(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Carey’s Condemned Courthouse ·
If you’re one of those people who believe that badges don’t have feelings, then I’m talking to you. I know why I was created. My life as a badge has purpose, which is to serve Reno County Sheriff Fay F. Brown to the best of my ability.
When Cora, the sheriff’s wife, left me in her purse while he took his oath of office on January 10, 1927, of course I was disappointed. But when she took me out and I saw her, I was excited, honored, and thankful to meet her and Fay.
Sheriff Fay F. Brown looked me straight in the face and approved of me. I was ready to be pinned on his suit coat in order to begin work together as a dynamic duo. So, you can imagine, I was saddened to learn what most badges already knew, my opportunities to help support him are dependent on his personal routine.
In my case, what I’ve learned so far during my first week on duty with the sheriff, is that he always wears me on his vest. I’m rarely seen and I usually can’t see my surroundings because I’m covered by his suit coat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch to be a part of his day, his life. I can hear everything that’s going on, and there are times I can view the bustling city streets and vast county landscapes in and around Hutchinson, Kansas. I’m also meeting the people who had earlier only been voices in a conversation. So far, it’s a really great life.
“The three of us, Cora, Fay, and me, looked out the second-story window of the sheriff’s residence at the Reno County Jail, 15 Avenue B east. The courthouse, or, I should say, the condemned courthouse, was across the alley to the west.
“Beginning every mid-to-late afternoon the imposing pressed-brick building with heavy stone trimmings and slate roof, shaded us from the sun.”
Cora and Fay stood in their family quarters and stared out the window at the abandoned courthouse. Looking down, they observed the snow and ice in the alley. Glancing up, they watched pigeons huddle on the snowy roof. The birds must have missed the radio broadcast announcing the closed quarters of their formally heated building.
“It was future thinking,” said Fay to Cora, “when the courthouse was built, there were plans about someday constructing an enclosed bridge from its second floor to our second floor. Rain or snow, prisoners could have been escorted directly to the courtroom, and sheriffs could have walked from here to the office. Can you imagine the convenience and increased safety? Currently, with our temporary courthouse at 5th and Washington, it costs the county money every time we transport prisoners to and from court.”
“I know you’ve talked about this before,” said Cora, as she raised a hand to the frigid window and touched it with her fingers, “but standing here, being able to almost touch this courthouse, makes me better understand what a huge loss this building is to Hutchinson.”
“And you know,” said Fay, “Emerson Carey still denies that his salt company had anything to do with it sinking and beginning to break in half.”
“If the county can win the $200,000 suit against him,” said Cora, “it would help build a courthouse large enough to again accommodate all the offices. Only, I wouldn’t want to locate it around here or it could sink again.”
“That’s why we need to get to the bottom of this,” said Fay. “For all we know, we could wake up some night due to the jailhouse shifting. A couple of years ago, it sank nearly two inches to the southeast. Some doors up here got jammed. That’s when the county engineer considered recommending we close down.”
“Thanks for the reminder, Fay. In the middle of the night, while the building is collapsing, we might be visited by escaping prisoners looking for your badge and handgun.”
“Did someone say badge?” asked Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge, suddenly alert.
“Jesse and May had a number of escapes on their watch,” said Fay, “and they were never threatened. The men want out of here as quickly as possible without delay.”
“Have any women escaped before?” Cora asked.
“None on my watch,” replied Fay, “but I was only a jailer for a few months back in early 1921.”
“As a jailer, I can recall giving this old gal a real spring cleaning. We’ll do it again soon.”
“It needs it,” agreed Cora
“Sheriff, can you hear me?” Jailer Jess Blanpied yelled from the first floor.
Fay walked to the top of the stairs, nodded at Jess, and asked. “What do you need, Jess?”
“Virgil Nelson’s parents would like to talk to you,” said the jailer. “They have a few questions.”
“I’ll be down in a minute, thanks,” said Fay.
“During my first week in jail, I’ve learned that some of the boys aren’t here long enough for me to learn their names,” said Cora.
“Cora, you’re off to a great start with the prisoners. You’re caring enough to be their mother, yet you’re as assertive as a crew boss,” complimented Fay.
“Thanks, honey,” replied Cora.
“I hope Virgil does well at the reformatory,” said Fay. “Like most criminals, he’s too lazy for real work. He returned to the Express Company’s dock like a fisherman to his secret fishing hole. Do you think he ever imagined he’d be caught in the act of loading two cans of cream into his Ford Touring car? Did he consider that when he sold the stolen cream in McPherson and Haven, more people could tie him to the grand larcenies?”
“I’m glad you didn’t need to take him all the way to Lansing on these icy roads,” said Cora.
Fay added, “Yeah, the drive to the reformatory was enough of an adventure. Virgil was pretty quiet. He might have been thinking about his sentence of one to five years.”
“What do you expect to tell his parents?” asked Cora.
“Anything I can do to help them,” replied Fay, “unless they ask me to explain why he committed four felonies. Basically I’ll say: ‘Your boy’s only twenty-one; when he gets out, he’ll still have time to make better choices.’”
As Fay started down the steps Cora concluded, “Fay, that sounds about right, all we can do is give them hope.”
The Kansas Authors Club www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County (part of District 6), we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, email@example.com