Interview with Michael J. Hanifin
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Michael J. Hanifin
Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil
Date of interview: 13 December 1977
Dan: Mike, being a retired Police Chief in the City of Binghamton, tell me about your life and experience in the community.
Mike: Well I was born on Pine Street, the age of one year my parents moved to Liberty Street, where I lived and went to the Robinson Street school. I graduated from the Robinson Street school. The high school, but did not go all, went to work instead at Crandall Stone's on Court Street at the salary of $4.50 a week. I got a raise, I believe at $6.00, before I left there and went to Stickley’s and Grant Chair Factory, where I took a job as stock clerk and in a little over a year I was superintendent of the finishing department. Well I was making $1500 a year then, straight time, but the Police Department was the only place where they had a pension system, and thinking of the old days, I decided to take the examination. I turned the job down three times because I'd have to take a cut in pay of about 50%, and also work seven days a week. So in 1917 I decided to apply and was appointed. I worked six years as a patrolman on duty and two years on a motorcycle when I was appointed Sergeant, and a couple of years later, I was appointed Captain, and ah the title was changed to Assistant Chief at a later date, and then finally in 1942 I was appointed Chief of Police. In regard to my appointments, the examinations I took, I passed first for Detective, first for Sergeant, first on the list for Lieutenant, and first for Captain, and of course the only three jobs I was appointed to was Sergeant and Captain. The wages of a patrolman was $65.00 a month, and they deducted, ah, your pension payments from that amount. You had to work a year in order to get two weeks vacation. In other words, I worked 17 months before I was entitled to pick a vacation due to the old men picking first. That, as I say was, in 17 months that was the first night I had off duty—all night work and the only assistance you had was a police whistle. If you got in trouble you had to handle it yourself—no police boxes, no radios or any of those things they have today. The most important case that I was involved up—involved in, rather—was a holdup of the streetcar place on the upper State Street, when three holdup men with guns held up the place around 3 o'clock in the morning and got part of the day’s receipts. So I was just getting through duty when the call came in and, ah, I ah ordered them to get four or five officers from their posts and I—one officer earlier had seen a car parked on ah Thorpe Street, so with the other officers I went down there and I went to the door. There was a light in the house, it was a twin house and I ah rapped the door. The lady came and she said, I asked her, "Is there any trouble around here?” and she said she was setting up with a sick baby, but she insisted on me going up and see the baby, which I did. I asked her who lived in the other part of the house and I believe it was her father-in-law. So then we started knocking at that door—it was a bitter cold morning, December 15th and ah I had the officers placed around the house at important points, and all of a sudden I went out to see if there was any footmarks in the snow leading into the house, when all the lights in the house went on and the officers called from the side to me to come around, and as I was going by, I saw they had one of the holdup men in the kitchen sitting in the chair and the officer standing over him with a gun, and then I went around to the rear and here's two more of the holdup men coming out of the cellar with their hands over their heads. So, in my opinion, it was a very very important arrest.
There was two unsolved holdups in the city—the Kroehler Manufacturing payroll and the Gotham Shoe payroll—and out of that arrest, they cleaned up both of those incidents, and ah while the officers was going by the cellar window where the men were, they saw them with their guns in their hands and they hid three revolvers in the cellar. So I took them to the Police Station, where I questioned them at some length and they, they sent two officers over to search the cellar and they found the three guns up in the rafters of the cellar, and ah in the course was locked up and ah District Attorney Gold was elected to take office the first of the month, and that morning he started on December 15th, and the men were tried and convicted, but in my opinion in my 46 years in the Police Department and I believe in the history of the Police Department, that was probably one of the most important arrests that was ever made.
Dan: That was in what year, Mike?
Mike: 1933, I believe.
Dan: That was, you mentioned a streetcar holdup.
Mike: Yeah, but the streetcar—they had the day’s receipts.
Dan: Oh, I see.
Mike: That, the barns up there and they, you know where the streetcars started out, where State Street, up there by the garbage place, and ah as I say in those days when I was appointed Sergeant, there was no such things as cars like they have today. The Sergeant went to work at eleven thirty at night and the particular night shift, the officers went to work at eight and got through at four. Well, as a Sergeant, they used to take a different route each night, but the only assistance I'd get was a ride when I’d take the streetcar up to the East End to start and get out near East Junior High School, see the officer in that area, then I'd have to walk over to Chenango Street up as far as State and Chenango Streets, then I'd see them between there and the viaduct. I had to see two there—they alternated on the corner there, one would walk around his post one hour while the other stayed there, then the other would do the same thing the next hour. Then I'd have to walk over to Clinton Street, see two officers over there, and then from there down to Glenwood Avenue and Clinton Street, see the officer there, then across the Main Street and walk up and generally see the officer there at ah Main and Jarvis, and then from there up to Main and Front Street where they alternated there, one walking around his post one hour while the other one was on the corner, then I'd have to go over town, walk over into the 5th Ward, see the officers there, then up to the 6th Ward, see one there near Crowley's Milk Plant or in that area generally, and from there over to Liberty and Court and see the officers there, and down through Court Street and see the officers on the different corners. Then I'd have to do that before 3:30 in the morning and then I'd have to take the officers that was going out to their posts, while there wasn't too many then, maybe a dozen officers—the most of them were on nights. Then I would have to go around and see them on their posts before reporting off duty. If I had a car like they do today, I could do most of it in an hour and a half.
Dan: Did you have to walk all that distance?
Mike: Walk it.
Dan: Didn’t you even have a bike?
Mike: No, no, walk it, and seven days a week.
Dan: No days off?
Mike: No, no days off. You got two weeks vacation and you had to work a full year before you got it. Now today they allow you so much for so many months you work, you know, in that first year and they get a month and a week for holidays or so as I understand it—why, there’s no comparison. One of those, why and I must say that officers in those days demanded respect. There’s no young hoodlums walking around up to them and saying, “Oink, oink,” like there is today and getting away with it. No wonder there's no discipline.
Dan: You were Sergeant at the time you had to go make all those calls?
Mike: Yes, yes.
Dan: And that was what year, Mike?
Mike: Oh, I was appointed Sergeant in 1925.
