Huggy and the Soldiers–York Mayor Cracks Down
York Mayor Ephraim Hugentugler had his hands full in the fall of 1917. He hauled many locals into his police court for furnishing liquor to soldiers stationed at the temporary training camp at Gettysburg. The soldiers also got themselves arrested for drunkenness or being disorderly, a charge that sometimes meant consorting with the local young women.
Excuses flew liberally: The Gazette reported that one soldier got off with just a $10 fine by explaining that “he never drank before and that the booze went to his head and he did not know what he was doing.”
A 24-year-old soldier “caught spooning” with a 13-year-old girl in Penn Park said he didn’t know she was under 18 because “he did not ask her age.” The mayor didn’t quite believe a group of women, aged 15 to 24, rounded up at Penn Common when many of them said they couldn’t get away from the soldiers. “Huggy” told the girls they should be home after nine and “declared that if they are not permitted to take their soldier friends home to entertain them, they certainly will not be allowed to do so on the streets and public parks.”
The Mayor and Police Chief Kottcamp were both upset when the U.S. District Judge Witmer, who had jurisdiction over the liquor furnishing cases, let seven of what Hugentugler called the “worst characters in York” off with a warning. Hugentugler decided to take matters into his own hands. See my Sunday News column below:
The headlines in the York Gazette of September 17, 1917 read “POLICE GET FOUR WOMEN AND TWO SOLDIERS IN RAID.” The raid on a “disorderly and bawdy house” on Church Street in York also netted three cases of empty beer bottles, which were taken as evidence. The next day, however, the newspaper reported that the women “got off easy” with a $5 fine each, and charges were dropped against the soldiers. The only evidence against them was “making too much noise, especially for a Sunday evening.” The women claimed the soldiers were friends, making a “social call” and that the beer bottles had been “emptied days ago.”
York was known as a hot town in the fall of 1917, at least to the U.S. Infantry units training at Gettysburg for World War I duty. Since York had more saloons and was a little distance away from the cantonment on the Gettysburg battlefield, the soldiers poured into York every payday.
The resulting drunkenness and other offences, such as civilians buying liquor for soldiers, kept Mayor Ephraim S. Hugentugler (otherwise known as “Huggy’ or “Eph”) busy presiding over the city’s police court. He also had his hands full trying to keep the soldiers separated from York’s young girls.
It was against the law for saloon owners and liquor dealers to knowingly sell liquor to soldiers. Soldiers were arrested for buying liquor or for being out of uniform. Civilians were arrested for furnishing booze to soldiers. Huggy and his police could also fall back on pressing charges of drunkenness, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace. By the beginning of October the Gazette reported that both the police and the police court were working night and day.
The situation got so bad that U.S. Deputy Harvey Smith threatened to close York saloons. This got the Liquor Men’s Association so excited that they offered a $10 reward for apprehension and conviction of anyone guilty of buying liquor for soldiers. The liquor sellers also called on U.S. Congressman Brodbeck to help have Provost Guard stationed in York. Soldiers reportedly feared military police more than local cops.
The Mayor was supposed to forward cases of furnishing liquor to soldiers to U.S. District court, meeting in Scranton. He did so, until nine local men, whom he called “some of the worst characters in York,” were set free after being admonished by District Judge Charles Witmer to “observe the law in the future.” Police Chief Kottcamp was also disgruntled, saying that the hard police work had been wasted.
Hugentugler then declared he wouldn’t send the cases to District court. He would handle drunk and disorderly soldiers in police court, and the locals who bought and furnished booze for soldiers would be charged with selling liquor without a license and tried in York County courts. He said the county judges agreed to cooperate.
York County District Attorney Gross didn’t agree. Gross said Feds were capable of handling the furnishing cases. He said he wasn’t consulted on the Mayor’s plan and state statutes weren’t violated by furnishing, which meant they had to be addressed as Federal cases in District court. Huggy called the DA a four-flusher, saying the DA had drawn up examples for him concerning selling liquor without a license. Gross claimed to not know why the mayor wanted the examples.
The jurisdiction dispute became even more heated between Hugentugler and U.S. Commissioner Samuel Meisenhelder. On October 19 the Gazette reported Meisenhelder told the Mayor the Feds could take any of the cases they wanted. Hugentugler replied that he was taking care of them himself because they got off too easy otherwise.
A few days later, the Mayor held seven men for selling liquor without license. York County DA Gross had Court Detective Kain also file furnishing charges against the same men before Meisenhelder to send to Middle District Court. This brought up questions of double penalties and if Hugentugler’s actions were illegal.
This seemed to get some Federal attention. U.S. District Judge Witmer declared penalties would be more severe in future–at least year in prison or heavy fines. The next week the U.S. District Attorney at Scranton told Hugentugler to turn over soldiers inducing buys to the military at Gettysburg and to deal with civilians himself.
This seemed to bring some satisfaction. The problem would have soon died down anyway, at least temporarily. According to www.gettysburg.com, the cantonment, which had trained 15,000 men since opening in April that year, closed down as winter approached. (A contemporary photo shows rows of tents, which housed the soldiers.) The cantonment was replaced at Gettysburg the next spring by Camp Colt, an army tank training school commanded by future U.S. president Eisenhower.
For more on Mayor Hugentugler’s police court see Mayor Tells Wife She Should Have Hit Husband Harder.
Click here to read a letter from a World War I soldier wounded in France.
Click here to read about “The Road of Remembrance,” York County’s living World War I memorial.