Pap's Great Escapade
("Pap" is my maternal grandfather.)
The Democratic “Strike” of 1925
One of the most colorful escapades in the political history of the Hoosier state took place in 1925. Pap, who represented Putnam and Montgomery Counties in the Indiana State Senate, was an enthusiastic and imaginative participant.
The spark was the proposed “Penrod bill” (named for the Senator who introduced it) which, not unlike legislation offered from time to time even today, contained a hidden provision.
The bill (S.B. 300) proposed the transfer of a central Indiana county (Lawrence) from the Third U.S. Congressional District to the Second. The invention was to make sure there would be sufficient Republicans in that district - Senator Penrod’s - to insure his election to Congress. Naturally, his good fortune would have to come at the expense of the Democrats.
The Indiana State Senate in 1925 was almost totally controlled by the Republicans, but there was one small hitch. Unless a quorum was present, no votes could be taken and no legislation could be passed - not just the offending Penrod bill, but any business at all. And there were just enough Democrats to threaten such a “political blockade”.
As expected, the Republicans presented the Penrod bill of Feb. 15.
The Democrats were prepared. Hastily, all fifteen of them who were present (two others were ill and absent) “bolted their legal confines and took refuge in the neighboring state of Ohio. Most of the ‘bolters’ made the trip in a bus rented ahead of time. They wound up in Dayton, where they took refuge in a hotel owned, curiously, by by Hoosier Lieut. Gov. Van Orman, a Republican. In a “spirit of bipartisanship” the latter telegraphed the runaways to “be my guest”.
Another Democrat, Senator Harrison, left the next day secluded in an Overland Moving Van. Pap’s transit was courtesy of his railroad pass. The train deposited him in Cincinnati, and he went on to Dayton from there.
The Minority Leader, Senator Joseph M. Cravens of Madison, Indiana, halted the escape bus briefly on its way to Ohio to order a barrel of apples to be forwarded to the Indiana Senate, accompanied by a note - “Compliments of the Minority Members”. The erudite Senator Cravens (known informally as “Uncle Joe”) was the bachelor scion of perhaps the most distinguished and aristocratic families in Indiana at that time.
The Indianapolis Star and other newspapers had a field day covering the Democratic “bolt”, which brought official undertakings to a complete halt. Photos of all the “strikers” were printed side to side almost as if they were fugitives in a rogue’s gallery.
A poignant victim of the escapade was the official “doorkeeper” of the Senate, one Jerome K. Brown, who was ordered by the Senate leadership to go to Ohio and serve warrants for the arrest and return of the vagrants. Poor Doorkeeper Brown protested against going it alone, but to no avail. He arrived in Dayton 11:45 PM on the 25th and served his warrants on the “bolters” in their rooms at the Gibbons Hotel. The warrants were ignored, but Brown as invited to join a poker game in progress.
The Ohio governor and attorney-general pronounced that Indiana arrest warrants were without official standing in Ohio (which coincidentally was under a Democratic administration at the time). The governor furthermore invited the Hoosier “strikers” to stay on in Ohio “without being molested” as long as they wished.
Senator Cravens accepted the invitation “with great pleasure - until the Penrod bill is withdrawn”.
Senator Penrod countered firmly that nothing of that sort would take place.
Thereafter the shenanigans increased as the plot thickened.
The Republican Majority in the Indiana Senate set about trying to find a hale and hearty Democrat on Hoosier soil who could be legally compelled to resume his seat. Pap’s eldest daughter was accosted on her way home from school in Greencastle by a friendly pair of men she had never seen before. She thought it a bit strange, but all Hoosiers were unrestrictedly friendlier those days. They got around in inquiring of Pap’s whereabouts. When the fifteen-year-old reported the conversation later at home, her mother explained that Pap “was just hiding out somewhere with his Democratic friends.”
Senator Cravens’ adroit public comments expressed regret for the legislation drought, but noted, “The Democratic Minority in the Senate has from the beginning done its best to aid in the passage of every constructive and economic measure brought before that body .. in the hope of benefitting the overburdened taxpayers of the state. Our only regret is that there have not been more measures of economic and constructive character to vote for ..” He took the opportunity to expound on party grievances.
The Republican threatened to all out the state militia and place the matter before the Marion County Grand Jury, which they said might fine the runaways $1,000 and imprison them. Such threats and the clumsy attempts to serve warrants or “kidnap” a Democrat backfired, however, and became targets of public hilarity.
The papers made light of the fact that the Marion County Horse Thief Detective Association was sworn in “to watch for Senators who might attempt to sneak back home to Indiana without being detected.”
Faced with becoming a legislative laughing stock, the Republican Majority capitulated to the Democratic Minority, making a prophet out of Pap, who had predicted in a letter home that a “truce” would be arranged in a day or two.
The Indianapolis Times carried the banner headline: D.C. STEPHENSON BEHIND MOVE WHICH BROUGHT 15 ABSENT SENATORS BACK; REPUBLICAN POLITICAL BOSS ASSURED DEMOCRATIC FUGITIVES MEASURE THEY ARE OPPOSED TO WILL BE DROPPED.
The runaways were also given promises of immunity from arrest and quashing of any indictments against them. Thus, having thoroughly enjoyed their rest and recreation, they cheerfully returned to their seats on the afternoon of February 27th.
The saga of the “Democrats who bolted” in order to make their political point perfectly clear (and effective) became an oft-told tale in Hoosier political circles.
And Pap received his just political reward.
Shortly thereafter, he was chosen as successor to “Uncle Joe” Cravens as Minority Leader in the Indiana Senate.
Pap’s letter to Munny (his wife) mailed from the Grand Hotel in Cincinnati
February 25, 1925
As you know by now, the Senate Democrats have gone on strike. I came here and the others all went to Dayton. I came via Big (?) train, and the balance to Dayton via bus. I had a telegram from Cravens at Eaton, Ohio, saying they would be in Dayton in an hour - that was sent at 6:35 PM.
Don’t know how long we will have to wait or stay away from Indiana, but a truce will probably be made in a day or two. In the meantime I am attending theatres and picture shows, and otherwise enjoying my vacation.
[Note: With all the interest in the Ku Klux Klan these days, one of the most interesting elements in this incident is that the Democrats struck a deal with D.C. Stephenson who was not only a Republican boss but also the leader of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, the largest Klan organization of all time. Stephenson’s involvement in a murder several years later marked the demise of this organization. Were my grandparents involved in the Klan? I don’t think so. Pap, my maternal grandfather, was a Democrat and Klan members were largely Republican. My paternal grandparents lived in the same neighborhood of Indianapolis as Stephenson, but my Dad was raised a Catholic and the Klan was strongly anti-Catholic. Also of interest, that fifteen-year-old girl who was approached by “friendly” strangers in Greencastle was Joan Durham, my mother.]