Mike: And I passed First for Detective but the, the Commissioner has a choice of the first three, and ah a fellow named Casey got it but—which was all right, he was on a long time—he was friends of, to pick any of the first three. Then I passed First for Lieutenant, but in the meantime they were changing Chiefs when Hunt was Chief, and ah, so they ah appointed Abel to Captain, Chief, and to my surprise they sent for me one day and said, “We might as well do this all at once—we're making you the acting Captain.” I was first on the Lieutenants list, but they didn't appoint me because they intended to appoint me Captain, and as a matter of fact I was working as an acting Captain drawing a Sergeant's pay, and I was over the Lieutenants was drawing more pay than I was. That’s the way it was—you had to be appointed permanently before they gave you the money—today they make you acting, they pay you the money. So as, ah—was appointed Chief in 1942, and ah Chief Abel took a position with Remington Rand when they came here and started a plant in Johnson City, and he took over the protection duties down there, and ah then I worked from then until I was 70 years old, when I retired. Then of course in those days, ah, ah, we had of course naturally the petty little places where workers used to go to gamble, but never know that gambling as they’d try to make it out one time, and ah, I know places where the so-called big shots were gambling, but you never hear any complaints about that—but the poor working man, why, they raided the place, you put the players in too in those days. And then as far as disorderly houses, there was one on Wall Street, and I wouldn't want to mention some of the guests that they had there cause it would surprise most of the people in the city.
Dan: Was that run by Dora Warren?
Mike: Yes, and ah, I used to have to question them after we marked the bills and give them to what we call the stool pigeon to go up, to go in there, and then the police matron would take money from the girls when they'd be brought to the Police Station, and when you showed them the numbers on the bills, they knew they were sunk and they'd generally admit.
Dan: Were you on the force, Mike, when there was a troop—the troop was here from either the CCC or else they were training here for some reason or another, and they, one of the fellas robbed Dora and they had to call the Police. Could you tell me about that?
Mike: I don’t remember too much about that. They raided it while they were here, I know, but the details—why, it’s been so long ago. They were camped up there, I believe up near Deforest Street for a while, but ah, at the time I know there was, you know, an interesting story, but I cannot for the life of me remember the details. But, ah, to me that was one of the most disgusting things that I had to do, was to be questioning those, because I could not see them at all—no how.
Dan: Now, during Prohibition days, Mike, what about—did you have to conduct many raids or anything?
Mike: Yeah, ah, they had a vice squad that would raid now and then, but ah they always had places, naturally—that was a law that never should have been passed, the Volstead Act—and get arrested, but they would be right back in business again.
Dan: What are your recollections about the Chapman Hotel? Are you acquainted with that?
Mike: Well, ah, that was quite a place, ah, but ah it was just working people went there—they, you know, at the corner of Liberty and Henry Streets. And then later one of the Chapman boys owned the hotel, it was the old McDonald Hotel on Lewis Street.
Dan: That’s the one I have reference to.
Mike: And ah as I understand it, they did pretty good, but I cannot remember anybody that was in the bootlegging game as they called it—even those who was supposed to make quite a sum of money—that didn't die broke. Not a one. I can’t remember one that really, you know, so there must be some curse to the liquor. And, ah, also there were several of them on the North Side—their wives died young. It seemed that there was a curse to it. I don't know what it is, but ah I’ve known too many cases, you know, where they all had hard luck.
Dan: I know they used to refer to it as 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock Mass up at the Chapman Hotel, and they thought the Irish used to go to church up there.
Mike: Yeah, years ago, too, you know, when—well, even before Prohibition, they had a ladies’ entrance, you know, to most, you know, “high class places,” they'd call them that—ah, the lady would look up and down the street for 5 minutes and then duck in. You know, she'd be so ashamed to go in there—today they go right in and push the men away from the bar. Well I, in those days it was a rare thing even to see any promotions in the Police Department. The superior officers, they'd work until they were ready to drop dead, and they were all fine husky men and as I say you work all night on the post—wherever you lived, you had to walk home in the morning at 4 o'clock, so you got plenty of exercise, and as I said before, the only real protection you had was a whistle. If you got in too much trouble you might blow that, somebody might hear you—and phones were scarce. There wasn't too many in a particular neighborhood, but somebody might call the police station and ask for help, but that’s the only way. Today they have radio, walkie-talkie and all the different communications.
Dan: When were firearms first introduced for the policemen? What year, do you know, Mike?
Mike: Oh of course they were, they had always, I imagine they always had firearms.
Dan: Well you mentioned that all they had was whistles on the beat for protection.
Mike: Oh, they had firearms too. Yeah, I mean like having another officer there like they do now, come in the car and what have you. Oh they always had firearms, always you had the firearm, but I mean that without using your firearm, I mean the only protection you had for the calls for assistance would be a whistle.
Dan: I see. Now you had an affiliation with Bob Stephenson on the Detective Bureau?
Mike: Well, Bob had retired a year, I think. I knew him real well before I got there. Yeah, he was quite a detective.
Dan: Now you, ah, mentioned Crandall & Stone, where your first job. What were conditions there? What did—
Mike: They made automobile hardware.
Dan: Automobile hardware.
Mike: Yeah, I finally got a job, that is what they call a promotion there—they have about 2 days a week, or 2 afternoons, rather, where you would, ah, what they call Japan, ah, brass nuts what were on bolt sockets—they had touring cars. You got a cent and a half for doing a gross, on piecework. And as I say you really had to work—the boss was right over you all the time—although I enjoyed it. I used to see how much I could do, but ah, how strict they was at night. The whistle blew and I forgot my cap. There was another young fellow named Griffin that lived near me on Liberty Street, and he was in the packing room, and I used to run out and get him and walk across the tracks home, but forgetting my cap, I had to go back after it and here's this big boss standing there and I'm running on my own time, and he gave me the devil. He says you run here in the morning the same way when the whistle blows. I said if they did that to an employee today, they'd have him locked up.
Dan: Now what about Stickley’s? Now they were manufacturing what?
Dan: Is that a forerunner of Kroehler’s, now?
Mike: No, no, Kroehler’s came later. They were up at Abbott Street. Levinsons bought Stickley’s out, but they later went out of business, and—
Dan: What did you do at Stickley’s, Mike?
