Policing the Parks

For nearly 40 years, special police patrolled—and maintained—Duluth's parks

ParkPolice_Badge#1_Ebling
The very first badge worn by a Duluth park policeman, issued to either Joseph Plaunt or David Waugh in 1890. (Image courtesy of Andrew Ebling)

When Duluth’s Park Board met on March 26, 1890—roughly a year after it was created—President William K. Rogers explained there was a “necessity for police supervision in the several parks and along the connecting driveway to prevent the deposit of offal and garbage and injury to trees and undergrowth.” Everyone agreed and voted for the following resolution: “Resolved: that the President of the Board is hereby authorized to request of the proper city authorities the appointment of two policemen to patrol…public grounds…to the strict enforcement of the police regulations of the City therein. Payment for services to be made by the Board.”

Five days later the Duluth News Tribune reported that Joseph Plaunt and David Vaugh had been “sworn as special policeman…to do duty on the boulevard through the summer season.” The article noted that the men were already Park Board employees and would serve “without pay from the city.” Vaugh was assigned to Lincoln Park, and the Board provided him with a modest house to live in. Besides maintenance work on the Boulevard (“cleaning gutters, raking and leveling and other wise keeping it in good condition for driving”) the park police “looked out for any violation of the ordinances of the board….”

In 1896 the Board hired two men to serve as combination gardeners/park policemen in Cascade and Portland squares from May 1 to November 1 of each year, “one for day and one for night duty in either park.” The report predicted that Lester and Lincoln parks, which had one park policeman each, would require additional employees as “it was found necessary to have those same men remain on duty in their capacities of policemen until midnight much of the time….” That same year a park policeman named Johnson arrested two men for fighting in Lincoln Park.

Vaugh’s career as a park policeman ended with his tragic death in 1896. In late February an unconscious Vaugh was brought to a police station, said to be inebriated, but it was soon discovered he had suffered internal head injuries and he was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital. Dr. William Magie suggested he had been beaten over the head with a sandbag, thus explaining why he had no external injuries. He remained unconscious for some time. Meanwhile, two people were questioned, including George Twaddle, who claimed to be Vaugh’s companion the night of the attack. Twaddle said Vaugh was attacked by an “unknown man” while the two were visiting the West End home of Mrs. Annie Cyers, who fled town. Vaugh emerged from his coma in early March. When Park Board Secretary Henry Helm visited Vaugh in the hospital, the injured park policeman asserted that George Twaddle was “a liar” and that he had been beaten with a rubber club at the West End saloon of Bob Kennedy, a former alderman—and former friend of Vaugh’s until the pair had a major falling out. Police suspended the investigation until Vaugh recovered and could “make good his statements.” He never did, slipping into a state of delirium until he died on April 10. Twaddle was arrested the next day as he sat drinking inside Kennedy’s Saloon; the following day Cyr was tracked down and arrested. Both were released due to lack of evidence. The case was never solved.

Duluth’s Common Council forced extra duty on park police in 1902, when an ordinance called for park police to act as pound masters. Similar to an animal control officer today, a pound master was responsible for the feeding and care of wayward livestock such as hogs, cattle, horses, and geese placed in the town pound, but he did not control dogs or cats. The ordinance called for park police to perform the extra duties “without extra compensation from the city.”

That same year the Board’s annual report lamented the expense of the park police—and how hard it was to find good men to serve: “The greatest single item of expense in this connection [maintenance] is for the caretakers…whose duties are combined in those of policemen as well as workmen, positions hard to fill…with any great degree of satisfaction to either the Board or public at large.” Three years later the Park Board employed a total of fourteen park policemen; by 1910 that number was reduced to eleven: two at Fairmount, Lincoln, Cascade, and Portland and one at Lester and the five squares in Lakeside.

Duluth park police badge #76, likely issued in the 1920s. (Image courtesy of Andrew Ebling)
Duluth park police badge #76, likely issued in the 1920s. (Image courtesy of Andrew Ebling)

The park police mostly dealt with improper conduct and property damage. Such was the case in 1905, when a park policeman arrested a teamster who had allowed his horse to chew the bark off two shade trees. And in July 1912, four young men were arrested in Lincoln Park after they hired single-horse livery rigs and raced “through section of the park reserved for foot passengers” while singing and shouting. Ten days later park police arrested a man for “using bad language within Lincoln Park.” Apparently the man had been sleeping in the park and, when awoken by park police, “became angered that his nap should have been disturbed and wanted to fight.”

In 1921 park police stayed on duty through Christmas in order to “curb vandalism and the theft of evergreen trees.” Earlier that year Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland commented after a park policeman interrupted a couple kissing in one of the city’s parks. “There is no city ordinance against kissing in Duluth parks,” Cleveland said. “There is one, however, against disorderly conduct. We have not instructed our park police to prohibit kissing in the park.”

Park policeman John Mullen was accused of negligence in 1922 when a ten-year-old boy drowned at the Indian Point swimming beach in Fairmount Park. Cleveland exonerated Mullen, saying that the park policeman could not swim because of an injured limb and “did all in his power to save the boy.” Besides, Cleveland explained, the beach had been closed due to pollution and the Park Board had posted “six signs forbidding swimming”—but boys kept tearing them down. Mullen’s job was to supervise the tourist camp, not act as a lifeguard.

When F. Rodney Paine replaced Cleveland as Park Superintendent in 1926 he eliminated the use of the term “park police.”Thereafter the men who maintained and policed Duluth’s parks were called “caretakers.” In 1928 Duluth employed twelve caretakers for its busiest parks: Carl Johnson (Lincoln Park), John Bradley (Lester Park), Ole Anderson (Fairmount Park), George Cauchy (Chester Park, upper), Ernest Wolf (Chester Park, lower), J. Walling (Portland Square), Charles Onraet (Magney Park), John Hate (Kitchi Gammi Park), Paul Lusua (Lakeshore Park), and Arvid Koskinen and C. E. Read (both at Fond du Lac Park). During the 1930s and 40s the city’s larger parks had full-time caretakers while the the caretakers at smaller parks worked half time. Caretakers are not mentioned in annual Park Department reports after 1949.

For nearly 40 years, special police patrolled—and maintained—Duluth's parks

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