www.akronhistory.org    

 

HASC Banner 


HOME  FORUM  CONTACT US  SUBMISSION  LINKS

Website is currently being updated, please bear with us as we add information, pictures and repair pages.

Businesses

Citizens

Crimes & Disasters

Cuyahoga River

Industry

Architecture

Leisure Time

Did You Know?

Transportation

Documents & Records

History Books

Townships

 

 Centennial History of Summit County, Ohio and Representative Citizens

By William B. Doyle

The Riot Of 1900--The Darkest Night In Akron's History

             Wednesday, the 22d day of August, in the year 1900, was a day of rejoicing in America. The wires under the Pacific had throbbed with a message of joy for all Christendom. Pekin had fallen--the capital city of China. The Imperial Court had departed in hasty flight to the interior. The American troops were the heroes of the allied armies. They had attacked and repulsed the Yellow Horde laying siege to the British Legation, where the American minister and his family and other good citizens had taken refuge when the Boxers arose. America rejoiced that her sons and daughters had successfully escaped from the perils of the 4,000 shells that fell into that legation; from the famine and sick-ness of the long siege, and especially from the ferocity and torture and barbarism of the legions of Chinese savages. Akron is a representative American community.  Her people were just as glad as any on account of the glory which had come upon the American armies.

            In the evening of that day a large part of the beauty and wealth and culture of the city had met on the beautiful grounds of the Perkins homestead where a lawn party was being held for the benefit of a splendid charity. Sounds of mirth and music filled the air and countless lights and colors made it a brilliant scene. It is a common sight in any center of culture and fashion.

            Out in Lakeside Park the beautiful summer night bad drawn a large company of spectators to the Casino, and they were enjoying to the full the delights of the theater.

            But the night in Akron had not been given over to pleasure alone. What strange contrasts human living presents sometimes! The darkest night Akron had ever seen had fallen with the coming of dusk that night.  The perfect picture of' Hell, that was to be beheld before the coming of dawn again, was then in the making.  The Antithesis of joy and light and love and good-will was gaining followers in other parts of the city and they were preparing for the crowning of Hate, and Revenge, and Lust for Blood.

            If little Christina Maas had not been playing by the roadside, near the home of her parents on Perkins Hill, on Monday evening, August 21, 1900, in all probability Akron would have been spared her deepest shame. Not that the innocent child, in her sweet play, was the cause of what followed, but that she was destined to form a link in the chain of circumstances, without which completed action could not be had. She was the little, six-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Maas. As she played by the roadside in the early evening with her girl friends, a negro drove by.  He called to her. She did not fear him. He persuaded the older children to leave and promised little Christina a gift of candy. He asked her to get into his buggy and she responded in her childish confidence and natural faith in mankind and all. He assisted her as she climbed in. He whipped up the horse and drove down the country road. The negro was Louis Peck. He was a stranger in Akron. He had been here but a short time, having come from Patterson, New Jersey.  His reputation there was very bad and the authorities wanted him there for a long list of crimes he had committed. Since coming to Akron he and his wife had been working in a restaurant. He was about forty years of age and black, and unprepossessing. After his arrest, he confessed freely all he did that evening, after he drove into the country and until he left the little girl crying and injured by the lonely roadside with night coming on.

            He had hired the horse and buggy from a Main street liveryman. After driving back into town he abandoned them and they were found soon after by the police.  It was by means of the horse and buggy that the officers were enabled to learn the identity of the perpetrator of this outrage.  As soon as the police department was informed of the crime every policeman on duty was notified and instructed to be on the lookout for such a negro as Peck. Every place in the city likely to harbor him was searched and the railway tracks were watched with sharp sight, but Peck succeeded in escaping from the city. He had lost no time in beginning his flight. Not a trace of him could be secured.  On Tuesday the officers patrolled the railway tracks, rather expecting that Peek was still in the city, in hiding, and would try to make his escape. A number of them were scattered along the tracks on Tuesday night.

            Shortly after midnight a freight train rolled into the Union depot from the east. Officer Duffy was patrolling the tracks in that vicinity and, as the train passed him, standing in the dark, a negro jumped from one of the cars almost into his arms . Officer Duffy arrested the man. It was Peck.

He was taken at once in the patrol wagon to the city prison. The prison-keeper was awakened and spent the rest of the night talking with Peck about the crime.  By adroit leading and skillful questioning Mr. Washer succeeded at last in getting Peck to make a full confession.  R. W. Wanamaker, the prosecuting attorney, was summoned, a stenographer secured, and Peck's statement was taken down verbatim.

            At 9 o'clock he was arraigned before the mayor, W. E. Young, in the mayor's court. He pleaded guilty to a charge of rape and was bound over by, the mayor to the Common Pleas Court to await the action of the Grand Jury at the coming September term.  His bond was placed at $5,000, and he was committed to the prison because of his inability to furnish bail in that amount.

            Greatly exaggerated stories of his confession and of the criminal act were circulated throughout the city. The appearance of the evening papers (especially one, very imprudently printed in red ink) and the cries of the newsboys selling them, stirred up a feeling of resentment. Excitement was slowly kindling.  Many heedless remarks were made by persons whose words usually carry weight.  An Akron professional gentleman was on his way home at 5 o'clock that bright Wednesday afternoon. He stopped in a store and listened to a recital of the outrage by the merchant. Said the professional man in the hearing of a little company, "I'll be one of a hundred to go over and take him out of the jail and hang him." Not a man in the company protested. No one deemed the sentiment extravagant or the speech incendiary. There was an echo in their own breasts. Every man felt a personal interest in having so great a wrong redressed and in having it done at once.  Many such intemperate remarks were made that afternoon as the story spread.

