Monday, February 1, 2010

History of dance

The topic of Lincoln’s dance ordinances dominated my blog last week, despite the fact that I have little to do with the issue. Nonetheless, the question of where these ordinances originated intrigued me, because I knew that the Lincoln police department had been checking dance halls for a long, long time. Our old police blotters have regular entries about this. So, I started digging.

throwthebookThis book is a decoration on a bookshelf in my office. I rescued it from the trash bin when we moved from 233 S. 10th Street to our present headquarters ten years ago. It is a daily log written by police matron Edith Rickard from April 1, 1937 until February 14, 1941. That’s her in the lower right corner of the 1938 group photo. A police matron functioned much like a police officer—but was probably paid significantly less—and handled the female prisoners, family offenses, and other unmentionables of the time. Part diary, part timesheet, she recounts what she did, who she encountered, who was in the female wing of the slammer, and other minutia of daily life. It’s sort of like my blog. On the inside of the front page, she wrote a note:

Names for Indian Hemp, a plant growing wild in backyards, along streams;

One of Ms. Rickard’s most common daily activities is visiting Lincoln’s dance halls. At the time, the action centered at VanAndel’s, 9th & M Streets; the Garden, 1018 P Street; and the Rosewilde, at 1122 P Street. Ms. Rickard records in scrupulous detail, noting the “necking,” “petting,” “spiking” of soda pop, “promiscuous actions”, the good and bad orchestras, the busy nights and the slow nights. It is a fascinating narrative. The stories of destitute “sleepers” in the jail, victims of domestic violence and child abuse, a dust storm, drunks, mental illness, tuberculosis, and violence, are interspersed with her lunch break, often taken at George’s Cafe. Here are a few of her observations:

1936 Tuesday, June 8

11:15 Leaving for public dances. The Garden, average attendance. Mrs. Shaw, Dorothy’s mother, introduced herself to me. Had consulted County Attorney & City Attorney and they did not know of any laws covering the attendance at dance halls of young girls without their mothers or a parent.

1937 Saturday, May 8

10:15 The Garden and hundreds in attendance. Much confusion, pop taken into men’s rest, etc. Mrs. Dennis came to me about her 14 year old daughter coming to the dances without her mother. I have no right to change any orders I have received and told her so. I know what I was given as a working basis. I am not a chaperone for any one’s children. Am on my job, I believe!

11:00 Was leaving for Rosewilde when detained by dance officials; but she ran into the rest room and when I got in there she had left by the way of the fire escape opening off the rest room. Oh!

1938 Wednesday, February 16

Sent with Sgt. Paulson: Patrolman McKinney detaining a drunken women. Sgt. had found her and called McKinney to help. She would not go upstairs, so he came for the matron. We got her to the cell, and then after the men were gone she began to show signs of sickness. Did succeed in getting her to erp in the toilet. Oh my, I didn’t want the lunch I had brought. My lungs are filled with the smell of foulness and liquor. I sure need a cigarette, but am out of them. These night drunks are awful.

By Christmas of 1940, Matron Rickard is snagging minors out of dance halls on a regular basis. It appears that problems such as those of Ms. Shaw in controlling her daughter Dorothy, Mrs. Dennis with her 14 year-old, and the lack of any applicable laws as noted by the County and City Attorneys had been remedied sometime thereafter, and dance permits now required the exclusion of minors.


Anonymous said...