Mike: Well at Stickley’s I thought I’d learn upholstering, but then this job came up, ah, stock clerk, and they asked me if I’d like to take it, and I did, and in no time at all I was superintendent of the finishing department. I was boss over fellows that was working there before I was born, at the age of 19.
Dan: But the reason you went on to the Police Department was because of the pension plan—
Mike: The pension, yeah.
Dan: —and you were appointed in 1917?
Mike: Yes, yeah.
Dan: Were there Civil Service Exams then?
Mike: Oh yes, yeah, yeah. The Commissioners then, I can remember Bennett, Brown, and Barnes—the three B's—and Frank Truitt was Mayor, and ah, some people thought he was narrow-minded, but he was one of the finest fellas that ever was. That Truitt—you know, that Truitt Shoe Company?—a very fine man. In those days, the people that worked officially at City Hall like Councilmen—they were generally businessmen. They didn't do it for the money, they did it for the good of the City, but at one time on the Common Council was Tom Behan, President of the 1900 Washer; Ed Sweet, ah, who with his brother owned Sweet Foundries; Romey Whiting, East End, who owned the feed mill; John Delavan, who operated Titchner Iron Works; Mike Sweeney, who owned half of Davie & Sweeney Laundry; Dr. Maddi. Them type of men, you know, were Councilmen.
Dan: Very prominent.
Mike: And when you went up there to spend 10¢, you better show them you were going to get 11¢ in return—not like today.
Dan: Now you, ah, recall the Overall Factory Fire?
Mike: Oh yes, that happened on my 20th birthday, and ah, I let the fellas go home early that day—ah, a fella named Benchley was Treasurer of Stickley & Grant, and he came back at once, told us about the terrible fire downtown. My sister at the time was working at Hull's Cigar Factory—she was what they called a roller, you know, roll the cigars. That was about a block away, she saw some of the poor victims falling from the fire escapes—you know, the blazing, the fire blazing around them. It was horrifying, but I didn't see it ‘til after, you know, when the fire was out. I went down later.
Dan: That was located where, Mike?
Mike: On Wall Street.
Dan: On Wall Street.
Mike: Next to the Post Office.
Dan: Post Office.
Mike: The Post Office was on the corner in those days. It was a terrible thing, happened on my 20th birthday.
Dan: You were, let’s see, on the Police Department at the time?
Mike: Oh no, I was a boss in the chair factory.
Dan: Oh, you were a boss in the chair factory.
Mike: Yeah, and ah, as I say, I let the fellas go home early, they wanted to go down because it was something unusual. Yeah, and it was a terrible warm day, terrible, I can remember that.
Dan: Now you mentioned your sister. Now, which sister worked in that tobacco factory?
Mike: My oldest Sister. She's a year older than I am and her name's Conrad. She lives in our old homestead on Liberty Street yet.
Dan: On Liberty Street. We're trying to find out as much as we can about the tobacco factory. Were you acquainted at all with her job in the Hull's tobacco factory?
Mike: No, that was there at the corner. This was quite a tobacco center in those days.
Dan: Oh, it was the tobacco center of the world at one time.
Mike: They had General Cigar on Wall Street, they had Hull’s at the corner of Water and Henry, they had Kent’s on Chenango Street—my father worked there, next to where the Greyhound Bus is today—and they, ah, had another one, I can't remember the name, up at the corner of State and Chenango Street, and then on Water Street they had Barnes, that later got the Red Dot Cigar out, and they built an addition or rented a place over on Clinton Street. They did such a business there, but it all seemed to fade away, you know, at once, and also the furniture factories. The only thing left around here, they had Stickley & Grant where I worked, they had Binghamton Chair on the other side of the factories, and they had cine or two small ones down at the end of Carroll Street there, and there’s nothing around today, and as I say, in those days and then EJ had two trains leaving the Erie Depot every morning taking employees to Johnson City and Endicott. They’d make stops on the west side, at Oak Street and Jarvis, and then they'd come back every night at 6 o'clock and they'd park all the railroad cars down near Liberty Street and, ah, jeepers, one night this same fella that worked over later—the Griffin fellow, we both were selling even newspapers then, and we used to take the EJ train down as far as Liberty Street and walk up to our homes. And there was a train #14 that was late this night, and the kids was fooling around, and he thought he was getting on the EJ train. Gets on and he's laughing away that he got away from the other kids, and they went by Liberty Street, hell bent for election—took him to Susquehanna! And ah, as I say, EJ at that time was employing around 20 or 25 thousand people, and how those people used to get up early in the morning to be down there and then late at night, and I believe they worked 6 days a week—I worked 6 days a week at Stickley’s. 10 hours a day.
Dan: You don't know what year Stickley’s went out of business, do you, Mike?
Mike: No, no, I really can't.
Dan: But they were furniture manufacturers, do you suppose Kroehler’s bought them out?
Mike: No, no, I remember when Kroehler's came here, and ah, when they built it. There was, ah, a fellow in charge of the finishing department, you know, came over to see me—I was working at Stickley’s, you know, and I knew him. They were quite an outfit there for a while. ‘Course a lot of things have been improved upon, like at Stickley’s. One thing about Stickley’s, the furniture was 100%—if it was oak, it was 100% oak. It wasn’t veneered. And of course naturally they had to get a price, you know, we couldn't with their costs and their profits, and the other factories’d come out and put a veneer on the front. To the ordinary purchaser, one looked just as good as the other, but one was much cheaper, so that competition got pretty tough—that was the Mission furniture and ah, the brothers, the Stickley Brothers up in East Syracuse. They were quite an outfit, and then later, ah, Stickley out of there, his son has the Stickley photograph place there on Carroll Street.
Dan: That’s still going.
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: They moved over, of course, to the Vestal Plaza.
Mike: You remember Carl Stickley?
Dan: No, no I don't.
Mike: He was a cripple or something—I forget what was the matter with him, but he did all right, he certainly did all right.
Dan: Mike, if you worked seven days a week, what did you do for recreation?