            As early in the day as noon, threats were made to the authorities that the negro would he lynched.  The executive departments of the city government heard the mutterings of the coming storm all afternoon. The county officers heard it also. None of them can be heard to say now that they were taken by surprise. They were totally unprepared when the hour of trial came, but they were not taken unawares. They had full warning more than ten hours before the storm broke in all its fury. They paid this much attention to the threats and warnings they had received--they ordered Sheriff Frank G. Kelly to take the prisoner to Cleveland during Wednesday afternoon for safe keeping. Another colored man named William (alias "Bug") Howard had been locked up in the prison awaiting commitment to the county jail as he, too, had been bound over to the Common Pleas Court on a charge of shooting a white man in the leg. It was deemed best to take Howard along, as a mob might easily mistake the identity of the negro they sought, or might be so incensed at the whole black race, that they would not hesitate to hang another than the one sought. These two black men were soon secure behind the gray walls of the Cleveland prison. The Akron authorities were congratulating themselves on so successful an issue of their wise plans. When a mob appeared they would laugh at them and enjoy their discomfiture when told the quarry had flown. They know more about mobs and mob nature now.

            Crowds began to collect at the intersection of Main and Howard streets a short time after 6 o'clock. Knots of men stood about the prison talking over the affair.  Some were already discussing the advisability of trying to make an example of the prisoner. Considerable sentiment in favor of such action had been aroused during the day in several of the big city factories.  Some of these men were present and made up their minds that, if an opportunity offered, they would make good what they had said they would do.

            As it began to grow dark and to become difficult to distinguish objects across the street, the crowd, much augmented, closed in about the old brick building which Akron people had known for many years as "The City Building." They began to call for Peck and to hoot and jeer the police officers who were within. The chief of police had become alarmed and had summoned every available man for duty at headquarters.

            Much parleying took place between city officials and the members of the crowd. They tried to push into the building through the Main street doors, but the officers prevented them. There was still much daylight remaining when the first attack on the building was made. A shower of stones and bricks broke the windows and bombarded the stout doors. Then a ladder was brought out and quickly manned. This was used as a battering-ram on the north doors, which lead into the Mayor's Court.  The stones and bricks continued to fly.  The doors were rapidly giving way beneath the repeated blows of the improvised ram.  Then one of the front windows was raised and a policeman emptied his revolver over the heads of the assailing party. This was a foolish move. There was no ammunition in the city building beside what was already in the chambers of the policemenís revolvers and part of a box which was in possession of the prison-keeper. The scarcity of ammunition was a cause of much alarm to the policemen in the building. They had sent outside to secure more, but were unsuccessful.

            Across the street were a large number of spectators watching the efforts of the men in their attack upon the building. Among them were a few carriages and buggies. In the one of the latter sat John M. Davidson, with his wife and four-year-old daughter, Rhoda. They had been out looking at some work Mr. Davidson had taken the contract for and were returning home by the way of Main street. They had started to go up the Quarry street hill and were told that the Fire Department was coming down. They turned back on to Main Street and other buggies crowded around them so that they were forced to remain.

            Mrs. Davidson was looking at the policeman in the window.  She saw him shoot his revolver directly at them.  She heard bullets fly about their heads. Her little daughter said, "Oh, mamma," and her head fell forward on her mother's knee with the blood flowing from a mortal wound in her head. Glen Wade, a boy of ten years, was also standing among the spectators on the opposite side of Main street and he received one of the bullets from this same policeman's reckless--yes, criminal shooting. He was instantly killed. Hundreds of shots were fired afterward, and charges and charges of dynamite exploded, and two large buildings were burned to the ground, yet these two innocent children were the only persons who lost their lives by reason of the riot.  The injuries received by other parties that night were mostly of a minor character.

            The party within the walls was increased by this time so that it consisted of Mayor Young, the four city commissioners, Chief of Police Harrison and seven or eight police-men. A hurried conference was held and it was decided to allow the crowd to appoint a committee to enter and inspect the jail to make sure that Peck was not in it.  The mob selected a committee of six, headed by a member of the City Council, who was one of the loudest and most strenuous of all the seekers for the blood of this Negro.

            When the doors were opened to admit the committee, the crowd poured, in after them. It was impossible to stem that impetuous rush. They filled the building and searched every nook and corner of it. The cells of the prison were opened, but the mob found no negro within the building. Even Mr. Washer's private apartments were invaded and the garments of himself and wife torn from the closets where they hung, to see if any one was concealed by them. Their cellar was ransacked, and every spot which could possibly contain or shelter a man was searched. The disappointment of the mob was plain. Some one shouted that Peck was in the county jail. The entire crowd started for the jail. Deputy-Sheriff Simon Stone was on duty.  Sheriff Kelly was absent for some unexplained cause. His continued absence through all the stirring events of that night and until the hour of danger had passed caused much comment.

            The deputy sheriff met the mob in front of the old brick jail, which stood on the east side of Broadway, opposite the Court House, and which was torn down on the completion of the new jail. Standing on the old stone steps at the front entrance, he made them a short address, telling them that Peck had been taken to Cleveland that afternoon and that he had never been brought to the county jail. He offered to allow a committee chosen by them to make a search. This was done and the same committee searched the jail thoroughly and reported that no Negro could be found. The crowd moved over to the old Court House; battered in the wooden doors, and trooped into every room in the building except the office of the treasurer. Here the heavy iron doors resisted their efforts to make an entrance and caused them to desist in their purpose.

