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