Mike: Oh boy, I’m telling you, you didn’t go out nights running around like they do today, don't you know. What a change, that's what I say, of course, ah, the inventions and everything, they'd make things easier to build and manufacture. Some of these persons I say, a lot of people I talk to, I wish for 6 months that this entire country could be put back to those early days and have them work the way they had to work, save the way they had to save like the other things, and then they would appreciate, you know. Now of course, when I was a kid, I thought the only time they had eggs was at Easter. As I say, if you got up in the morning—
[interruption—someone at the door]
Dan: You were born, brought up on Pine Street?
Mike: I was only a year old when they moved up, ah, on Liberty Street.
Dan: Oh, from Pine Street to Liberty Street.
Dan: And how was Pine Street in those days? Of course you were a little young at the time.
Mike: They were fairly nice neighborhoods, you know, for ordinary folks like my parents, were immigrants from Ireland, hard working, and one thing I'd like to say—all the people were alike. They were just ordinary people, and someone, once in a while, would have hard times, be out of work or in debt, have you. There was no such thing in those days as relief, and I'm just as sure as I'm sitting here, if there was such a thing as relief, they wouldn't accept it because they'd think it’d be a stigma for the rest of their lives. And in addition, then what they would do, they would take in washings and wash and iron clothes—a large basket for a dollar and a quarter, and there was no electrical appliances then, like electric washers or—it didn't make much difference how much money you had, and they would scrub those clothes on a washboard, and boil them, and then hang them out to dry, and then iron them, and they'd do, as I say, a large basket for a dollar, or a dollar and a quarter. That’s what some of these people should be made to do today, also.
Mike: They could learn the value of the dollar.
Dan: That’s right. Now, were there mostly Irish up there on Liberty Street at the time?
Mike: Yes. It seems peculiar—like on Pine Street and Henry, there was almost all Irish extraction at one time, and ah, then the Italians came and they moved in there, and the Irish moved up on Liberty Street. They got along all right, they were all fine people, both the Italians and the Irish, but that’s the way. Then over in the First Ward all the Slavic, Lithuanian and other ethnic groups moved over there, very fine people, and always kept their homes up nice, you know, worked hard, and worked, most of them in the shoe factory, and they made real good citizens. But I don't know, the way things are today, and then there was Jewish people would be down around, ah, Susquehanna Street and South Street. They'd be rag pickers, they'd have a horse and truck going around picking up bones and everything, and some of them men were the fathers of some of the finest lawyers that was ever, you know, in the City of Binghamton.
Dan: Sure, sure.
Mike: And, ah, there was Jake Smith that I could remember him—he was a fruit peddler and he'd tell the policemen he'd leave his cellar, he'd leave the door open, he says, “If you want something during the night,” he says, “you go down and help yourselves.” About 3 o'clock in the morning sometimes you could go down, get a piece of pineapple and stand at the corner of South Street all by your lonesome nippin’ on it. Oh I'm telling you, believe me, when that Sergeant came around in those days you’d better be there.
Dan: Was Charlie Kress in office at the time that you were on the Police Department?
Mike: Oh, Charlie Kress, you know, ah, he was a peculiar individual, but he was a very bright fella and he thought at one time that I was giving news to the Scrantonian, which used to write him up once in a while, and ah, so one time he changed me—I was Assistant Chief then—he put me in from midnight ‘til eight in the morning. He couldn't take me out of circulation entirely. He told Abel he'd have to work from eight ‘til four, and Sheehan from four ‘til midnight. I went looking for him one night when he was Mayor. Had a little Model T Ford in the Police Station then, and the first two times I went around in front of City Hall, I could see him in there, he'd even be in there at night, and there was cars parked, so I couldn't stop and I kept going around the block, and the third time around, it was in darkness and I looked over and I see him walking up the street—no hat, you know—in front of Resnick’s. I pulled up in front of the Courthouse—that Model T, I don't know, somebody knows if it stopped when I got out of it, because I couldn't, and I went over and said, “I want to see you.” Well him and I went at it, he walked away from me, you know, and over to the Courthouse, and me right after him, he finally threw up both hands—says, “Work any hours you want,” and ah, from that time on, I never had a better friend. Oh, I had a great letter out here, but some way the Chief'd read it, boy could he write a letter. And ah one time he was running, and of course some of the politicians didn't like him too well, and ah of course the Sun supported him but the Press was against him, and ah, he put a piece in the Sun one morning—he says if there was a skunk under a porch and you threw the Binghamton Press in there, the skunk would come out. He was a smart cookie, believe me.
Dan: Yeah, he was.
Mike: And he got more, in my opinion, for every dollar spent out of City employees than any Mayor in my memory, and I remember a lot of them. He had a way about him, and down in Washington, he had friends in both parties. He was really clever.
Dan: Now the Police Department at one time used to wear the uniforms like the Bobbies in England.
Mike: You mean with the helmets?
Mike: They got rid of them just before I went on. That's one thing I didn't want to wear, that large helmet. Yeah, they just got rid of them just before I went on. But boy, not bragging, maybe with an exception here and there, policemen in those days were real, good, dedicated, and believe me they commanded respect. There was nobody went up to them and said, “Oink, oink,” and got away with it.
Dan: That’s very interesting, Mike.
Mike: In fact I got a book here, not in 1925—it was just before I was appointed Sergeant. Get that off for a minute, I just want you—
[Mike leaves the room to get a book]
Dan: I want to watch this [tape recorder] for a minute so it won't run down.
Dan: Do you remember Willis Sharpe Kilmer and the Sun Briar Court on—
Mike: Oh yes, oh yes. Yeah.
Dan: Could you tell me a little about that?
Mike: Well, nothing, only it was quite a place where they bred horses and what have you, and ah, I know I was on the motorcycle—they invited me down there one day, but ah, yes, I remember when George Ely was the Secretary. Yes I remember Willis Sharpe’s father. He'd come—the Press was printed right up at the corner in the Swamp Root building—and he'd come out of there night, and I'd used to sell papers a penny apiece. You get two for a cent and sell them for a penny apiece. He'd always give you a nickel for the paper, and he could have picked it up right in his office, don't you know.
Dan: Right, right.
Mike: He was a short fellow, but—Willis was a big strapping fella, but the father was short, and ah, they used to say they got the business away from the father's brother.