            They hastened back to the City Building and filled the space in front of it. They were still shouting and calling for Peck, and occasionally a stone or a brick would fly through the windows on both the Main Street and Viaduct sides of the building. When the mayor appeared at a window in the rooms of the board of health and motioned for silence, the crowd listened to him with comparatively good attention. He told them that Sheriff Kelley had taken Peck to Cleveland that afternoon and that there was no use hunting longer for him.  Some one insisting that this was not so, the mayor offered to bet $20 that Peck was not in Akron. He urged them to disperse and let the law take its course in bringing Peck to a full punishment for his crime.

            Of course, this did not satisfy them. It was a mistake to suppose that it would.  They were not there for oratory. They had come on a serious business.  They sought vengeance.  Nothing but blood would satisfy them. It was a maddened, blood-thirsty pack of wolves, and to advise, and to temporize, and to try to compromise with such was entirely unreasonable and a waste of effort.  It was the temporizing policy of the authorities up to this time which had helped bring the mob up to its present pitch. The attack was renewed with increased vigor. It was no longer a crowd of men confronting the officers; it was a furious mob. Many of them carried pistols in their hands and a few shots were fired at the building.  Occasionally a policeman would come to the window and discharge five or six shots toward the sidewalk.

            Prison-keeper Washer had been spending the evening with Mrs. Washer and friends at one of the summer resorts south of Akron. He had gone out of town on the earnest solicitation of the chief of police, who explained to him that, if a mob did form, it would make the story more credible if it could be said that the prison-keeper was out of town with the prisoner. When the fish supper was concluded, Mr. Washer tried to reach the city building by telephone, but was unable to do so. He became apprehensive that all was not right and started for Akron about 8 o'clock. He drove into the mob at Main street about 9 o'clock and they dragged him and Mrs. Washer from the buggy. They shoved two revolvers into Mr. Washer's face, boring the barrels into his flesh, saying they wanted Peck and meant to have him. One man, in a perfectly fiendish condition of mind, kept scratching Washer's face shrieking, "It's blood we want, blood, blood, blood." He succeeded in drawing some of Mr. Washer's. Mrs. Washer finally succeeded in reaching their apartments at the rear of the building, with a large part of her clothing torn from her body Mr. Washer tried to make a speech to the mob. The noise and tumult was so great he could not make himself heard, except to a few immediately surrounding him. He saw a man with a brick in his hand working his way up to the front. A, minute later and this brick struck the speaker on the side of the head and he dropped senseless to the street. The blow nearly fractured his skull and he suffered from the wound it made for several years afterward.

            After Mr. Washer had been carried into the drug store on the corner, and the police had fired a few more desultory shots from the building, the crowd withdrew.  The larger part of them strangely disappeared and an ominous quiet reigned in the neighborhood from about 9 o'clock until about 11. A few spectators stood on the opposite side of the street; another knot or two were scattered at different street corners. The electric lights were all burning brightly and the street cars were running as usual. But for the broken panes in the, building, the stones and bricks on the sidewalk, and the ladder lying where the mob had left it, no indications that trouble had happened were present.  The city commissioners took advantage of this lull to leave the building by the rear entrance and made. a successful escape down the railway spur. The mayor also took his departure and went direct to his home on Perkins Street. The Chief of Police, with seven or eight police men, remained. About 11 o'clock the crowd began to collect again, and the spectators were not long in finding out where its members had been in the interim. An electric arc lamp hung about half way between the City Building and the Beacon-Journal office and flooded the vicinity with light.

            The spectators saw a couple of men cross the sidewalk with bundles in their arms and enter the south door, leading to the stairway to the second floor. In a few minutes after they returned, a fearful explosion shook the neighborhood, and brought a cloud of dust into Main Street. The concussion was terrific, but little apparent damage was done.  The walls still stood just as before. The dynamite for this and the other explosive which followed had been stolen from the Middlebury clay banks and from the chests of contractors doing work on the Erie Railway.

            A peddler had been arrested that Wednesday morning for peddling without a license and released on ball. He drove an old white horse in a spring wagon. He volunteered to haul the dynamite to the City Building, and the mob gladly accepted his services.  The cessation of hostilities was due to this cause 'and a further desire on the part of several to go home and get arms.

            The last of the cars carrying home the throng of pleasure-seekers from the Casino at Lakeside Park had passed, and empty ears were on their way back to the South Akron barns. Perhaps a thousand men were in Main Street from Church to Howard Streets. Four or five thousand more stretched from these points down to Mill and up to Center and covered the bluff on High Street.

            The active members of the mob numbered not more than two or three hundred, including active sympathizers.  The rest were mere onlookers some a prey to a morbid curiosity; others fascinated by the spectacle of terror enacted before them. After the first explosion, a few men started to lower the electric lamp that was lighting the scene. They let it fall the last six feet upon the brick pavement, and the place was dark enough for the vilest purpose. Up to this time, at intervals, a policeman in the City Building would approach the window and fire five or six shots in rapid succession into the sidewalk, directly under the window. It was easy to see that the shots were directed into the ground and it was not possible that even the most foolish in the crowd could be fooled by the action, yet this silly performance was repeated many times.  Following was dynamite explosions, one after another, each sounding like the discharge of mighty cannon.  These reports should have awakened the entire city. The policemen had stealthily taken their departure out of the rear door and crept 'off in the darkness. Some of them hid in the lumber yard in the rear of Merrill's pottery; others in box-cars in the rear of the American Cereal Company's big mill. Their demoralization could have not been greater. Each man was looking out for himself, and no one else.  The city property was' left to the mercy of the relentless mob.

