The Night of Policemen's Ball

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 14, 1934

The Night of the “Policemen’s Ball”
By Howard Burba

               Now that Dayton’s “finest” are polishing up their buttons and puttees and spending their spare time in practicing intricate new dance steps in preparation for their “annual ball,” one wonders if they actually have as much real fun as policemen had back in the “good old days.” They probably get just as much out of life now; maybe they’re enjoying even greater comforts and receiving far better pay. But they don’t seem able to get the whole town worked up over a police ball now as it used to find itself once each year in days when puttees and Sam Browne belts were unknown.

                Thumbing through an old newspaper file a few days ago we found proof of it. There, spread over the front page, was a glowing description of the annual policemen’s ball in the good year 1890. Right in the beginning we learned that it was far from an innovation – there had been 12 years of them before this particular event.

                Now I want to tell you about that big policeman’s ball of 44 years ago. Not alone to show you how time has changed in customs of the police department; not merely to prove that the life of a policeman was a happier one in days gone by; but to awaken a few memories of some of those old veterans who have long since signed off and who are now, let us hope, basking in a world where blue coats and brass buttons are not necessary to the maintenance of peace and dignity.

                “The thirteenth annual police ball last night was one of the best the boys have yet given,” reads an old copy of The Evening News of Friday, Jan. 17, 1890. “The hall was elaborately decorated with national colors and festoons of bunting which hung so thick from the rafters overhead that it was impossible to see the rude and unsightly ceiling. The decorations were very handsome and cheerful and did much toward making the occasion a memorable one. The old Skating Rink never presented a more inviting appearance.”

                Dayton had no Memorial Hall at that time, and palatial dancing institutions such as now flourish on all sides were undreamed of. The principal gathering place for such events as this was the old skating rink, which stood on the present site of Steele high school. Like Memorial Hall of today, this old rink served a variety of purposes. If the citizens felt the need of a little reform, they imported a powerful divine of the Henry Ward Beecher type and spectacular revival meetings were held there. If, on the other hand, the call was for an exhibition of physical skill, they brought on such disciples of the fistic art as Gus Ruhlin or Jim Jeffries, or poked a head in at No. 10 S. Main St. and beckoned to their own Kid McCoy to don the tights at the rink. Now, having located the scene of action, let us turn again to the old file for a more detailed picture of that night at the rink when Dayton’s finest were in the spotlight!

                “Even as early as seven o’clock,” wrote the reporter of 1890, “people began arriving and by eight o’clock seats were luxuries that were difficult to get. Long before nine o’clock the large hall was crowded, and before the concert, which preceded the grand march, was over, the dancing floor and every available bit of space in the house was occupied.

                “Captain Zweisler stood at the door this time taking the tickets, and between takes yelling, “Gentlemen, please move on; lots of room at the other end of the hall!” Moving on was an impossibility, and such small men as Police Commissioner Miller and Rad Waymire looked as comfortable as they might coming out of the liquid end of a cider press.

                “A News reporter was caught in the surging mass of humanity, and in time found himself forced into the center of the ball floor, where he could look about, fortunately being tall, and see something. The decorations all along the sides were so formed as to represent booths, and the scene of hundreds of comfortably-seated ladies behind the dropping bunting made him realize, more than ever, that man is an unlucky chap at best, especially if he is supplied with ingrown toenails and corns and his duties drive him to a crowded ball room where he must smile and look pleasant, even if the crack of doom is announced to be at hand.

                “Finally the order to clear the floor for the grand march comes, and then sardines in a box is no comparison to the crowding. It was positively demonstrated that several hundred thousand square feet of humanity can be forced into as many hundred feet of space. The officious soldiers at the stairway, who blocked the way to the gallery and would leave no one mount the stairs, by the potency of an inverted gravity were forced upstairs and when last seen by The News man were struggling somewhere near the roof. The crowd was simply the greatest, and at the same time the most contented – under the circumstances – that ever gathered in any hall in this city. With all of the crowding and manifest eagerness of those present, it was impossible to clear the dancing floor and finally the grand march was commenced, with hundreds of persons crowding close to the railings of the four sides of the dancing apartment.