These night drunks are awful. Well said. Still true. Definitions have changed too. Bhang
was pot then, now it is having kids. Pop taken into men’s rest...OMG call the SWAT team. I am not a chaperone for any one’s children. (but does a great job of keeping that pop out of the deposit area) Erp?? Will anyone really ERP in 2010? What is erp. Ask the doctor..and you will get a blank look and some meds to take home. Today we have a petting zoo, back then it was a naughty action. Promiscuous actions??? In 2010 no such thing as promiscuous actions, now we have lap dances and flash us your hooters. A dust storm, drunks, mental illness, tuberculosis, and violence.
Oh my, to have mental illness in this context will get an ADA claim in 2010. Mental illness was rare in late 1930, as much as talked about, but today the "shrink minds" that be, claim all humans have a mental illness at one time or another. Some mild some worse, but most all treatable. There is much debate about alcoholism and if it is a mental illness. In the 1930's you were viewed as lacking something if you are called alcoholic. Today in 2010 a person who arrests this disease gains something, often times the respect of peers, but often times not. Also in 2010, jokes about drunks are plenty. Even the masses at the Nebraska Mens Basketball game are entertained by a halftime show of two drunks. NSP came up with this great idea. In the event. Two people are fitted with glasses so they see like a drunk would. They then try to shoot hoops and dribble the ball. How funny. Soon we will be taking those with heart disease and seeing how long they can jog the court prior to passing out. I think those with Tourette's syndrome should participate also. The crowed gets as quiet as it can, the shot clock is running. Which person is on meds? Which one is not. Who will yell first? Now that would be a funny one, would it not?
NOT! My attempt to show how alcoholisim is viewed with such negitive stigma my have fallen short. But at least this blog opens the door to a history with many topics. Great post today Tom.
Thats all.

Anonymous said...

I think that shows us why the ordinance was created in the first place. It eliminated a lot of problems with that issue at that time.

I am sure there are other laws on Lincoln's books that don't make sense now but did back in the day they were a problem.

Perhaps 50 years from now people will be laughing at the loud party ordinance holding landlords accountable because that ordinance and policework eliminated that problem.

Perhaps 50 years from now people will laugh at the DUI law on the books. And wonder why in the world one would be so dumb as to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

We can only hope.

Anonymous said...

Change the language usage a little, throw in something about texting, and what you have could be a report from any decade including this one.

Time goes on, fundamental problems remain.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what ever became of the Shaw & Dennis daughters. Fun post Chief! History has a way of repeating itself.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but I was wondering about this proposed legislation. While I appreciate the intent of the bill, and think it's presented with good intentions, I also believe it will not reduce the proportion of uninsured vehicles/drivers, and may actually increase that proportion slightly.

I think there are better way to come down on uninsured drivers, as well as unlicensed and suspended/revoked drivers, and those who operate uninsured or expired-registration vehicles. It's called impoundment and seizure! That should be done, for instance, even if the suspended/revoked driver happens to be driving his needy (as in needs a man in her life at any cost) girlfriend's brand-new car.

Has the city taken a position on this, which is to say, are you able to support or oppose it?

ARRRRG!!!! said...

@ Anon 11:39 AM:

Since they were stopped from hanging out in dance halls, the Shaw & Dennis daughters took to the high seas thinking they could dance whenever they wanted to.

Anonymous said...


I would love to see more of this book on your blog in the future. I thought it was a treat. Thanks.

Mike said...

The Kansas City "tea Party" incident was caused by poor construction and inspection of concrete from the local building and safety dept of Kansas City. I believe that was a crime scene. The fire in the south side of Chicago dance club...was also a crime scene numerous fire code violations...

Steve said...

Jim J:

You weren't clear on what "erp" means because the matron misspelled it (actually "urp", meaning "to vomit"). Maybe the matron was one of the Chief's ancestors! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to see that in 1938, the toilet was still the preferred place to erp...

Anonymous said...

And today, the smell of a cigarette makes me want to "erp in the toilet".

Anonymous said...

I wonder how rare a peek into the past a book like that must be, and am glad you grabbed it. We sometimes forget that our ancestors were people just like us in many ways, and so different in others. Reading your excerpts gives us a slice of the past only original sources can. So valuable. Thanks!

Omadog said...

Great post, Chief. Some clever writer could probably spin the matron's diary into a screenplay.

Grundle King said...

Chief, totally off-topic...but is there a way I can find the status of a case on the LPD website. I'd like to know what the status of case #A9-107128...and because it wasn't an accident, it doesn't come up under accident reports.

Anonymous said...

Chief, what does "PAT'L'N" stand for in the officers title and name from the 1938 photo?

Something related to "Patrol' would be my guess.

Anonymous said...

What a delight. Thanks for sharing and for rescuing this treasure to begin with!

Anonymous said...


Did you ever find the driver from B0-007603?

Tom Casady said...

Grundle King-

Not available on the web. Case still open, although we know who did it in all likelyhood. We weren't able to establish sufficient evidence to tie it to the knotheads arrested for several others on the same night.




Suspect is known, but is still at large.