Marysville's wooden policeman is kidnapped and thrown into the Snohomish River on September 2, 1917.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 4/30/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8143

On the night of September 2, 1917, Marysville’s wooden policeman is kidnapped from his post on the corner of State and 3rd streets by several intoxicated revelers.  The policeman is ignominiously thrown into the Snohomish River, where he is later found floating with the tide. He is rescued and again placed on duty, but this turns out to be only one of a series of continuing misadventures for Marysville’s wooden cop.

Traffic Signals?

Although a few horses and wagons remained on Marysville streets by 1917, the automobile was fast becoming the preferred method of transportation. That doesn’t mean people fully understood how to drive them. There were no traffic signals in Marysville in 1917, which only added to the confusion, particularly at Marysville’s busiest intersection at the corner of State Street (now State Avenue) -- which was then also the Pacific Highway -- and 3rd Street.  By the summer of 1917 several minor accidents had happened at the intersection and some feared it was only a matter of time before a catastrophic crash occurred.  Enter the wooden policeman. 

On July 2, 1917, in response to a suggestion in an article in The Marysville Globe the preceding week, the Marysville Town Council arranged for a sign post to be erected in the center of the crossing at State and 3rd Street. The exact details of the post were not recorded for posterity, though it sounds like it was close to life-sized; newspaper articles of the day said it came equipped with arms, fingers, feet, a lamp, a sign that said “keep to the right” and an arrow pointing the direction of the Pacific Highway toward Bellingham and Everett. The post quickly became known as the wooden policeman, and although he was heavy enough to withstand gusty breezes without flipping over, he was fragile enough to be easily damaged and light enough to be easily picked up.  This caused plenty of problems for him on down the road.

Go to the Right

The wooden policeman was installed on July 31, 1917, with the sign directing motorists to keep to the right. He was backed up by “real live traffic cop” (The Marysville Globe, August 3, 1917, p. 5) who would suddenly appear if a motorist ignored the sign and force the offender to stop, back up, and go back around to the right of the dummy.  Later in August the town council passed an ordinance allowing fines to be levied against those who ignored the directions; the minimum was $3.

It wasn’t long before the wooden policeman suffered his first indignity. He had scarcely been on the job for two weeks when he was struck by a truck and knocked down, losing an arm and having both of his feet crushed. “Some are saying we lost the wrong policeman,” quipped the Globe later that week. But he was soon repaired and back on duty.  

Woe to those who did not appreciate the wooden cop. One woman  was stopped by Marshal Pat Powers when he caught her driving to the left of the faux policeman. She made the mistake of mouthing off to the marshal, but thought better of it when the marshal took her in front of a local judge who suggested a fine of $10 instead of the usual $3.  The woman got the hint, apologized profusely, and successfully got the fine reduced.

Derelict Cop Floating

Others appreciated the wooden policeman all too well.  On the night of September 2, a carload of revelers, returning from Vancouver, B.C., and fortified with booze, decided to snatch the silent sentinel from his post. They carried him off and dumped him into the Snohomish River on the way to Everett, where a fisherman found him floating with the tide -- “a derelict without a rudder,” observed the Globe in its next weekly issue.  But the Wooden One survived the ordeal relatively unscathed: The only damage was “the loss of the arrow, his kidnapers (sic) evidently not desiring that he should be able to point the place from whence they come (sic).  Moral -- nail him down” (The Marysville Globe, September 7, 1917, p. 1).

Evidently he was not nailed down, because on October 7 the wooden sentry was again nabbed and spirited away.  Fortunately, he was recovered none the worse for wear the next day near East Stanwood.  “There is talk now of using a chain to prevent the dummy from being picked up so easily,” reported the Globe the following Friday.

Noble Mannequin Carries On

Perhaps this was done, because for the next six months the noble mannequin seems to have been allowed to carry on in peace. There are no reports in the Globe of further kidnappings or too-close encounters with aggressive automobiles -- that is, until April 16, 1918, when another car collided with him, smashing his headlight and leaving him in poor shape overall. But the wooden guy had the last laugh: “The driver was either going pretty fast or became excited, because he collided with the telephone pole at the far corner after his mix-up with the silent sentinel” (The Marysville Globe, April 19, 1918, p. 1).

 Alas, this seems to have been the coup de grace for the wooden cop. The only other mention of him in The Marysville Globe came two months later, and this comment was more a eulogy:  “The wooden policeman was a source of revenue to the city, fines of upward of $100 having been paid in for cutting the corner short at too high a rate of speed,” noted the Globe, while also ruefully pointing out that a police motorcycle, bought by the City to catch speeders at about the same time the wooden policeman began his beat, had failed to collect a single fine. 

Sources: “Dangerous Crossing Needs Regulation,” The Marysville Globe, June 29, 1917, p. 1;  “City To Have Motor Cycle And Motor Cop,” Ibid., July 6, 1917, p. 1;  “Local And Personal,” Ibid.,  August 3, 1917, p. 5;  “Local And Personal,” Ibid., August 17, 1917, p. 5;  “Woman Tourist Learns It Won't Do To Lose Temper,” Ibid., August 31, 1917, p. 1;  “Policeman Kidnaped (sic) And Nearly Drowned,” Ibid., September 7, 1917, p. 1;  “Local And Personal,” Ibid., October 12, 1917, p. 3;  “Silent Policeman Gets Another Jolt,” Ibid.,  April 19, 1918, p. 1;  “Idle Men Go To Jail In Marysville,” Ibid., June 14, 1918, p. 1. 

Related Topics:   Curiosities

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