            Soon a little blaze of a match was seen burning at the northeast corner of Columbia Hall, the large rambling frame building next south of the City Building.  It had been erected as a roller skating rink during the days of the first roller craze and had been used subsequently as an armory for militia and an assembly hall for concerts and bazaars, etc. The little match kindled a pile of paper and dry wood and soon a bright fire was burning alongside the front of the hall. The building was so dry and of such favorable construction that ten minutes had not elapsed until it was in flames at every point. It made a magnificent spectacle. Great tongues of flame leaped high above a seething mass of fire, and the sparks ascended in showers. On the front side of the hall was a tower with a flagstaff. An American flag waved nobly in the breeze made by the ascending heat currents.

            The lesson of that waving emblem of freedom was lost on that demoniacal assemblage.  The fire reigned with unrestrained fury. Not a drop of water fell into its midst. Violent hands were laid on every one who had the courage to attempt to subdue it.  About midnight a part of the crowd had marched down the middle of Main street to the Standard Hardware Company, located on the west side of South Main Street about halfway between Market and Mill Streets. They made entrance into the store by breaking a plate-glass window. A few entered and passed out guns, revolvers, rifles, knives and ammunition, until the store was despoiled of its entire stock of such goods. Over one hundred arms of various descriptions were stolen by the mob in this raid. Hidden behind, telephone poles and in dark corners of buildings, they kept up a perfect fusillade upon the city building, while Columbia Hall was burning. The firemen in the central station, only a stone's throw east of the City Building had on the first appearance of the blaze, sounded an alarm of fire and carried a line of hose down Church Street. The fire-bell had been rung earlier in the evening, with a response on the part of No.1 Company, merely as a ruse to attract attention of the mob from the City Building.

            Three firemen from Company No.1 stood out in the middle of Main Street, holding the nozzle of the line of hose. The water shot through it for only a few seconds. The rioters had cut the hose in, many places, and, while the three firemen stood in the street alone, a perfect hail of bullets and shot were fired at them. One of them fell and another promptly stepped forward and took his, place at the nozzle while others came out and removed their fallen comrade. It was the finest exhibition of heroism ever seen in Akron.

            That little band stood out there until the walls fell in, waiting for the water to come through that hose, and laying new lines to replace the damaged.  Cowards were firing at them from behind walls and telephone poles, yet they went about the performance of their duty as calmly as though it were an ordinary attack upon their customary foe, the Fire Demon.

            It was a superb exhibition of manly courage. Many a man, who felt the flame of faith in human nature die out that night, found it rekindled after beholding the deeds of those heroic firemen.

            The alarm had called out other companies. In responding, one of them sent a hose-wagon south on Main from Mill Street.  As they neared the Wilcox Block, a couple of ruffians called upon them to halt and presented guns from behind telephone poles. They paid no attention to the command and both guns were discharged point blank at them. How they ever escape alive remains a marvel to those who witnessed the scene. They drove on, followed by bullets and shot, and only desisted in their efforts to quench that fire when borne down by overwhelming numbers.

            Shortly after the tower, with its staff and waving flag, had fallen into the flaming pit, the fire broke out in the City Building. Whether it communicated from the conflagration south of it or was set afresh is not known. The more probable view is that the rioters hastened the destruction by setting the building afire directly in an incredibly short time fire was bursting from every window in the building.  The dynamite explosions had wrecked the floors and partitions, doors and windows had been demolished by the battering and storm of shot, and the flames made quick work of the resulting debris. Both buildings were soon enveloped in flames and the conflagration was at its height. All the splendor of the scene when Columbia Hall first burst into flames was doubled. The street was as light as day.

            The heat drove all but the firemen back into the shadows. They stood their ground, beside their useless hose and apparatus. The mob would not permit a drop of water to be thrown upon the fire and, like a tremendous furnace; it seethed and rolled and roared-an awful spectacle to the thousands who covered hill-sides and house-tops, at a safe distance from the bullets of the rioters. The gleam from the fire lighted up their faces, still diabolical with hate and bloodlust, as they peered from behind their barriers of defense. The frenzy possessing them had been stilled by the tremendous power shown by the natural element Fire. Even their disordered minds could perceive the magnitude of the influences they had called into operation. Even they stood thrilled by the raging and tumult of elemental power. Occasionally a malignant jeer, a demoniacal howl of delight, or a shot, broke the spell and recalled the thoughtful spectators to the dread reality of the scene.

            The minutes passed unheeded, but probably an hour passed, with the great fire holding the center of the stage--the one great spectacle that centered the interest and gaze of all. Then the walls of the City building fell, and the flames gradually shrunk within the pit of the white heat. In the east, pale streaks along the horizon indicated the coming of another day.  The somber gray mellowed into gold and the first gleam of dawn mingled with the reddened glow from the ruins. The outlines of objects became more distinct.

            It was a signal from the powers of darkness to slink away. As the Sun-God scatters the forces of Night; as Death dwindles into insignificance before the truth of the resurrection; so the slaves of the Demon of Anarchy slunk away into their places of hiding, from their revel of blood and fire, before the messenger on the hilltops, who heralded the coming of the source of light--typical of order, law and right.

            By 4 o'clock all of the thousands who thronged the streets had gone and the scene was almost deserted.  It was safe enough now for those policemen who were in hiding to come forth and go to their homes and they did.

            At 7 o'clock the first of the militia arrived. It was Company C of the Eighth regiment, from Canton. it was known as "The President's Own." Never were the boys in blue received with more profound gratitude.  The feelings of Akron citizens were too deep for cheers or a demonstration. Nevertheless, deep in their hearts they welcomed the soldier boys. What a relief to see those swinging battalions and to know that they represented the majesty of the law! What a comfort in those grim rifles, those well-filled ammunition boxes and the keen sight of those sworn foes to disorder! For the thoughtful citizen had been much disturbed.  He had seen his entire city surrendered to the will of a riotous mob. There was absolutely nothing to restrain that mob from doing anything it pleased with the property and the lives of all the citizens of Akron.  Not a dollar, not a life was safe in Akron that night.