                “The grand march proved one of the main features of the occasion, although it was by no means perfection, nor did anyone expect it to be. Detective Keller and Sergeant Grauser led off in the march, each in dress uniform and a big boutonier. They were followed by thirty other officers dressed and decorated the same way, with roses and hyacinth blooms. These were followed by the ladies and gentlemen present who desired to take part in the dancing, at least by a large proportion of that class. The march, with but one minor exception, was well performed, the evolutions being in no wise intricate but interesting and attractive. It lasted about twenty minutes, and at 10 o’clock the call for partners for the first quadrille was announced.

                “From this time on to the wee small hours the dizzy mazes of the waltz, schottische, polka, varsouvienne and quadrille were indulged in. The gallop home did not take place until it was time to go home to breakfast.”
                There you have proof of the statement that present-day policemen do not have as much fun as the policemen of the gay ‘nineties, for there hasn’t been a policeman’s ball in Dayton for quite a few years, and each one since the one just described has shown a marked decline in both attendance and brilliance.

                But let’s take a moment and see who was responsible for the success of that “grand affair,” as the reporter classified it. The committee on arrangements had as its personnel such well-remembered citizens as Hon. Ira Crawford, the mayor; Detective A. M. Keller, Sergt. C. O. Grauser and Officers A. W. Fowler and Edward S. Haley. On the reception committee were: Supt. A. F. Steinmetz, Capt. Edward Zweisler, Detective William Kirby, Sec. O. E. Davidson and Sergt. John F. Daniels.

                Floor managers for the evening, and they had their hands full, were H. M. Kisselman, Sam Dickensheets, J. N. Allaback – later to become chief of police and one of the most capable any city ever boasted – Frank Lang, Lew J. Shafer, Leo A. Goetz, Lew Eby and H. C. Castor. Acting as door-keepers during the evening were: Dan Breidenbach, Jacob DuBois, Pat McAvery and Arthur Haney, while William Hosier, David Urmay and George Hankins looked after the busy checkrooms.

                “The ball, financially and otherwise,” declared The News of the day following, “was a grand success. People of all classes, the rich, the poor, the high, the low, the cultured, the uncultured, the business man, the merchants, the professional man – all were there with their wives, daughters and sweethearts. It was a grand affair of the people; not in the sense of being select and choice, but because it was for all who desired to attend. The concert before the grand march, and before the dancing began, was by the Metropolitan band. The selections were all choice and well received.”

                Such an occasion, of course, called for a generous bit of wisecracking on the part of the reporter, and to this fact are we indebted for a still more interesting picture of that notable ball. Names of many who have passed on are to be found in the brief column of highlights penned by a News reporter 44 years ago. Memories rush forth in a perfect flood as we run down the list, and yet the hearts of older Daytonians will be gladdened with the reading of them since they recall those days when their home-town was capable of staging an event such as it can never again hope to witness. Just a moment while we reprint the choicest notes set down by the old News reporter as he found his way through a crowd that must have been as cosmopolitan as it was enthusiastic:

                All the dudes in town were there!

                “Hosier said he’d rather dance than wrestle overcoats and hats.

                “Edward Haley took care not to miss a chance to trip the light fantastic.

                “Sergt. Grauser says the wind was kind to him – he’s got no whiskers.

                “Stately Leo Goetz was among the throng and looked handsomer than ever in his dress uniform.

                “Ollie Davidson had his mustache curled. No flies on him.

                “Sergt. Bueker’s special ‘dancing pumps’ were taken to the Rink in the patrol wagon.

                “Hankins took a nap between dances.

                “Dan Coughenour was called for at 6:30 by the ambulance and the boys say they found him curling his hair.

                “Sam Dickensheets didn’t dance, but Fisher took his place and made quite a hit.

                “The smiling faces of Will Simms, Harry Nolan, Charlie Ritzler, Dan Huffman, Charlie Dale, Will Callahan, Mike Nipgen, Will Weiffenbach, Will Houston, Joe Harries, Charlie Simms, Duckie Thomas, Frank Heuber, Will Miller, Harry Weaver and many others were seen among the crowd.