Mike: He was supposed to be the one that had the ingredients that went into swamp root, but don't know how the Father got it away but they manufactured up there, but then over in England also, but after a while over in England they made, you know, like you know in advertising, what have you, change their methods, and they finally sold out. I think some outfit that took it up in one of the New England states. But during Prohibition, some people used to drink that instead of the other stuff they used to be able to get. There was some Palmatier fellows, nice fellows, up there around Deforest Street that were bosses there—I remember my sister-in-law worked there. They made a pretty good dollar out of it, you know, when it was going. They used to tell the story, I don't know how true it is, that he was a good friend of mine, too, real good, gave me my first plane ride. I was always scared to death to ride a plane, and ah there was a local contractor here named Lawrence Kane, was a friend of mine, he was a friend of this Ralph Sweet and, ah, had Sweet’s plane up there at upper Glenwood Ave. He had that airport, and ah he offered me to take a ride and ah finally they asked me so much, I was a Captain then, and ah I said to Lawrence, I says if he wants to take me up to see my boy at Notre Dame, I'll consider taking a ride, thinking that'll be the end of it. So in a couple of weeks, he calls me and says, “You got a pencil?” I thought he was giving me a riddle or something, and I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Mark this date down: June 26th.” I says, “What about it?”
“It's the day you're leaving this earth.” I pretty near left then. “He's taking me out to Notre Dame to see your boy.” Well we told Father Lynch, who was at St. Patrick’s, and ah, “Gosh,” he says, “I'd like to take a ride.” Well Lawrence says, “I'll see if there'll be room enough,” and they told him yes. He told his mother and his mother put her foot down—no. “Well,” I says, “if I'm up there with a clergyman I'll be all right,” but when his mother said no, I thought sure we were going to come down. So I started out that morning with him—Lawrence picked me up, I didn't even tell my wife—I told her I was just taking a ride with Lawrence Kane. Then I went up to see my mother, Lord have mercy on her, and ah she said, “Where are you going so early?” I said, “just take a ride.” We drove around Front Street and a black cat, and I made him stop the car and turn around–go around another street. So when I got up to the airport, the Sweet airport, all that feeling had left me, and he had his own private pilot. So we get in, he said to me, “We might come down in Cleveland to stretch our legs.” I said, “If we get me up there, stay there until I get out to something,” but after I got up there it got so monotonous, you know, going along, I was glad to come down in Cleveland. So we went out and we met—oh, ah, what’s his name?—Father Connerton, I think, and ah he took us around the University and showed it, and that afternoon, in the morning rather, my boy finished his studies for the year, so he asked Ralph, how about bringing him back home? So he asked the pilot if, you know, he'd be too heavy a load or anything. He said no, it'd be all right, so we brought him home with us. We left here around 7 o'clock or 8 o 'clock in the morning—I forget which. I went out there, we had lunch, went around the University, started back around 4 in the afternoon and ah left there, brought my son with me, and was to work that night at 7:30. So that was my experience, and Sweet always got a great kick out of, you know, telling of how he gave me my first plane ride. After that I’d have taken off right in the middle of the road out here, you know, the, I overcame that fear.
Dan: That was quite an experience, Mike. That Sweet, what business was he in, Mike?
Mike: Well he was, he worked in the Shoe factory originally, and I don’t know how he got in there. Several fellows around, they used to—they had medicine of some kind too over there, but I can't tell you what—but they used to tell the story, but I don't know how much truth there's in it. He used to have an ad in the paper—you could advertise anything in those days—says, “Send 10¢ and get a yard of silk.” They'd send ‘em a yard of silk thread. Whether that was true or not, I was never able to find out. But he, he really would, at times his knees was through his trousers when he’s going to work, but he was a millionaire afterwards.
Mike: And, ah, I was one of his pallbearers when he died, but he really got a great kick thinking of—oh, and then later he got a plane, was a Beechcraft, and ah, I think he sold his to the Government, then later the wings was falling off some of them. Oh boy, was I scared then. Then he got a new one out, a smaller one, and he called me up one afternoon and he says we might as well go up, and we went around Watkins Glen and then we came down in Ithaca. It snowed or something, I forget now, but that day I got airsick, it was bouncing around like a rubber ball up there.
Dan: Now he ended up in what business, was it Swamp Root?
Mike: No, no. No, I don't know, I don’t know what he was interested, but he had, he had a lot of money.
Dan: Dabbled into a little bit of everything, huh?
Mike: I guess so, yeah.
Dan: Was it his daughter that married one of the Johnsons? One of the Sweets married a Johnson.
Mike: No, no. I'll tell you, where he lived at one time was in that red house on Walnut Street that sets back in with the big fence around there, for years there, and ah to tell you the truth, I really don't know exactly, but you know it was lots of businesses like Swamp Root, and didn't advertise anyway like that, but later on, they started tightening up later, but he had a lot of money all right, there was no question about that.
Dan: Do you know of any reason why the cigar manufacturers kept dwindling down and eventually went out of business?
Mike: I really don't know, I really don't know, unless it was like the General Cigar Factory came here and everything was like things are, like the machines, don't you know. Well you see, they made what they call bunches—that’s the inside of the cigar. It took two of them to keep my sister going. She was real fast—what they call a roller. They rolled, you know, the outside, and it was all done by hand, but the General I understand, you know, more mechanical, and I would imagine like everything else, making things by machines instead of by hand.
Dan: Now your sister, Mrs. Conrad you said—where does she live?
Mike: She lives in the old homestead, 99 Liberty Street.
Dan: 99 Liberty Street. Do you suppose she would mind giving me her experiences in the Cigar Factory?
Mike: Oh no.
Dan: You see we have very scant information about—we know about the cigar factories, but not the people that worked in them. 99— [interruption]
Mike: Yeah, yeah, 99 Murray.
Dan: 99 Murray—that would just be up the street here.
Mike: No, 99 Liberty .
Dan: Oh, Liberty.
Mike: She's 86 years old.
Mike: Now I'm 84, I'll be 85 in July.
Dan: Well you're going strong, Mike—keep that lamp on.
