23 January 2019

Grimesy: Adventures in 19th Century Pittsburgh Policing

From associating with Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales to rugged street orphans, one city cop did it all in the 19th century.

1883 image of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & wife Alexandra
When Queen Victoria died at the age of 81 on 22 January 1901, newspapers around the world paid tribute and speculated about what kind of King her son Edward would be. The Pittsburgh papers overflowed with praise for the late Queen, but expressed cautious regard for her son. After all, Edward -- fka Bertie, aka the Playboy Prince -- had pretty much spent his adult life waiting for a job and passing the time as a serial adulterer.

His wife and mother of his legitimate children, the Danish-born Alexandra, soothed over the scandals with her beauty, grace and long-suffering patience…or at least that’s how this bit about Edward in the Pittsburg Post could be interpreted:
At one time it was known that he was not an ideal family man. But as he gradually approached the age of 60, people began to realize that he was settling down. His earlier indiscretions were condoned. And as he always appeared in public with the Princess of Wales, it was realized that the proprieties were observed, at least in a formal way. Perhaps it was felt that the Prince of Wales had only followed precedent in “living his own life.” …The court under his rule will be as sedate as it was under his mother. Queen Alexandra is as strict in the matter of propriety as was the late sovereign.
Pittsburgh Post front page the day after Queen Victoria's death

Having reassured readers that the new Queen would maintain social order by imposing discretion upon the new King, the Post got down to the serious business of making a Pittsburgh connection to royalty. The paper printed reminisces of city policeman Charles Augustus Grimes, “….one of Pittsburgh’s most popular officers, (who) was at one time a member of the queen’s bodyguard.“

Officer Grimes, circa 1890s

Grimes was born in 1843 to Peter Grimes and wife Alice McBride in County Tyrone, Ireland. He “….entered the British army as a private in the First Life Guards, a cavalry regiment familiarly known as the “Queen’s Own.” Early in his training, Grimes rode alongside the teenage Prince of Wales, who was receiving military instruction. The Prince was an esteemed horseman as a young man, and Grimes noted that he'd been “….worsted in a personal encounter with the prince while going through an exercise at the riding academy.” Grimes bore no grudges, however, indicating that the Prince was a friendly enough fellow.

Pittsburg Post headline
23 January 1901

Grimes had high praise for the late Queen, whom he’d last seen in 1861 before he bought out the terms of his service to immigrate to the United States.
1861 photo of Queen Victoria by JJE Mayall
She was small and dark and did not weigh more thn 125 pounds. She had rather an olive complexion and her eyes were bright and smiling. Her appearance at all times was as one of the plainest of women…When I was a member of her bodyguard I rode within speaking distance of her on many occasions. I had plenty of opportunities to observe the noble qualities she possessed, and for them she was beloved not only as a queen, but as a woman by every one who saw her. She was always pleasant, smiling at every one and seemed to take pains to make everything as pleasant as she could. Her manners were altogether different from those of the dukes, lord and ladies of the royal court. The latter always wore a look of condescension whenever they were obliged to come into court with anyone beneath them in social station, and acted as though they were superior beings. But the queen was a woman first and a queen afterward.

Grimes’ appraisal of the late Queen has the ring of truth. He was indeed a member of the Queen’s Life Guard and, judging by his subsequent career in Pittsburgh, a colorful character who didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Grimes married Margaret Mary Duane, a woman 9 years his junior. She, too, was of Irish descent but was born in Toronto, Canada. They initially raised their two sons, Charles and Peter, in the First Ward of Pittsburgh (what we know today as the Point), eventually moving to Boyd Street (today part of the campus of Duquesne University).

Grimes worked off and on as a carpenter and cabinet builder. Listed in his obituary were accomplishments like the installation of the “first Westinghouse air brake ever installed on what was then known as the Brewery switch, now Sixteenth street” as well as construction of the Mercy Hospital surgical annex (ironically the wing he later died in). He also worked at building the Organ Brewery at Stevenson and Forbes in the Lower Hill, and the first passenger coach of the P&LE railroad line. Grimes also had at least one patent to his name, for a device that prevented streetcar tracks from being blocked by hoses during firefighting.

Aside from being a handy guy with a hammer, Grimes was also a respected police officer. He joined the Pittsburgh police force in 1870, rising to the level of lieutenant. A staunch Republican, Grimes would quit the force and remain off for years at a time following various mayoral elections because he refused to serve under Democratic administrations.

Grimes' regular beat in the 1890s was outside the old Post Office near the corner of Fifth and Smithfield, but he later moved to work a post on Sixth Avenue in a section that’s since lost its prominence with the construction of the BNY Mellon complex.

Color postcard image, Pittsburgh Post Office, early 1900s

During the 1890s, newspapers described Grimes as “big”, “handsome”, “good-looking”, “popular” and "as good-natured and accommodating as he is big and brawny." He was fondly referred to in Pittsburgh as "Grimesey".

