Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sergeant Miles Fitzgerald of the Railroad Police

Most railroads prior to the 1900s did not have their own police force or one experienced with undercover work and investigations. They made use of contractors to investigate the loss of freight and luggage.  One of these contractors and probably the most famous one was Allen Pinkerton of Pinkerton Detectives fame.  About 1901 The Pennsylvania railroad begin creating it’s own railroad police force.  The objective of the force was to protect the assets of the railroad, the safety of it’s customers, arresting illegal train riders, investigating accidents and controlling disorderly passengers on it’s trains.  They worked closely with the local police, State police, FBI, and court system.  In some cases in smaller towns they were the only law enforcement in the area.  The police force of the Pennsylvania railroad initially generated a bad image because in Pennsylvania they received a commission for each person they would arrest and the court would find guilty and charge a fine to.  It is not known if this practice was used in Delaware or Maryland or Virginia.

above 1905 cartoon

 On the Delaware Line and the Maryland Virginia Line there was a Railroad Policeman assigned to each major railroad town.  In 1921 Captain Oscar M. Thomas was in charge of the Railroad police, taking over from Captain W. A. Palmer, and the resident plain-clothes detective in Delmar was Sergeant Miles Fitzgerald.  Miles Fitzgerald (1878-1961) and his wife; Dora Elizabeth Fleetwood, whom he married in 1910, and their son William Ernest Fitzgerald (1910-1972) lived at 507 East East street, Delmar, Maryland.  They had purchased the house in 1925 and it remained in their family until 1971 after their deaths.  Miles would work for the Railroad police until his retirement in 1949. 

Sergeant Miles Fitzgerald was put in many dangerous situations where he was outnumbered by the tramps, drunks and robbers.  He frequently broke up fights on the trains between drunken sailors returning to their ships at Norfolk (of note the Navy would put Shore Patrolmen on some trains to keep the peace).  He would arrest ten or fifteen tramps at a time whom were sleeping in boxcars or stealing items from boxcars.  He got to investigate the dead bodies found along the railroad tracks. He laid traps to capture railroad employees stealing money from the US Mail carried on the trains. In the 1930’s an average of six tramps a day was arrested in Delmar. He did not hesitate to use his pistol in the fulfillment of his job. Although he was assigned to Delmar he worked the entire line from Wilmington to Cape Charles. 

At one time Delmar was a major switching station that assembled freight cars to form different trains. Because all the trains stopped in Delmar and the cars were put off on sidings there was time for people riding the railcars illegally to jump off and hide out in the surrounding woods. Delmar had two main encampments of Hobo Jungles. One was about two miles north of town on the Delaware side. The other was on the south side of town (Maryland) and was the larger of the two jungles.

The Hobo Jungle on the North side of town was in the woods north of Old Racetrack road. It seem to have been made up of a combination of Gypsies and Hobos. My father, who lived on Old Racetrack Road when he was 8 or 9 so this would be about 1928, use to refer to them as Bohunks. No doubt today this is a politically incorrect term but my father was never much for being politically correct. It is my understanding, both from him and other people, that Delmar had a few gypsies living outside of town. The Hobos, bohunks and gypsies were constantly stealing things.

The encampment on the south side of town had a population of twenty to forty hobos.  It was in this South camp in 1939 that twenty tramps rioted and only after a fight were police able to drive them from the yard.  The Railroad Police would police the Railroad property and run off or arrest anyone on the railroad property. The tramps would than travel into town where the Delmar Police would arrest them.

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