            Had the notion been taken, every store and every home might have been pillaged and looted. The leaders of that mob might have easily persuaded it to assist in working out revenge for private grievances by murder and arson.

            They were drunk with power to which they were unaccustomed, and reveled in the use of it. For instance, just as the City Building burst into flames a number broke in the doors of the little building alongside and ran out the electric police patrol automobile.  As many as it would hold climbed into it; others clung to the steps and climbed upon the top. Then, it was started amid the cheering of the mob and run about the downtown streets, with its occupants singing and yelling, until they tired of the sport and ended the wild orgy by sending it full speed into the canal.

            It was like a scene from the wildest period of the French Revolution.  One must go to the orgies of that carnival of disorder to find a parallel, unless, indeed it shall be found in the conceptions of certain great minds concerning the Inferno.  It was the very apothesis of evil.  In the meantime something was being done in an attempt to stop the tide.

            There were a few citizens aware of what was happening, who were not spellbound by the awful scenes nor frightened into supine subservience by the exhibition of the power of the mob.  Some of them sought the sheriff. For reasons known only to him, and guessed at by others, he could not be found. Akron had two full companies of militia and some other organizations of a semi-military character that carry rifles, and look real brave on paradedays. The captains of these companies were appealed to. The reply was, "You must see the Governor."  An attempt to assemble the companies resulted in getting only three or four men at the armories; the rest were mingled with the crowd watching the fire. As be-fore stated, the city authorities, from the highest to the last-appointed policeman, were completely demoralized.

            Finally Governor Nash was reached by telephone and he promised to send a, regiment of militia, if requested by the sheriff of the county or the mayor' of the city.  Probate Judge George M. Anderson, accompanied by a few citizens, then took a cab to search for the mayor.  They found him at home and persuaded him to ask the Governor for help.

            The Fourth regiment of the Ohio National Guard was in camp at Minerva Park, near Columbus.  They had arrived there only a day or two before for their annual encampment, as required by law. They were under the command of Colonel J. D. Potter, who is a son of General Potter, of the United States Army. They received their orders at 1:45 o'clock A. M. At 2:45 the entire nine companies were entrained and on their way to Akron. A special train on the Cleveland, Akron & Columbus Railway brought them into Akron at 9 o'clock on the morning of the 23rd. They immediately marched downtown and joined Company C of the Eighth Regiment in guarding the city.  Colonel Adams of the Governor's staff arrived and took charge of all the military forces in the city, including the local companies, which were never called from their armories during the disturbed period.  The streets near the ruins were roped off, and none was allowed to approach them.  The downtown street assumed a martial appearance. Armed sentries paced everywhere and companies were marching back and forth to mess and temporary barracks at all hours.  At noon, after a consultation of officials and citizens, the mayor issued a proclamation closing all the saloons in the city until further notice.  The revulsion of feeling against the rioters was so strong that the saloon-keepers were very willing to assist, as much as possible, in the general effort to restore law and order.  The proclamation was generally respected.  Closing the saloons undoubtedly was a great factor in the bringing back of peace and quiet to the city.

            In the afternoon of the 2nd a meeting of all the city officials and a few prominent citizens was called at the Hotel Buchtel.  Chief of Police Harrison could not be found anywhere. It was reported that be was last seen about 4 o'clock in the morning driving out of the city. John Durkin had been appointed by the city commissioners as acting Chief of Police. With the city officials, there assembled at the Hotel Buchtel Judge U. L. Marvin,

            Prosecutor R. M. Wanamaker, Judge G. M. Anderson, Fire Chief Frank Manderbach, Colonel Potter, Colonel Adams and others.  At this meeting the situation was thoroughly discussed and the city government reorganized. It was understood the city was not under martial law, but that the city authorities were in power and the military arm of the government was there, not to supplant, but to assist them. Barracks were arranged for the militia and they were quartered at the old Market House Hall, at the Court House and in a North Main Street livery barn. Business was practically suspended in the downtown stores and offices all day of the 23d. The riot was the one theme of conversation everywhere. A constant stream of people kept moving all day long about the ruins of Columbia Hall and the City Building. No crowds were allowed to congregate. The soldiers kept everyone moving; a good example for the police, don't you think? These latter moved about town in companies of two and three. When night came many people were apprehensive that more trouble would take place. Many rumors had been heard during the day that another attack would be made. Many persons remained down street rather expecting excitement of some sort, but they were disappointed, and the soldiers had no other duty than the weary work of sentry posting.

            On Friday business was resumed and the marching of the soldiers was the only incident different from the ordinary routine of Akron affairs.  In the middle of the afternoon those in charge of things startled the whole community by an act of exceeding daring. It was successful and can be called daring; if it had failed, it would have been termed foolhardy. This coup de'etat was no less a feat than bringing the rapist Peck back to Akron for trial.  It happened in this way:

            A meeting of the officials was held Friday morning to determine the course to pursue in regard to Peck.  The crime was committed in Summit County and he would have to be brought back here for arraignment.  Why was it not better to bring him back while the militias were here to protect him and prevent additional rioting? The stay of the soldiers must, of necessity, be brief, hence, the sooner action was taken, the better.  The very audacity of the thing, too, would aid in its successful prosecution.  The people would be far from expecting any move of this kind and the rioters would not be prepared to take advantage of their opportunity. John F. Washer, the prison-keeper, was still weak from the effect of the blow on his head, but it was decided that he was the best man to go to Cleveland for Peck, who was still confined in the Cuyahoga County jail. Dr. A. K. Fouser was engaged to accompany Mr. Washer and give him such medical attention as he might require. Driving to a Valley train in a cab, they succeeded in getting out of town unobserved.