Anecdotes about Officer Charley Grimes, culled from newspaper reports of Yinzer high crimes and misdemeanors, testify to his popularity. The papers couldn't get enough of Grimes' adventures chasing Dahntahn hoodlums, drunks and pickpockets. But there was also the occasional feel-good story about him that made the news, like the time he rescued a blind pedestrian from being struck by a streetcar.

Grimes was a hands-on kind of cop...sometimes to his detriment.

In January 1876, whilst giving chase to a villain named Little, Grimes “ran against a post….and broke one of his ribs.” A few months later in May, Grimes had one of his hands broken by a “fractious prisoner” he’d arrested for creating a disturbance on Penn Avenue. And then in September, Grimes was beaten by the ringleader of a “party of roughs” that he’d been attempting to subdue. A decade later, Grimes was the hero when he subdued and arrested “….a big powerful stranger, who was crazy drunk…so dangerously promiscuous in his ferocious attentions that the shop was shut down until after his arrest.”

But Grimes had his share of run-ins with his peers and higher-ups, too. In November 1890, he was given a five day suspension and charged with insubordination against Captain Henry Unterbaum following a turf battle about who had jurisdiction over the closing hours of a social club where Grimes was on duty. Grimes publicly announced that he’d “get even” and took a train to Philadelphia to find documents proving that Unterbaum was not a US citizen. He must not have found what he wanted, but all was apparently forgiven since he was back at work a month later (As for Unterbaum, he retired in 1896 from the force after 14 years of service).

And in May 1891, Grimes prevailed in a street fight with an ex-Pinkerton detective whom he’d refused to loan money to. Grimes might have met his match in this “…little scrap between two very large men… (but) the result was that Officer Grimes landed his man in the central station.”

Newsies (including a girl), c. early 1900s

Kingsley Association Records
Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection
Grimes was well-known for "looking after" young boys on the street who worked around town as shoeshines, bootblacks, news and messenger boys. His street work with them was as much that of modern youth resource officer as it was law enforcement heavy. Grimes regularly loaned money to these boys, and kept tallies of debts owed on a telegraph poll along his beat. Grimes claimed he was never shorted, because he boys always paid him back that same day.

However, the unsupervised youth eventually banded together to form rival gangs.

Officer Charley Grimes was one of the few adults respected by these tough street boys. Presumably in an effort to constructively organize them, Grimes helped some of them organize a bootblack union. He even handed out membership badges at their meeting in September 1891, and was met with such boyish enthusiasm that  “…the expressions were forcible and unfit for publication.” That meeting was deemed a success after Grimes read out rules to the assembled 284 boys. They left jubilant, beat up their vice-president on the way out, then taunted their rivals by “serenading” the Pittsburgh Newsboys' Home.

Pittsburgh Newsboys Home.
At the time of Grimes' orphan turf battle, the newsboys lived on the 3rd floor of a building on Old Avenue, behind the county jail.
This facility was constructed in 1899 at the corner of Forbes, Shinghiss & Sixth Avenues with generous support from the public,
Pittsburgh Press, Mary Schenley, and Christopher Magee.

Image: Collections of the Pennsylvania Department, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

But Thomas Druitt, headmaster of the Pittsburgh Newsboys Home, took offense to Grimes’ youth management tactics. An official complaint was lodged with the police claiming that Grimes was neglecting his official duties. It also cited “….conduct unbecoming an officer, and abusive words and threats” that Grimes allegedly uttered to the bootblack union lads to keep them in line.

Our man Grimes took offense when the police superintendent, siding with Druitt, told Grimes to resign or be fired.

So Grimes quit.

But such was his popularity and effectiveness that he was back on the job six weeks later, laughing it all off as a misunderstanding.

Lieutenant Charles A. Grimes, Pittsburgh Police Officer circa 1870-1910

Upon retiring in 1906, and until his death in 1913, Grimes worked as a “special policeman” or security guard for the Grand and Harris theaters.

In 1913, Charley Grimes fell down the stairs in his Boyd Street home and was admitted to Mercy Hospital with fractured ribs and an aggravated hernia. He passed away there at the age of 69 on 20 March 1913. As was customary at the time, he was laid out at a family home, clad in his treasured police uniform. Pittsburgh paid its respects to Grimesy at the Locust Street home of his younger son Peter. A member of the Church of the Epiphany in the Lower Hill, Grimes was buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Lawrenceville (Section H Lot 165). His wife Margaret lived with her adult son Charles and his family until her death,  aged 72, of stomach cancer in 1924.

Peter became a typographer. Eldest son Charles Grimes, Jr, followed in his father's footsteps as a popular Pittsburgh city policeman, but presumably never had brushes with British royalty.

A version of this story appeared on my Facebook page The Historical Dilettante in January 2019.

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