I think the case which really gripped her imagination was Harry Robey, a chronic runaway, ten years old and handsome as a young Greek god. The only person he can't win over to complete adoration is his stepmother, who secretly encourages his roving habits in the hopes that the police will have him sent away permanently. We found the poor youngster asleep on a park bench and when we learned of some suspicious circumstances in the family history we made a complete investigation. This, of course, included a mental examination which showed that he was a very bright and unusual child who must be given a chance. The Children's Mission has found just the right place for him in the country and his foster parents are developing his love of home by giving him a plot of ground and some livestock. He now thinks of himself as part of the "landed gentry" and while he occasionally runs away, as witness his presence today in the House of Detention, his average has been reduced from eight a month to one.
When Miss Whiting, the college girl, found that the policewomen were responsible for conditions in the public parks and amusement places she begged to go along with me, so I took her on my usual Saturday night round. I wasn't going to spare her anything, so we went first to the Palace Dance Hall. For a few minutes this hall seemed perfect, with its glistening floor, rose-shaded lights and wonderful orchestra (wonderful, that is, if you like what the King of Jazz Orchestra calls music). But after you become accustomed to the dim light you notice how many course, brutal faces there are in the crowd, mixing at will with the fresh-faced, innocent youngsters. And if you are at all initiated, you know that the pallid, slender youth is Matt Pierce, who has been released five times this year by a lenient judge, after convictions of dope-selling; and that the stout, red-haired youth is Joe Myers, who has recently bought a yacht from the proceeds of his bootlegging. And as for Nellie Ryan, the striking little blond dancing with the young sailor -- but then I hate to think that any woman has such a history.
As I explained to Miss Whiting, the manager of this hall is reaping a fortune and he refuses to listen to threats or prayers, because he has political backing. But at last the Mayor, after several scandals and a gentle reminder from the women's clubs that election day is not so far off, has agreed to revoke his license if the policewomen can prove that criminals are admitted with the manager's knowledge and that innocent youngsters are being led astray. For several months now we have been collecting evidence and next week we are going to open the case before the Mayor. There really is no excuse for such conditions to exist in any city and I'm glad to think that the club women are really interested in these matters. It wasn't ladylike during the last generation and the destruction went merrily on.
Just before we left the hall, Mrs. Brown, the matron, told us that she had sent three girls home last night who were under the age limit, sixteen years, and, of course, she had been taking notes on a lot of other abuses. The matrons in our city are carefully chosen and appointed by the policewomen, although they are paid by the dance hall managers. It is really a fine system because we are able to choose nice, motherly women who create a wholesome atmosphere but who realize that they can be removed if they fail to report to us evil conditions.
A True Samaritan
Since life is made up of contrasts, and to prove that public recreation can be perfectly wholesome, I next took Miss Whiting to Riverside. This is a large park on the shore of the river, owned and run by a Mr. Wood and his two daughters. He entered the amusement world as a peanut vendor and he has put his whole heart and considerable creative ability into this enormous business. There is a beautiful dance hall, excellent music and five efficient floor managers who quietly but quickly stop any improper dancing. Bad characters are made aware of their undesirability and soon return to more congenial haunts. There are inexpensive bath houses, a picnic grove where whole families spend the day and a dozen other amusements. But best of all, I think, are the tiny swings and merry-go-rounds for children, where young people, forgetting petting parties and joy rides, stand watching for hours, lost in the eternal joy of childhood.
Of course, we do not have to patrol this park in order to enforce the laws, but the Woods have so much kindliness that they are always finding stranded girls and runaway children and sick babies for us to look after. Tonight they had located a runaway from Toledo for whom the whole country had been searching.
When we reported at the Bureau at midnight we happened to meet jovial old Captain Casey, who asked his usual question, "Did you get the city clean?" Thinking of the Palace, I gave him an emphatic negative, but my little college friend spoke up, "Maybe not, but she's rubbing out some spots!"