            In Cleveland they were not so fortunate. They had been in the jail hut a few moments when the news spread fast that they had come for Peck and, when they were ready to depart, a large crowd surrounded the carriage in front of the jail and filled the street. It was a crowd disposed to make trouble, too. What was to be done? The afternoon was passing and whatever was to be done must be decided upon quickly. A special train on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had been engaged by the Summit County authorities and was waiting at the station to take the party to Howard Street, without any stops.

            Colonel Potter had detailed a company of soldiers to meet the train upon its arrival. Sheriff Barry was to telephone from Cleveland as soon as the party started. Judge David J. Nye had been called over from Elyria to hold a special session of Common Pleas Court. A special Grand Jury had been empanelled at 2 o'clock that afternoon. One witness had been heard and a true bill found against Lewis Peck. It was understood that he would plead guilty to the indictment. He would then be taken to Columbus on the afternoon train and the cause of the riot would be safely out of the jurisdiction. These were the plans and they were carefully laid. But in the crowd outside the Cleveland jail, and constantly growing larger and more restless, was an obstacle not considered by the plotters.  What was to be done? So much time had been lost that it was nearly time for the Columbus train to start the one upon which it was planned to carry Peck to the penitentiary. Washer and Barry got their heads together and planned a neat trick upon the crowd. They telephoned for another closed carriage to be driven to the rear door of the jail. Washer, Fouser and, the prisoner, the latter manacled to Washer, were all ready to enter as soon as it drove up. As it appeared in sight, Sheriff Barry went to the front door and thus engaged the attention of the crowd, which pressed forward, expecting the prisoner next.  Giving his party time to enter their carriage, he reentered the jail, as if he had forgotten something, and joined them.  The horses were whipped up and a wild race started for the Union depot to catch the Columbus train. The Baltimore & Ohio special was left standing at the Water street depot.

            A few who had observed the ruse gave an alarm and the crowd started after the carriage. Most gave up the chase after running a block, but a few newspaper reporters reached the station nearly as quick as the officials, one or two hanging onto the carriage, which they had overtaken. They rushed by the ticket inspector at the gates and the party was soon safe within the railway car. The newspaper men followed and the whole party was scarcely seated when the train pulled out. Sheriff Barry ordered the conductor to lock the doors of the car and this was done.  As the train neared Euclid Avenue, the reporters prepared notes to be thrown out and carried to their papers. The windows were all put down and, upon Washer's threat to shoot the man who touched a window; no effort was made to throw out notes at Euclid station. Sheriff Barry left the train there and Mr. Washer and Dr. Fouser proceeded alone, with the cringing Negro on his knees, on the floor between them, imploring Washer to shoot him. The newspaper men were carried along, although some of them had no money to pay their fares.  Sheriff Barry telephoned the change of plans from Cleveland and a carriage was waiting at the Union depot in Akron. There was no crowd at the station and no guard but two soldiers and one policeman, who were on duty there.

            Arrangements had been made to hold the train for thirty minutes at the station. It arrived at 3:20. The employees of the Taplin Rice & Co. saw Peck taken into the Court House and swarmed out into the street.  In the court room the judge was waiting and all the other requisites of a criminal action at law were ready. The judge cleared the room of soldiers, ordered Washer to put up his pistol and remove the manacles from the prisoner. Peck waived the reading of the indictment. Upon being asked whether he wished to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge of rape he replied, "Guilty."  Thereupon the court inquired if he had anything to say before sentence should be pronounced upon him. His answer was no. The court then imposed a sentence of life imprisonment in the penitentiary at Columbus, the first thirty days of which were to he passed in solitary confinement.  Peck was visibly frightened throughout the whole proceedings. He was again manacled, trembling like a leaf. A guard of twenty militiamen surrounded him and

            Sheriff Kelley as they started for the train. In the meantime the conductor of the train had been ordered by telephone to bring his train up to Center Street. As the little party moved out into Broadway toward Center the crowd of workingmen surged about and tried to seize Peck. The soldiers fixed bayonets and met the new rioters with sharp steel. They desisted their attempts only when the prisoner was safely within the train. The sheriff was waiting for it as it drew up.  It did not come to a full stop, but the prisoner was hustled aboard, the sheriff followed, and Peck was on his way to the only spot that will again know him on earth. He was arraigned, pleaded guilty, was sentenced, and on his way to prison all within twenty minutes. Just four days after his crime was committed he had commenced to serve his sentence. Justice can move quickly when it has to.

            These things happened on Friday, August 24, 1900. Justice in this case was fully done. It was not overdone as some very interested parties would have you believe. Peck richly deserved his sentence. No more heinous crime was ever committed in Summit County. It was revolting and repulsive in the extreme. The public has never learned the details and it never will, for they are too loathsome to publish. Unspeakable cruelty was practiced by that black ravisher upon that innocent little baby.  Not only that, but Peck's record was a bad one before coming to Akron. The New York Tribune printed a list of the crimes for which he was wanted at Patterson, New Jersey. It is far better for him and for society that he be denied his liberty until Death shall free him, and his shriveled .soul shall pass on for the sentence of the Great Judge. No maudlin sentimentality should be allowed to interfere with the complete execution of this just sentence. The pleas of lawyers engaged by his friends to obtain his release are mercenary and should fall upon deaf ears.

