" spread rapidly. Finally the figure was strung from a pole and a card announced that it was "Judge Emmons."

Later in the evening somebody set it afire, but an officer of division 13 came along and extinguished the fire and took down the effigy. Altogether it was a great night at Boylston station.

Boston Daily Globe July 5, 1904

Emmons In Effigy. Hanged in Jamaica Plain About 2 O'Clock, and Again Four Hours Later in the Same District.

About 2 o'clock yesterday morning Judge Emmons was hanged in effigy in Jamaica Plain at the corner of Chestnut ave and Green st. The figure was strung on a wire across the street and bore a sign marked "A Poor Dub - Judge Emmons."

The cries of derision of those gathered around attracted the attention of patrolman Franks, who removed it and conveyed it to the station house.

About 6 o'clock a second effigy was but up on Eliot st and remained until 8 o'clock, when an officer removed it.

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