Sunday, August 18, 2013

…Still Holding on Line One

Do you ever feel like part of your life was put on hold as if it were some phone call to a busy company? Does it make you want to hang up and call back again, to remind the party on the other line that you’re still waiting?

Somehow, I feel like I’ve done that to those of you who’ve been wondering whatever happened to the rest of the story on John Kelly Stevens.

It was that strange newspaper entry on March 24, 1900, that got me off track:
Police Sergeant Stevens received a telegram last night from Lafayette, stating that his nephew, Raphael Kruse, had been run over by a wagon and killed while on his way to school.
Yes, we’ve found out who Raphael Kruse was—but what a circuitous route it took us to piece that whole family back together! And it left more mysteries—but they are questions I’ll have to spend some serious time unraveling before I can write more on them.

Now that I’m home from all my summer travels—well, excepting that my heart is still wishing to fly to Fort Wayne this upcoming week to participate in the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference—I can now access all my homebound databases and files.

And get back to what we were first talking about.

You know, of course, that there is much more on the story of John Kelly Stevens, himself, before we can adequately move back to the preceding generation.

So let’s pick up with the early 1900s in Fort Wayne again, and see what else can be found regarding the good sergeant.

While John Kelly Stevens had had his fair share of mentions in the city’s newspapers, there still were gaps in the timeline. I did learn my way around those news silences, though, when I realized that he apparently went by a nickname—losing the “John” and going only by “Kelly” as have some of his namesakes since then. By searching not only for “John Stevens” but also for “Kelly Stevens,” I got more results for my inquiries.

Even so, the next mention of the man wasn’t until over a year and a half later. Once again, it yields some difficulties for me in that it gives me a sense of a missing story.

The first clue comes from the title of a news report in the October 23, 1902, Fort Wayne Daily News: “Day Policemen Get New Orders From Superintendent.”

Along with the details of other exchanges, here were the details involving John Kelly Stevens’ new assignment:
Officer Stevens succeeds Officer Pageler on the beat down town on the west side of Calhoun street. Pageler goes to beat No. 3 in the seventh and tenth wards. Officer Petgen goes to Officer Stevens’ old beat in the western part of the city, known as beat No. S.
Say, wait! Did that newspaper say officer? What happened to sergeant?!

Just like that—and just as the family tradition had said it was—Stevens was busted back to line staff level. When did that happen? And why? With all the mentions of his name in the various newspapers over the years, you’d think there would be something explaining a change as significant as that. Was it a voluntary demotion? A disciplinary action? A reduction in force? Or maybe—considering the political ambience of the community—a political move?

The only explanation I could discover was quite an indirect one. Much later—in 1906, in fact—the city’s Journal Gazette published an article called “The Men on Guard Over Fort Wayne's Population.” Buried on page twenty of the June third Sunday morning edition, the article was subtitled, “Interesting Sketch of the Fort Wayne Police Force and Its Former and Present Leaders.”

Though most of the article focused on the men at the top of the police department, it did glance at some organization-wide details, including what would be expected under the heading, “Fine Looking Coppers” (apparently, John Kelly was included as one of the “men who measure 5 feet, 11”).

A little detail gleaned from that year’s annual report was mentioned in the article. In general,
The police department of Fort Wayne, as now constituted, consists of fifty men. This includes the superintendent, the captain, the lieutenant, the sergeants, the clerks and the patrolmen. There are thirty seven patrolmen.
Considering that, it was interesting to note that, of the sergeants, apparently none were employed during the day shift—the shift in which John Kelly worked.
Of the force of patrolmen ten men, with the lieutenant, one clerk, and one driver, are on duty during the day, and twenty-five patrolmen, the captain, two sergeants, a driver and a clerk at night.
Could it be assumed, then, that the position of sergeant was removed from the organizational charts for the day shift, but John Kelly chose not to switch his work hours?

That would be a tidy explanation, but I tend to favor the thought passed down by family: it was a political shift in direction that caused John Kelly’s demotion. And some news reporting could leave one to conclude that, in general. After all, don’t forget that breathless mention in the May 7, 1898, Fort Wayne News:
Those who are not on the inside think that Sergeant Stevens will be reduced to the ranks when William Borgman becomes captain of the police force. The News knows that the changes in contemplation will in no way affect Sergeant Stevens. If you want the particulars, read the News.
Oh, believe me, I’m still reading The News, looking for any further explanation. While everyone else in Fort Wayne may have forgotten Sergeant Stevens, I still want to know what those changes were.

Artwork, above left: "Young Woman on Telephone," 1912 oil on canvas by Max Schuler; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in the United States, European Union, Australia, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.


  1. It is very hard to maintain a straight line with genealogy. There are many tempting paths that wander off the main road.

  2. Politics...and then you wonder which way the reporters swayed and who their sources were:)

    1. And I'm amazed to see the newspapers willing to print what essentially was nothing more than sheer gossip!

  3. The reporter was so detailed with the numbers and counts one nearly "has to think they knew what they were writing" and are factual. But then I keep hearing, "you can prove anything with statistics."

    Hopefully, there is a document with reliability AND clarity out there waiting to be found that will shine a light on this!

    1. know what they say about statistics...


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