 

The Aftermath of The Riot

            With Louis Peck safely in the penitentiary, the members of the military forces began to think of discharge from the irksome duties which had been unexpectedly imposed upon them. The Fourth Regiment had lost a large part of the benefit of their annual encampment and they longed to return to Minerva Park. Colonels Adams and Potter desired to leave Akron with their commands on Friday night. The city authorities were apprehensive of trouble to come on Saturday night. The mayor urged the colonels to remain until Monday morning. Saturday brought with it a half-holiday and most of the shops and factories paid their men off that day. Hence, it was thought that if new trouble were to arise it was most probable that it would come Saturday night. The militia officers reluctantly complied with the wishes of the mayor. Saturday and Sunday passed without extraordinary incident.  If anything, the city was more orderly than usual.

            On Saturday afternoon the mayor held the first session of Police Court since Wednesday morning. By consent of the county officials, it was held in the Court House.  The city government was without a home of any kind. On Monday, August 27, at an early hour in the morning, the military companies took their departure and the city was left to take care of itself.  The city commissioners had leased for one year the substantial stone office building of the American Cereal Company, on the corner of Mill and Broadway. This had been abandoned by the company when its principal offices had been moved to Chicago.  The post office department of the federal government had occupied it for a while as the site of the Akron post office while the government building was being completed. It had been vacant several years and was the only available location for the purposes of the city. The Board of City Commissioners met here on Monday morning and transacted their first real business subsequent to the riot. Their first business was to act upon the request of Chief of Police H. H. Harrison for a leave of absence for ten days. It was granted and lie left for Chicago to attend the annual reunion of the Grand Army. of the Republic, of which he is a member. The coroner, E. O. Leberman announced that he would hold his inquest over the victims of the shooting during the latter part of the week, as evidence was rapidly being secured. The public authorities, both city and county, had already taken steps to bring about the arrest of all parties who had been active in the lawless proceedings of Wednesday night.  Detectives from Cleveland and Pittsburgh were on the scene by Thursday and were fast securing evidence against the guilty ones. By Tuesday, the 28th, the authorities began to suffer from a perfect deluge of anonymous letters, threatening them all with death if any arrests were made. They paid no attention to these threats, but persevered in the task of running down the criminals. Many of the rioters were strangers in the city and many others had left upon learning that they were likely to be brought to justice. Hence, the work was very difficult. Finally a. special grand jury was impaneled and J. Park Alexander was made foreman of it The county prosecutor, who had been indefatigable in the work, laid before it the evidence he had secured. True bills were returned against forty-one men and boys who had been the leaders of the mob. Soon the county jail was filled with the accused persons. Officer John E. Washer arrested one man, Vernand Kempf, down in Tennessee, and brought him safely back to Akron. Upon his trial for shooting with intent to kill, he was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary for eighteen months. 

The other cases were disposed of as follows:

  • State of Ohio vs. William Hunt, George Brodt and James McNaughton--Charge, rioting.  Hunt retracts his plea of not guilty and enters plea of guilty, and is sentenced to pay a fine of $25 and costs. Defendant McNaughton plead guilty; sentence, $20 and costs.
  • State of Ohio vs. Harry Earle, Jr., Claude Bender, Andrew Morgan, Andrew Wilburn--Charge, rioting.  Defendant Bender pleads guilty, sentenced to workhouse for thirty days and pay $10 fine and costs. Nolle entered as to all the defendants except Bender.
  • State of Ohio vs. Walter Wingerter, Arthur Sprague, Frank Sickles, William Henry--Charge, burglary and larceny. Wingerter sentenced to the reformatory. Same as to defendants Sickles and Henry.
  • State of Ohio vs. Frank Bisson--Shooting with intent to kill or wound. Sentenced to Boys' Industrial School.
  • State of Ohio vs. Howard McClelland. Shooting with intent to kill or wound. Sentenced to penitentiary for one year.
  • State of Ohio vs. John Rhoden. Shooting with intent to kill or wound. Sentenced to penitentiary for one year.
  • State of Ohio. vs. Charles Timmerman, David Spellman, Frank Wheeler, Joseph Higy--Charge, rioting.  Defendant Wheeler plead guilty; sentence, thirty days in jail and pay the costs. Defendant Spellman, $25 and costs. Dismissed as to Higy.
  • State of Ohio vs. Walter Wingerter, Frank Sickles. and William Crile--Charge, rioting. Defendant Crile sentenced to pay $20 and costs.
  • State of Ohio vs. Arthur Sprague, Norman Breckenridge and Edward Eppley--Charge rioting. Breckenridge, thirty days in jail and $25 fine and costs. Sprague the same. Eppley, no trial.
  • State of Ohio vs. Sandy Coppard, William Henry and Edward Henry-- Charge, rioting. All sentenced to thirty days in jail and $25 fine and costs.
  • State of, Ohio vs. William Averill, Andrew B. Halter and Frank Bisson--Charge, rioting,:. Halter and Averill fined $50 and costs. Bisson dropped from the docket.
  • State of Ohio vs. Charles Timmerman--Charge, breaking into prison and attacking officer for the purpose of lynching.  Sentenced to penitentiary for one year.
  • State of Ohio vs. Edward Eppley, Harry Earle, Jr., and Oliver Morgan--Charge, unlawful possession and use of dynamite. All sentenced to reformatory and to pay costs.
  • State of Ohio vs. William Averill-Charge, shooting, with intent to kill or wound. Sentenced to reformatory.
  • State of Ohio vs. Vernando Kempf--Charge, shooting with intent to kill or wound. Sentenced to penitentiary for eighteen months.
  • State of Ohio vs. Charles Fink and David Snyder Charge, rioting. Defendant Fink pleads guilty; sentence, thirty days in jail, $25 and costs.  Defendant Snyder plead guilty sentenced to pay $20 and costs.
  • State of Ohio vs. Frank Viall, Lovell Nigh and August Simmonet--Charge, rioting. Nigh sentenced thirty days in jail, $25 and costs Simmonette, thirty days in jail, $25 and costs.  Viall $50 and costs and thirty days in jail.

