1914 – The Life Of A Lafayette Park Policeman

Salome at the Metropolitan Opera 1907

Say what you will about composer Richard Strauss – he knew how to incite an audience. In his opera Salome, the  temptress of the same name performs the erotic dance of the seven veils for King Herod. This in return for anything she named, and she demanded the head of John the Baptist. After strenuous objections by Herod, she gets her way. When she receives his head and begins affectionately stroking its hair, she’s rushed by Herod’s indignant soldiers and crushed to death by their shields. This was hot stuff for 1911. When the production came to St Louis, it caused a sensation. 

St Louis Police Chief Young formed a special detail of his most mature policemen to check for indecency in the show at the Coliseum. Assigned to this task was Sgt Edward Dowd, a 37-year police veteran. In 1909, he had been brought up on charges of being “cross and crabid” with his men, but the board found him to be merely a strict disciplinarian. It was then surprising when Dowd got worked up as the soldier actors rushed Salome. He fled the theatre, running until he fell exhausted in front of a bowling alley on Franklin Avenue. At 1:30 am he was found there by other officers, and returned to the Dayton Street police station, where he attempted to file a report on the assault of Salome by the Roman guards. Suspicions in the police house were that Dowd’s exitement was due to something more than grand opera. He slept it off at the station till morning.


Dowd defended himself later by claiming to have been drugged, as he’d only had a Rhine wine and seltzer the night before, and hadn’t had a drink away from home in fifteen years before that. A sergeant for seventeen years in the Magnolia Avenue station with a wife and seven children, Dowd had a hearing before the police board. His rank was reduced to patrolman and he found himself reassigned to the Lafayette Park substation.

1914 marked Edward Dowd’s 40th year with the St Louis Police. Both the St Louis Star and Times and Post Dispatch feted Dowd for his long service, and for never having shot anyone in the line of work. 

   

 

 

 

Edward Dowd was born in County Kerry, Ireland, and came to Missouri when he was 15. He came here to be with his brother, who served as Chief of Police for Kansas City, MO. After working a while there, he moved to St Louis, joining the police as a plainclothes detective for two years, a beat cop on the levee for six, and then the Mounted Police. He married the former Mary O’Leary and lived for twenty years on Eugenia Street.

He was lauded as the veteran of hundreds of arrests and a score of desperate battles, without ever resorting to firing his pistol. He was quoted thus: “ A man who shoots before he is compelled to is a coward”. From the Star and Times of January 13, 1914:

“It was no coward who, single-handed, captured three desperate armed burglars and marched them seven blocks to the police station, but that was what Dowd did. And he never fired a shot to do it. To be sure, he had to hit one of them a “polthogue”(1) on the head with his revolver to convince them he meant business and then forced the other two to carry him. To be sure, the man who was hit spend a few days in the hospital, but he was well and hearty when he got out, which would not have been the case had Dowd exercised the skill with the revolver he still possesses.

A search through the records shows a few interesting events in Lafayette Park in this same year. 

One of the men lived at 1212 Dolman Street, and the other was an employee of City Hospital. It might be surmised that they were sleeping in the park because it was a cool spot on a night in late June. The victims gave a description of the missing items to police, who quickly found  Smith with the loot. He maintained that he “earned the money by labor, bought the ring at the five and ten cent store, and found the watch”. The men’s valuables were returned and Frank Smith was off to the calaboose. 

A month later, a man with a name he would have regretted 50 years later tried to kill himself in  the park. City parks appear to have been popular places for suicide attempts, and there are numerous examples, but 1914 was a busy year indeed. 

For the record, he had his stomach pumped and his life saved. He said he was ill, without work for three months, and lived with his mother. So he was ok for the moment, but still had his work, illness and mother issues to resolve.  

In September, Mrs Charlotte Bruesche of 1315 South 9th Street tried to drown herself in the lagoon in Lafayette Park after walking the streets all night, because her  husband chided her for her lax housekeeping. The mother of four was rescued by the police patrolmen who saw her plunge into the water. 

 

Happily, according to the Star and Times,  “she was taken home by her husband after restoratives had been applied at City Hospital and they became reconciled.”

On December 15, 1914, Edward Dowd died. He was 64 years old. The funeral notice was perfunctory, and I could find no word concerning cause of death. The average American male lived to 52 years of age in 1914, so Edward did pretty well for himself. 

Police Substation in 1920

The police substation at Lafayette Park served the outer reaches of the Third District Soulard Police Station until 1937. It then was decommissioned, used as a park office and eventually boarded up in the late 1950’s. It was rededicated as the Park House in 1975. It holds a lot of history, and the people who worked there held many of those tales. 

(1)  A polthouge was originally the name for a fast Irish dance, like a jig. It became synonymous with a crack on the head in Irish American usage. An example from an 1870 novel called Sidney Bellew has this example: “He always said it was through robbin’ a convint of a nun, and the howly Vargin herself lep out o’ windy an’ hit him a thremendous polthouge on the sconce for the sin”. 

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