History of incarceration rich and vivid within town's corporate limits

Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Saturday, September 11, 1999

Author: Roberta and J. Hurley Hagood , For the Courier-Post

Hannibal had its first jail in 1847.

Before Hannibal was chartered as a city, it was chartered as a town. Its first status as a recognized town was the 26th of February, 1839 when the state approved its application. When the population had reached minimum requirements for recognition as a city, Hannibal successfully applied for the new status in 1845. There was no jail provision in either of the charters as a town or city.

Before the first jail was established, ordinances of the early Town of Hannibal did not specify any punishment involving a jail. Unlawful acts were punished by monetary fines if the offenders were white, and specific lashes on the back if the offenders were slaves.

In 1847, two years after becoming a city, a one-room building on North Street at its intersection with Craig's Alley (later called Bridge Street) was designated as the city's calaboose. The prisoners who were confined there were usually convicted of drunkenness, fighting or theft.

The city councilmen decreed that slave owners could place unruly slaves in the calaboose at a charge of 10 cents per day. The key to the facility was held by the city marshal. To deter escape, a high fence was built around the calaboose in 1849. The building lacked any provision for sanitation, and in truth, soon became unfit for use.

In 1851, the first calaboose building was razed, and a new calaboose was built on the same site. Years later, the Hannibal Daily Clipper carried a description of the new calaboose, stating it was a 28x40-foot structure with four rooms and two halls, and was made of "undressed" limestone and cobblestone set together with coarse mortar. The lowest bid on the construction of the calaboose was made by Patrick Wills, and he built the jail for the city.

A large spring, located at the rear of the calaboose, provided water for the prisoners. Later this same spring provided water for a pork packing plant.

All through the years, the city paid various citizens to feed the prisoners, at first paying 15 cents a day with a menu of bread and water. Later the fee was raised to 20 cents a meal and the typical bill of fare was potato, bacon, bread and coffee served two or three times a day.

A prisoner burns to death

Many stories about the calaboose have come down through the years by way of the newspapers of earlier times. In 1853, five newspapers existed in Hannibal, and all carried accounts of the death of Dennis McDermid by fire. Those newspaper stories varied according to the writer, but the Morning Journal of Jan. 27 printed the story which is most accurate according to the facts handed down to the descendants of Rev. John M. Johnson, a Baptist minister who knew McDermid best.

McDermid, a 40-year-old man, came to Missouri from Indiana in 1851 seeking employment. He found a job as a hired man at the home of Rev. John Moorman Johnson and his wife, Sally Kelly Johnson. Rev. Johnson was a Baptist minister, but he farmed extensively to support his large family. Their farm was about four miles south of Hannibal on the road now known as Route "O" on a site known as "High Point." McDermid also worked for Mrs. Johnson's sister, Mary and her husband, James Mills, who lived on the same road.

Both families regarded him as a "good hearted, clever, and honest man" according to the newspaper account. After about a year at the Johnsons, he decided to take a job as a laborer on the building of the New London to Hannibal plank road. The rate of pay was much higher. He left the Johnsons and lived with other road crew men.

For recreation the work crew came to Hannibal on Saturday nights to have a good time. On a Saturday night in January 1853 McDermid came to town with the work crew. It is probable that he was unaccustomed to liquor and he became intoxicated. In fact, he was so drunk he lost control of his actions. It was a very cold night and he tried to break into the house of a black family on North Street. He was arrested by Marshal Ben Hawkins and thrown into the calaboose.

It is not known how the building caught fire, probably from a fire built to heat his jail room, or maybe from his pipe. Marshal Hawkins had gone to his home, some distance away, but had left a key with someone close by. The presence of the fire became known in early morning as McDermid screamed for help.

Efforts to break into the calaboose to rescue him were futile, the person with the key wasn't located and McDermid perished in the fire.

Rev. Johnson claimed the remains and conducted a burial service at the old City Cemetery at the top of North Seventh Street. He wrote to McDermid's mother in Madison, Ind.

During repairs to the calaboose, a temporary jail was provided in an old warehouse near the river.

Prisoners were required to work on streets and curbing and for work in the city quarry on Holliday Hill (later called Cardiff Hill) under strict guard, or being chained to a heavy metal ball.

Slaves kept in calaboose

Another story, documented by a personal journal by Franklin Harriman, tells of an additional use of the jail in the 1850s.

In 1859, during the gold and silver rush to Pike's Peak and Denver, two boys, George and Franklin Harriman, left their home in Elkhorn, Wis., intending to go to Colorado. They traveled southward in a wagon drawn by two horses, with another horse tied behind the wagon. They came through Iowa and when they were at Alexandria, Mo., they had their first view of the institution of slavery.

A tavern keeper eyeing the extra horse, and coveting it, offered to trade them the baby of one of his slaves for the horse, He said the baby was worth $150. George and Franklin were offended by the offer and refused to trade.

When they reached Hannibal, they talked with some men en route to their eastern homes, and having come recently from the Colorado mining fields. These men were disenchanted and reported that the "stories of riches in Colorado were a humbug." George decided to go back home to Wisconsin. He sold the wagon and horses to secure boat fare north. Franklin decided to stay in Hannibal.