Mike: Oh, I got the back separated back there, and it’s, and it’s causing—last year I didn't feel any older than I was when I was 50. Now I feel like 150, and the doctor that operated on me, Dr. Gold, he said, “You're going to make 95.” I said, “Geez, I think he made a mistake.” I think he meant nine that night. Do you know Dr. Gold? He's in with Wescott.
Dan: Not personally. I've heard of him.
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Well is there anything else you would like to tell me about the Police Department that sticks out in your mind at all?
Mike: Well there's some things I could tell you, but they'd think I'd be bragging though—this isn't on, is it?
Dan: This is on, yeah, but as far as bragging is concerned, this is not going to be published—it’s not for publication.
Mike: No, no, but they’re different today than—it’s easier to find a law abider today than it is not, to tell you the truth. I get more complaints here than I did when I was working. Believe it or not, I know every move they make.
Dan: Yeah, ought to get a police scanner so you can get all their calls.
Mike: No, anything that plays, anything on television, I turn, I says, “I seen enough,” that—they tell us about three being in, down, two of us got to be in violation of the rules and regulations. Anyway, when you left the Police Station, you walked in those days, of course, you had to go directly the shortest distance to your post, as fast as possible. Stop in—ah, what’s that place? Woolworth’s—have coffee. I was there, too, when three of them would be on their way home, but especially two would be off their post, even. One of them of course would be working their post about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. They'd see three coming out of the building there on Court Street, where the bus starters have their room. Boy I’m telling ya, they're getting great money today really. Did you ever hear of any of them quitting and getting another job?
Dan: No I think they’re starting out at 10 or 11 thousand dollars today, and a very good pension plan after 20 years.
Mike: Oh yeah. Without bragging, the best, Sullivan, Gillen, O’Dea—his sister is married to my son. I bet I did more work than the three of them put together.
Mike: Sullivan, he sat around newspaper men, what have you—his wife’s more of a man, acts more like one, walks more like one. When in church, he'd be behind her like a little kitten. She’s put him into the pew. Fact, she was designed the uniforms, and after she got through, they threw them out, as I understand, around the locker room over there, ‘cause, like an Eisenhower Jacket. The taxpayers paid for that. When I went on you had to pay for your own uniform, you had it made by a tailor. You had to buy the cloth from the City, and I was the first one that got them a uniform allowance, $50.00. They'd have to grain that uniform, that’s their part, if it’s that’s replaced—into their Assistant Chief, and have them see it, get his permission, go and have it made and come back before he'd send it up there. Now I understand they're getting around $150 in January and $100 in July. I haven’t, I’m going to check up to see it. The taxpayers and the, eventually the renters too, had to pay that time then. Taxes for things like that, now like that. It's terrible, absolutely terrible.
Dan: Well, back in the, after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, you used to get quite a few winos. Could you tell me something about when you used to take and ah, put them up for the night at the Police Station down in the basement—the old Police Station?
Mike: Oh they used to, the fellas came in like, ah—”lodgers,” they called them. Take their name down and release them in the morning. The poor fellas would go out and the first thing, they'd be looking for cigarettes and, you know, stubs that was thrown away. I’d have them even stop me in the street when I would be going to the office, you know, extend me for a quarter. Then I'd tell them who I was and some of them would pretty near drop dead, but I’d give the poor devils a quarter, don't you know.
Dan: Didn't they have boards downstairs where they could—?
Mike: Yeah, they slept on them, yeah, on the boards—even the prisoners slept on boards. Boy, I’m telling ya, and then as I say, not bragging, I'll bet you I got more statements out of more law violators for felonies than anyone in the 42 years that I was working there. Of course I wouldn't get away with it today.
Dan: What were some of the principal violations in those days—breaking the law as far as Prohibition was concerned?
Mike: Well, no, burglary and things like that, and you know, felonies. You know, if they could outtalk them it was OK, but the minute they started giving me snide remarks… The only time that I really come close to, ah, getting into difficulty—ah, Abe Gold, Dr. Maddi, and myself were like three brothers. Abe was District Attorney at the time, but they got a call one night over on the south side, and ah, I don't know whether it was a drugstore or what was being burglarized. When they caught the young fella, 24 years old, and ah, they brought him in to talk to me to question, to try to get a statement out of him. Finally he turned his rear end to me, then I got up and turned him around and I forgot my ring, and gee, I cut him over the eye here and couldn't take him to court for three days. Took him over to the hospital there.
Mike: When he got there, Richardson was the judge, and you know his southern accent. He says, “What happened to you?” Given his due, he says, “I was chopping wood and a piece came up and hit me,” but when he went home, he told his mother the true story, so she goes to the District Attorney. Abe says to her, “You’re lucky your son is not on his way to Attica.” So she was satisfied then, but that's the closest I’ve ever come. But you bet your life they generally signed faster, you give them, as I say, you couldn't get away with it today. Like some of these decisions—and they're split decisions too, 5 to 4—the Supreme Court made a short time ago. There was two officers went after a fellow in a neighboring state where they picked him up, and ah, he had killed a young girl, and on the way back, they were very nice to him, but they didn’t tell him that he didn’t have to say nothing unless he had a lawyer and all that. And ah, I’ll be darned, a 6 to 5 decision—I think it was that they threw the statement out, you know. I was going to write ‘em that time, but I didn't. I was going to say if I was in charge of a Police Department in the district where you're living, I'd leave orders there, if you or any member of your family called up and said that you were being attacked by these thugs, to tell you that we’re were busy and to take care of it yourself—making heroes out of them and that Kuntsler, that lawyer.
Dan: You mean of the American Civil Liberties Union?
Mike: Yeah, boy. I don't mind giving a person a break or two breaks, you know, if they’re entitled to it or something like that, but some of those thugs that’s out there that’s—
Dan: Well they're protected, you know, with the Miranda.
Mike: Well, they kind of doctored up that decision now, you know, it’s not as strict as, you know, just because they didn’t rap on the door or something.
Mike: They're sitting on the old perches out there, up there. They're not out there taking, you know, this stuff from these thugs.
Dan: You were on the force when George Weslar was killed, weren’t you?
Mike: Yes, yeah, I was acting Chief that time. Charlie Kress was Mayor. They called me here, ah, and went over there on Water Street, and I think that was the first time we ever used gas, and poor George, he was, he wasn't working, but this fella, I don’t know, was having trouble with his wife or something, but anyway, so George goes over and goes to go up the steps, and he was up there with a shotgun—killed him. Some other fella that was going with him, and he killed him too.