                “Wilhelm, the West Side grocer, was there and handsomely painted in brilliant colors, and the polite copper who runs the West Side beat carefully cleared a path for his number thirteens.

                “Did you see Officer McGinty go down to the bottom of the floor?

                “The fire department was represented with hand chemicals.

                “Mayor Crawford took great interest in the success of the ball and in seeing that the boys all had a good time.

                “That seems to be a mistake about Officer Allaback dancing in wooden shoes.

                “Uncle Joe Ritzler was there and enjoyed himself immensely.

                “Capt. Ed. Zweisler winked at the pretty girls as he paced up and down the ballroom.

                “Genial Ed Castor shed his smiles on all sides.

                “Officer Fowler and his whiskers were present.

                “Die Dutch grosse fuer – Dave O’Hearn, Pat Hughes, Frank McBride and Pat McAvey were right on the spot.

                “The big Irish four – H. M. Kitselman, J. C. Hendershoot, D. Breidenback and Sneideker – or have we gotten ‘em mixed?

                “They say Officer Stouffer has been putting all his spare time at home for two weeks previous to the ball practicing dancing in his stocking feet.

                “Over $2000 worth of flags were used in decorating the Rink.

                “It would break Fred Baird’s heart to have to operate the telephone during another policemen’s ball.

                “A nice man is Officer John Boes, as everybody knows.

                “Prof. Bornstein, who directed the grand march, was neat, dapper and the very perfection of grace.

                “It was the largest ball the police ever had. Never did they have such splendid weather.

                “Warren Matthews, the enterprising florist, was generously on hand as usual with a beautiful corsage bouquet for the lady wearing the finest bouquet in the grand march.

                “Pat Hughes says that the next ball he will favor the audience with some vocal selections.

                “Frank McBride walked down the hall and shouted, ‘Move On!’

                “Telephone Operator Clarence Ramby was as happy as a big sunflower.

                “Officer Ritzler always takes as much interest in the annual ball as a young dancer, and he had much to do with the success of this one.

                “Now, there’s Sergean Grauser. He’s a nice old man and at the same time one of the most active and obliging members of the committee on arrangements.

                “Everybody spoke of the resemblance between Bill Donley and Gov. Campell.

                “The new president of the Dayton Board of Public Affairs took notes and vowed that the next ball would beat this one.

                “Hendershott was all right, but his feet got tangled.

                “Dan Coughenour put in his store teeth and looked as ‘purty’ as anybody.

                “McAvey and Boes, the Siamese twins of the police force, lovingly locked arms and promenaded peacefully down the arena.

                “Dan Breidenbach was the ‘Apollo Belvidere’ of the occasion.

                “All the visitors said it would be hard to match the big four – Goetz, Stauffer, Wooster and Van Skaik.

                “After Sam Dickensheets got limbered up he danced like one of the young (?) girls in Kiralfy’s ‘Last Days of Pompeii.’

                “Petie Hughes and Archie Haney delighted the audience with the Highland fling.

                “Sunday School Clayton looked as slick as a canvasback duck.

                “ ‘By Jingo,’ said Sargeant Daniels, ‘it was the doggondest nicest ball I ever saw.’

                “Sergeant Grauser danced and danced like he did when Lewis B. Gunckel used to lick him for playing hookey from school at Germantown.

                “Sergeant Dick Bucker had an ash cart call for him at his residence at 7 o’clock p.m., that he might be there in time.

“By midnight Chappel felt bigger than a meeting house.

“McBride and Allaback, the two army regulars, thought it was more fun than they ever had fighting Modoc Indians.

“There might have been flies on the rest of the committee, but there were no flies on Dandy Haley.”

And so there passed from lip to lip for days after the wisecracks and enthusiastic comment on the thirteenth annual policemen’s ball, the peak of all such social events in Dayton. Some there are, but few in number, who were in uniform that night. They recall it, possibly, with lashes that are damp. Not because of the fact that they cannot live over those days, but because their sons and their grandsons of today, sporting leather puttees and riding from one call-box to another on the down cushions of an automobile can never know the glories of a policeman’s life back in the days when everybody in Dayton was “so happy and so poor.”