Franklin found a job in a livery stable owned by Harvel Jordan and Nathaniel Fuqua on North Main. (It was on the site of the 1999 location of Murphy's Automobile Company.) Franklin worked at the livery stable seven months before leaving Hannibal. He slept on the premises.

He soon learned that the livery barn was one of the headquarters for slave trade. The slave trader was a surly man named William Owsley.

In his written account of his sojourn in Hannibal, Franklin stated that Owsley sat around the livery stable office with an unlighted cigar hanging from his mouth. When slaves were brought in, he would look them over and make an offer. Usually a sale resulted. He would then lock the slave in the calaboose which was across North Street from the livery. Owsley may have paid the city for the use of the calaboose, or the city marshal may have ignored the presence of the slaves.

After he had accumulated a few slaves, he would wait for the arrival of a southbound packet boat with which he dealt. They would usually consent to take on cargo. Owsley would handcuff his captives or chain them together, load them on the boat and accompany them south and sell them. In a week or two he would be back at the livery stable office to make more purchases.

The whole procedure was sad and distasteful to Franklin but he knew he could not help the unfortunate slaves, and that as a northener, it would not be safe to speak against the system.

Franklin was fascinated with the riverfront activity, and got acquainted with the roustabouts and draymen. One black worker, a former slave, had earned enough to buy his freedom and was saving his meager earnings to buy the freedom of his wife and child.

One day, while Franklin was watching this black worker help Owsley load his human cargo on a boat, the freed slave recognized his own wife and child in the line-up destined to be sold in the south. The poor black man was powerless to prevent them from going with Owsley. Franklin wrote, "I felt sad, but could do nothing. However, years later, when Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves, I remembered the tears of that poor man, and wondered if he and his family ever got back together."

A new calaboose

As before, the calaboose fell into poor repair and the city was obligated to provide a better one in 1878.

A new one was built on Lot 7 of Block 14, that is to say, on the east side of South Third Street between Church and Lyon Streets, the second lot north of Lyon Street. The mayor, W.B. Drescher, requested Marion County officials to share the building cost in exchange for sharing the use of the new jail. The county was unwilling to do so. However, years later, the county did use the next Hannibal jail for a while.

A tragic explosion at the old North Street calaboose building

In 1878, the old calaboose at North Street was sold for $500 to a new company which was locating in Hannibal, the Hannibal Meat Company. The owners lived in Pennsylvania. The local manager was J. D. Armstrong.

Prior to this time meat had been packed in barrels in layers of salt for shipment south to market. This new company had plans to process and can the meat under pressure, then ship it.

A dedication of the new plant was planned. Instead of cutting a ribbon to officially start the new business, Armstrong decided to have a ceremony in which the first beef would be slaughtered. A new mayor, Benton Coontz, was invited to do the honors. He accepted the honor, or privilege. A large crowd gathered. Coontz arrived. He was given a sledge hammer with which to hit the doomed creature between the eyes.

The animal was led in and faced its executioner. In a confident manner, Mayor Coontz raised the sledge over his shoulders and delivered as hard a blow to the beef's head as he could. The animal did not fall, but continued to chew its cud and to look Coontz in the eye. Coontz turned and smiled at the crowd. Then, with a little less confidence, he raised the sledge and tried again. The animal continued to gaze at him, quizzically. The crowd began to titter. An experienced butcher who was an employee of the company, knowing that the mayor was doing his best but would not succeed, stepped forward and in a friendly gesture patted the mayor on the shoulder, took the sledge and in an apparently effortless swing of the sledge killed the first beef for the meat company. The crowd applauded.

The company had the problem of caring for the fresh meat until it was canned. Cooling the meat with ice was necessary. Instead of using the river ice which was sold in town all year, the Hannibal Meat Company brought in the first equipment for making artificial ice. Thus the first ice manufacturing in the city, and reportedly, the first in the state, was made on 1 June 1878 in the old calaboose building. However, it was a difficult and unsafe process. Only a month later, on 1 July 1878, the machine exploded and two men were killed, namely, William Noland and Harry Gould. The building was damaged so badly, the meat company moved its operations to another building on Lot 33 on the waterfront. It operated a few years.

Prisoners at work

In 1885, prisoners under guard were used to quarry stone at the top of Main Street on Holliday Hill. A chute was constructed down the hill from the quarry to North Street. The problem of prisoners escaping was solved by building an 8-foot high fence around the work area and down the hillside along each side of the chute.

A robbery in the jail

There was an armed robbery inside the jail on 13 January 1875. Sixteen vagrants had been given refuge from the cold in the jail building. A robber entered the jail and the following items were stolen: a hat, one pair of shoes, and one plug of chewing tobacco.

In 1885, the new jail on Third Street was sold to the railroad company which built sidetracks through the lot.

A new prison site was a necessity. For some time, city officials had wanted to buy the lot at the southwest corner of 4th and Church Streets, next to other city property. However, when Stephen Glascock laid out the town in 1838, by virtue of his commission to plat the city, he had reserved that particular lot to be used only for building a church. A jail hardly met that provision.