            Thus it will be seen there were thirty convictions in the cases resulting from the riot. When one reflects upon the amount of work necessary to prepare for and conduct one important criminal action at law, he will readily appreciate the titanic labor performed by the public authorities.

            Able counsel had been secured to defend each of the accused men, and the trials were hotly contested. The result reflects every credit upon R. M. Wanamaker the prosecuting attorney. It is hardly possible to bestow too much praise upon the energy and skill he devoted to his work in bringing retribution upon those guilty of causing so much shame to the fair city of Akron.

            There was one glaring miscarriage of justice. The public felt keenly that the member of the city council, of whom was mention in the last chapter, and who was one of the leaders of the mob, should have been punished for his misdeeds that night. He escaped free. It was also regretted by many that the court, in passing sentence upon those convicted, did not impose heavier sentences because of the heinousness of the offenses. There is this to be said in extenuation, that many of them, it was a first offense; that excitement of the moment carried some them off their feet; that some up to this had borne good reputations in the community; that some had families dependent upon them for support, and that the sentences, such as they were, would be a sufficient deterrent from future violation of law.

            Thus justice emerged triumphant, as she always will. Law and Order were fully restored and affairs moved along in orderly procession.  The citizens began to take an account of their losses. The City Building was but a heap of bricks, stones and twisted iron. Columbia Hall, one of the chief meeting-places of the city, was the same. The buildings on the opposite side of Main Street had been damaged by flames and the violence of the mob.  One of the stores there had been looted. The stores south of Columbia Hall had been damaged by fire and smoke. The Standard Hardware Company had lost its entire stock of fire-arms. For all this loss not one cent of fire insurance could be collected Several cases brought to collect insurance dragged their weary lengths through the various counts for several years afterward, but it was uniformly decided that the companies were not liable for loss occasioned by the mob.  The loss in money was about a quarter of a million dollars.  A whole regiment of soldiers was quartered for nearly a week. The city and county had large bills to pay for detective service and the expense of the trials. Many citizens received serious injuries from bullets end flying missiles of all kinds.  Among them the newspapers mentioned the following:

Fred Vorwerk, W. H. Dussel, Park Stair, Arthur E. Sprague, John Ahern, E. Chemelitzki, Albert Grant, Frank Sours, E. Shelby and Albert Stevens, of the citizens; L. Manchester, W. Roepke, Minor Fritz, John Denious, A. Eberle and David Phillips, of the firemen, and John E. Washer, Alva Greenlese, John King and Edward Dunn, of the police force.

            Although seven years have passed since that momentous time, the city is still occupying the old office of the American Cereal Company as a City Hall. Three different administrations have conducted the city's affairs within its walls. They are still called "temporary quarters," but there is no prospect of anything more permanent for years to come. The city is so busy building viaducts and paving streets and expending so much. money for such purposes and the present quarters are so well adapted for the present needs that it is probable that Akron will have no City Hall of her own for many years to come. In spite of some objections on, the part of some officials, it must be admitted that the present building makes a very good housing for the conduct of municipal affairs, and that the rent is not unreasonable for such a structure. The City Council has a room large enough for its deliberations; the Mayor's Court is well provided for; the Board of Health, the Auditor, the Solicitor and the Police Department, all have separate and commodious apartments.

            The main damage caused by the riot was that done to the hitherto fair reputation of the city. In the heart of the cultured Western Reserve of Ohio, it was not thought possible that such an outbreak of lawlessness could occur. The other cities of the Western Reserve blushed for us. The great state of Ohio was ashamed of us.  We had brought discredit upon the great state of which we are so proud.  Our shame went abroad throughout the land--throughout the world. The great newspapers sent special correspondents to Akron and covered their front pages with great, black headlines to publish to the world our disgrace. As an example, the Pittsburgh Dispatch of August 24, 1900, bore across the entire front page in startling type, this inscription:

"National Guard Preserves Order in Ashamed Akron"

            This shame, this disgrace, this damage to a splendid reputation, was our greatest loss  If the cause of it all can be said to belong to those who might have averted it, then there is no difficulty in putting the blame where it belongs--at the door of incompetent public officials. The errors of judgment on their part were so numerous that, it will not be possible to mention them here. Even when the riot was at its height, a dozen determined policemen could have put the entire mob to rout. Many times that night it happened, that some one would cry, "The Police are Coming Out," and the entire crowd would take to their heels and scatter in all directions. It is to be feared that downright cowardice, as well as lack of judgment, was one of the prominent characteristics of those now criticized.

            From the black picture let us turn to a bright one. Letters of shining gold should be used to tell of the deeds of Akron's fire men who played so noble a part in that night's doings.  From, its very beginning, Akron's fire department has never been found wanting in any emergency, but on this occasion, it covered itself with everlasting glory The prison-keeper and a few of the policemen proved also that night that they were brave men. These, with the county prosecutor, and the members of the Grand and Petit juries who dealt with the riot cases, are they who emerged with credit from the Riot of 1900.

 

Doyle, William B. "The Riot Of 1900--The Darkest Night In Akron's History."
      Centennial History of Summit County, Ohio and Representative Citizens.
     Chicago, ILL: Biographical Publishing Company, 1908.

 
 

 
Graphics, stories, articles and other partial content are all Copyright ©2006-2011 Jeri Holland and other respective authors.