Dan: That boy was going to school with me, I forget his name right now—he was from St. Mary’s.
Mike: Is that so? And anyway, they called me over there, and finally Joe Varsick, the detective, you know, we shot the gas up in there so we figured, well, can’t be that he was escaping then because wasn't getting any response or from out back. Charlie even climbed the pole out there, Charlie Kress, and Varsick went up and he shot himself—the fellow, you know.
Dan: Committed suicide?
Mike: Yeah, yeah, but there was enough gas up there that he had been immobile anyway. Yeah, I can remember that right well. Oh, there’s probably a lot of other places, but they don't come to my mind fresh now but ah, I see once in a while they put in the paper something I can never remember. They said, ah, Captain Abel and Sergeant Hanifin, how they raided a disorderly house on Court Street—I can never remember a thing about it, said later we both became Chiefs, you know, like that. Another time they had up there about me chasing kids off the ice near Rogan’s Mill up there, tell them if I catch them out again they'd go to jail. I couldn't remember it at all, didn't you know. You know, a lot of interesting things if a person could remember them.
Dan: WelI remember the Chapman Hotel. They used to call 11 or 12 o'clock Mass down there—that used to be a scream, ‘course they'd be going down there.
Mike: Yeomans—that’s how they appointed Casey, to tell you the truth. In those days they thought that they was—I have no definite proof, you know, of any acts of these—they used to call the little Brothers, but if you was a Catholic, you know, and Yeomans was Commissioner, see.
Dan: Commissioner of what?
Mike: Of safety. So ah, he ah, we had an examination in those days, they'd detail you to a job and they'd give you an allow for experience but they don't allow you today, or go in there either. So Casey got so many points on the examination for experience. “Oh,” he says, “so I am going to take it anyway.” I beat him by 5 points, even with his number first, so Helen Brick—do you remember her?
Mike: Lived on Pine Street, she was a Commissioner's Secretary, and I'm on a motorcycle and I dropped in the office early on a Monday morning, and Kress didn't like me much—he had quite a piece. He got the tipoff on a Saturday’s paper that Yeomans was out of town, trying to put him in the middle. I knew Casey’d get it, even if he was, he had the right to appoint the first three anyway, and he told him about the civil service commission found me to be the best qualified and all this—a lot of blarney, not so much for me, just a lot of politics. So I came in on the motorcycle at half past nine Monday morning and Helen Brick walked down the hall to the main office. She says, “Congratulations.” I says, “Yeah, that’s all the good it'd do me.” She says, “Oh, he didn't appoint him already did he?” That’s what burned me up. I come over here and I never felt anything, but Dr. Day had me come in—my stomach was upset and he cured it, you know, upset stomach. I came over here and got a little drink, stick of gum in my mouth, back I'd go and I go into his office, and he says, “Mike, I was going to send for you,” and I says, “I came in to see about that job that I know the appointment was made upstairs.” Now he says, “I haven't got a thing against you, Mike.” ‘Course there was two or three made, well I always promised Frank that I would make him a detective and ah, I promised him, you know, he was a great one.
Mike: Before I got off these places, he was a death on boozer’s driving. Had me in front of Chapman's on Henry Street to make arrests if they had signs out, but never arrested anybody. They took me out of there and put me up to the Arlington Hotel and put Casey down there, you know, so to patrol something. Said to him, “Now, Commissioner, you tell me if it’s anything I've done, and I'll try to correct it—if you tell me if it’s anything I'm doing, it’s wrong and I'll stop it, but if it’s my religion, I'm doing nothing.” He says, “Here, here, here, and ah, so ah, you knew that,” says there'll be other examinations. I says, “You can't expect me to be passing first,” and it was, generally in those days there wouldn't be an exam. The guys would stick in there ‘til they dropped dead, you know, the old fellows, and ah Kelly, this Sergeant, you'll see his picture in there, he was just able to shuffle along, you know—wouldn't have an examination. So I took it, and ah, Tommy Broughton was working in front of the Courthouse there, corner Chenango and Court traffic, when I'd go by in a motorcycle—stopped me one day. John McDonald, don't know whether you knew him or not, he was President of the Civil Service, and ah, he's got a kid that’s a lawyer with IBM, I guess he's down in Washington. One of his sons now is City Assessor.
Dan: Oh, I know him, that McDonald, yeah.
Mike: And ah, so ah, Ralph New, he was with McTighe’s grocers—the founder—and he stopped me, wanted to know if the papers been marked. ‘Course he took it too, so ah, yeah, said they're marked, but he wouldn't tell him who was ahead. He says it’s a smart redhead, he says was ahead. That’s all he told him, so Tommy stopped me, I said—of course his brother's hair was pure red, but my head was, you know, was never red—got a blond in it. I says, he says, “By God I think you're the one that’s on top,” and l sure enough I was. Jeepers, I got an old paper up there somewheres, you know there’s so much discussion about the thing right across the Sun, used to get out the Bulldog at night. Big headlines across: “Hanifin Sergeant.” You'd think I was President of the United States.
Dan: The Bulldog was out on Saturday nights, wasn't it?
Mike: Oh, every night.
Dan: Oh, every night—a Special.
Mike: Yeah, and I made him talk so much that day. I never, with my right hand up, I don't believe theres another one in the Police Department could say they never asked a politician or anybody to intercede for me in any way for any job. I knew they did, but not by asking them for me. They did it on their own or somebody else asking for them—I don't know, and ah, as I say, every examination I took, I passed first. Sergeant—first was Detective, Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain.
Dan: When did they first introduce motorcycles in the beginning when you first went on the force?