The lot belonged to the heirs of Zachariah Draper, an early prominent citizen. The heirs wanted to sell the lot, and the husband of one of the heirs cooperated in securing a court action on the zoning restriction ­ the deed was altered and court action was in favor of the city. As a safeguard against later zoning problems, it was decided to designate one room of the new jail as a chapel wherein prisoners could have religious services presented to them if this desire arose.

Having cleared the way to build the new jail, the city council, on 20 April 1885, hired architect James Hogg to draw plans. On 4 May 1885 the plans were accepted. Bids were opened and on 4 May, Hogg Brothers were given the contract for the superstructure and Dan Murphy and Son were given the $595 contract for the stone work.

The Murphys completed the stone work, foundation and walls, on 6 July 1885. On 8 July a contract was let to Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company of St. Louis for $1,575 to construct the cells. By 5 October, the cells were in place. Hoggs completed the first story brick work and received the first $1,000 payment according to the agreement. Before the end of the year, they had also completed the roof, towers, etc. On Jan. 21, 1886, Hoggs received the final payment of $911.76. On Feb. 1, 1886 the city declared the jail complete and it was put into use.

The rear room of the second story was declared to be for use of the court. Later in 1887, the federal courts were given use of the front room on the second floor until their new court room was ready in the new federal building at Sixth and Broadway.

In September 1870 the city created a new position, "Prison Keeper," and Marshal C. Bullock was first to hold the job. After several years, he was succeeded by William Disbrow and in 1892 William Daniels succeeded Disbrow.

Getting prisoners to jail

One of the legends regarding police work was that prior to the purchasing of a "Paddy Wagon," or vehicle for transporting prisoners to jail from where they were arrested, it was up to the arresting officer to get the arrested individual to the police station.

Near the turn of the century around 1900, a policeman arrested a citizen who was drunk, very drunk. The arrest took place at the corner of Arch Street and Market Street. The arrested man was unable to stand on his feet, much less walk. The officer debated whether to let the man go, or do his duty and take the intoxicated man to the jail which was over a mile away. Duty won out and the policeman started for the police station with the drunk in tow. The officer arrived exhausted at the jail. He had almost carried the drunk for more than a mile.

It was after this incident that a special wagon, pulled by horses, was secured to bring arrested persons to the jail.

The arrest and jailing of C. P. Greene

One of the most peculiar stories is the arrest and jailing of C. P. Greene, whose name was well known in Hannibal history as the publisher of the "Mirror of Hannibal" in 1904. After the sale of the book in 1905, Greene brought a printing outfit to Hannibal from Monroe City, intending to publish a newspaper which he would call the Sunday Mirror. He failed to pay the first payment on the purchase of the printing press and the owner demanded $55 or threatened a lawsuit.

Greene was financially in arrears and did not have the $55. He devised a plan to get the money from a woman of his acquaintance, Mrs. Mamie Stevens, who according to stories in the local newspapers maintained an "immoral house" on Center Street. Greene went to her house and demanded the money. She said she did not have $55. He then handed her a copy of a very scandalous story about her and her house, naming a few names of Hannibal men. He threatened to publish the story in his Sunday paper if she refused to hand over the money. She told him to come back the next day and she would try to get the $55.

The next day, he returned, and she invited him in. She pretended she had forgotten the facts of the conversation the preceding day and asked him to repeat the request and show her the threatening newspaper story again. He did so.

When he finished going through the entire story, Sergeant Whitlock of the Hannibal police who had secreted himself behind a portiere curtain, and had been listening to the complete extortion plot, appeared and arrested Greene. He took Greene to the jail where he was detained.

The jailer was astonished at the arrest of this prominent man. He permitted him the freedom of the inside of the jail, and visitors, if such appeared. However, Greene found that the Hannibal people he knew did not come to help him and he declared he had been deserted. He fell into despondency.

The newspapers had a heyday with the situation. All local newspapers published front page stories beginning on September 21, the day of his arrest, and on October 5 were still giving the facts front page headlines. The city referred the matter to a Grand Jury so there was a delay in proceeding in the trial for extortion. The Monroe City man reclaimed the equipment. Greene's wife came from Monroe City and stayed near the jail.

The newspapers printed emotional descriptions of her feelings.

A plea of insanity was discussed. So much notoriety was given in columns of front page news articles that Greene was finally in such an emotional state he was taken by train to the Palmyra jail. After two weeks, in which the news stories declared he was being given medication and drugs for his illness ­ a fine was finally set and he could not pay. Finally the case was dismissed due to his "insanity."

The jail on Fourth and Church Streets was used until the present jail, at Eighth and Broadway, came into use in 1976.

Caption: This jail, at the corner of South Fourth and Church streets, served Hannibal until 1979. ( Hagood photo) This sign at the foot of North Street indicates an early site for a Hannibal calaboose. ( Hagood photo) An arrow and a star indicate the location of Hannibal¹s first calaboose, as shown in an 1869 sketch. ( Hagood map)