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Rhonda's View Rendezvous: Public drunkenness results in jail time

11:20 AM, Apr. 22, 2013  |  Comments
Rhonda Whetstone
Rhonda Whetstone
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With stiffer laws about drunken driving and more emphasis than ever being placed on safety, from giving rides home to bar patrons who have had too much to drink to designated drivers, our view of being drunk and disorderly has changed through the decades, and certainly during the past century.

While we might treat our own "town drunks" with either disdain or pity, those of us older than age 50 fondly recall Otis Campbell, the fictional town drunk in Mayberry who was wont to lock up himself to sleep off his intoxication. Public drunkenness is not exempt from the law, either now or way back when, as these next two stories from the early 1900s show.

Chimney sweeps, like those in some other professions, often moved around to where the work was. This was the life of Henry Miller and Sam Oleson.

According to the Grand Rapids Daily Leader, in May 1915, the men had been in town for a few weeks, working for whoever needed their services. Back then, it was work that most anyone could do, and it always was needed.

Either out of boredom or because there were not many other ways to spend their money, the men would go on a usual "Saturday night drunk," and then make a nuisance of themselves in various ways. This time it was too much for authorities.

It was still Saturday afternoon they were picked up on Grand Avenue and found to be in "a beastly state of intoxication" already, and Officer Payne hauled them before Justice Ed Pomainville.

Tired of the problem the two drunks posed, Pomainville ordered them to pay a fine or go to jail for 10 days. It seems the men had given all their money to the boys at the bars they frequented, so they took the 10 days of rest in the county jail at Grand Rapids. I wonder if they could have gotten a reduced sentence had they cleaned the chimneys there?

Only six months before, either a Daily Leader reporter or a justice had great fun with a story that came their way, which had tenuous ties to World War I, which was ongoing at that time.

In September 1914, Chief of Police Gibson was called to Ridgman's barn to evict a man who seemingly had taken possession of it, going into the structure and immediately making himself at home there. The interloper told police he was looking for lodging, and the barn was as good a place as any. When Ridgman could not get the man to leave, he called the authorities who "evicted" him in their own way.

The following morning, the Swede, who gave his name as Hans Peterson, appeared before Justice Roberts in court. Claiming to have arrived in town the day before, from working the cranberry marshes, he said he had celebrated the German's defeat in the vicinity of France by getting drunk.

The Daily Leader reported the man was sentenced to five days in the "county bastille where he will have time to figure out how long it will take the Germans to get into Paris and what the French and English will be doing while they are getting there."

Now why don't we still find fun comments like that in the newspaper today - other than in my column from time to time?

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