Mike: I think they were there before, I couldn't tell you, but they used to have horses when I was a kid. Had three horses, and ah Lewis, Bucky Lewis was a cop then, Hillegas, and God I can't think of the other one. In fact, there was a murder up on Liberty Street one day, they was a couple of Italians, he was a nice fellow too, I often wondered, everybody thinks, it might have been named Maggio because he left here, he went out. I think that was his name, and he lived down near the Patch Pond, what they called it. There was a block there near Liberty Street, you go down the hill and there’s a little house down back, and he lived there and he worked on the railroad. But he had an argument with another Italian, and the Italian kept following him up to get rid of the party. He kept telling him to go back, and he showed him the gun—he had it, and the Roundhouse was there at Liberty Street near Eldridge, and just as they got there, he turned around and let him have it. Killed the guy. Up he comes and he’s coming up the street on a Sunday afternoon. The kid that lived in the neighborhood with me—I was 12 years old—his name was Dow, and there was a cemetery there on the corner of Eldridge and Liberty and it took in all of Wales Avenue all through there, and we run up in the cemetery when we see him coming up the street. It was a hot one. Pretty soon them mounted cops come, they drove the horses down the hill in to that house, but the guy was a nice citizen, you know, as far as that was concerned, but he got out of it. They didn't convict him, and when he left here shortly afterwards, he went to California. Lot of people thinks, you know, maybe he was one of Maggios or offspring from out there but I don't know, and that cemetery, we used to go down there as kids, pick coal along the tracks—people were poor in those days, you know. And there was an icehouse down there, and they used to cut, jug cut the ice in a patch pond, and they'd be taking the big cakes out and some pieces would fall, you'd put in your little cart and take ‘em home, and as I said before, there was no electric refrigerators. The rich people had to buy ice the same as the poor, but we only had those little chunks to put in ours, and the kids would pick up bones and sell them to the rag pickers. Oh, but the way things are today, why those people, as I, without being repetitious, I do not believe that anybody that lived on Liberty Street those are, if there was such a thing, which there wasn't in those days, as relief, that they would accept it. They'd think it would be a stigma the the rest of their lives, but today those people knock you out of the way up the stores coming out them, having a cab outside to come home in. So there is no incentive to work and save today, and if you do work and save then the government wants to take the money away in taxes. I just got a nice dividend from General Motors and I had to give $600 to the Government. They declared a nice fat dividend this year.
Dan: Taxes amounted to 600 dollars?
Mike: Yeah, they, years ago I had 200 shares, and God, I had to sell it, coming down. They kept calling me over to Baches and I finally had to sell 100 at a loss, and it went down, was only 100 I had left. I borrowed money off Mike Reardon, my brother-in-law, my mother, Lord have mercy on her, to keep that 100 I had left. I was in the hospital with a broken hip, was the only thing that made me feel good. It had split 2 for 1 before that and later, for every 20 you had, you could buy a share for $75, so I bought 10 shares which I was entitled for $750, and at that time it was selling for $94 so had 220 later, it split 3 for 1. No, 210 I had, split 3 for 1, so then I had 630 and I still held on to it. I'd have 1260 if I didn't have to sell that other. This past year, last year they paid 85 cents and they only made a nickel a share—they cut it down to 60 in one of the quarters, but the end of this year, they gave a dollar, which was 630 for regular dividend, two and a quarter extra. I got a check the other day for $2047.50.
Dan: Wonderful, wonderful.
Mike: Took me out of the red.
Dan: How long have you lived here, Mike?
Mike: Oh, I've lived here since I was married. I only lived in the three places—where I was born on Pine Street, on Liberty, and then over here, and when George was District Attorney, he was the one got me to buy this place.
Dan: Dad was Assistant District Attorney.
Mike: Assistant, yeah, and do you know what I paid down on this? $1300, and I gave, was it fifteen something?
Dan: Now you say, Mike, you paid $1300 down on this.
Mike: Yeah, and ah, the Binghamton Savings Bank had the mortgage five something, and then when ah Andrews was Commissioner, he liked me, you know, even to Frank Newell it take it over for five, and they they want to reduce the Savings Bank at that time, but he made arrangements with Newell to take it over, and ah of course I paid it off some time ago, but I don't get within $30 or $40 of what I should be getting. ‘Course I get a break on the Veterans, but I should, like $135 is the highest I get here. About three years ago my gas used to cost me $800 a year, now they want $1848 to get it on the budget.
Dan: ‘Course the higher you put the rents, the more turnover you're going to get.
Mike: Well that’s it, but you know at one time I had 5 widows, only one of them, your pardon, and the two of us—seven. Now there's, they're up there, and she has a lady taking care of her there and a man up on the top floor, he’s pretty good, used to take care of the apartments somewheres—he does a lot of work around here.
Dan: Well, Mike, I certainly appreciate your taking your time. I’ll play this tape back for you if you'd like to hear it. I'd like to ask you one more question. You mentioned about a cemetery on the corner of Eldridge and Liberty—what ever happened to it? You were twelve years old at the time.
Mike: Yeah, they dug the graves up, and a fellow named Lloyd, he lived on Liberty Street, old Lloyd had two sons—I forget their names now—and ah, when I was going to school at Robinson Street and I used to stand around. Some they only get a few bones out of there—everything had deteriorated and gone, you know what I mean, even the box.
Dan: Do you know where they moved it to?
Mike: Yeah, over to Spring Forest.
Dan: Oh, Spring Forest.
Mike: Yeah, they took everything out of there, and my uncle bought a lot at the corner of Liberty, and my father, Lord have mercy on both of them. My father bought a lot there, where the Bus company later had built a garage, and my uncle, he was ah, he was ah, Jack Hanifin they used to call him. There was three brothers, Mike lived on Henry Street—I was named after him—he was a grandfather to the Fire Chief that got drowned, and ah, he got wind they was interested in the garage, and he comes up and buys my father's lot off him, you see. And there was a murderer, I forget his name now, that was buried in the part where it was, up in the area where my uncle owned. Of course when they dug it down even with Liberty Street and all that dirt, but there was a murderer buried there, and ah as I say, they made Water Ave and sold the lots out. There was only one row of houses on Robinson Street, and then there was two or three on Emmett, then all the rest of that area was cemetery. We'd go up there, as I say, and see it in little boxes, they put whatever they got in and then they took them over and buried them in Spring Forest.
Dan: Right—a common grave, then?
Dan: I think over in Spring Forest is where all of the victims of the fire in the overall factory are.
Mike: Yeah, they had services over at the Stone Opera House on a Sunday. Unidentified, don’t you know, after that fire.