July 9, 1920: City Council tells acting police chief Fiskett to “clean up vice”

On this day in Duluth in 1920, the Duluth city council ordered acting police chief Anthony Fiskett to “clean up vice” in the wake of the dismissal of police chief Murphy, who mishandled the June 15 lynch mob and was arrested for smuggling Canadian whiskey into Duluth. Fiskett, 57 years old at the time, was born Antonio Gaetano Fischetti in Italy and, after immigrating to the U.S. in 1882, changed his name in order to join the Duluth police department on October 29, 1893. (It was extremely rare for an Italian to become a police officer in the U.S., as the occupation was dominated by the Irish at the time, and the Irish did not hold southern Italians like Fiskett in high regard.) During his first 27 years on the force Fiskett had worked as a patrolman, jailor, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Murphy, on the other hand, had no law enforcement experience when he was appointed chief; he managed the Northern Pacific rail yard. Yet when Chief Murphy published a book about the history of the Duluth Police Department earlier that year—filled with photos of all current officers—it contained no mention nor images of Fiskett. Fiskett was well known in Duluth and beloved by most. For years he had patrolled from the western end of downtown to Rice’s Point—populated by immigrants, most of them Italian—because he better understood their history and could speak Italian. As the probes into the lynchings and liquor smuggling continued, Fiskett first turned his sights on those violating Prohibition liquor laws. He also reorganized the department, replacing department heads after promoting younger officers and transferring those men to other departments or to others stations. Despite the success of his efforts, Fiskett was not appointed as police chief. That job was given to W. E. Pugh in November 1921. Pugh had joined the force as a patrolman in 1917 and left to become a U.S. Marshall before returning to the Duluth Police Department as a detective. While Fiskett never officially become Duluth’s top cop, his son Ralph G. Fiskett later served as Duluth’s police chief and as the city’s commissioner of public safety.

Anthony Fiskett. (Image: Zenith City Press)