Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

February 26, 2014

Pat Smith: Horrific crime leads to more trouble

Was Greensburg similar to most towns of like size in 1907?

Yes, and it wasn’t what we would appreciate today. Many businesses and homes burned because the fire engine and other equipment were pulled by horses. Hundreds of men had been brought in to work on the Interurban line, pave streets, build sewers, double the rail tracks (20 passenger trains came through daily). Shacks sprang up south of town to house the men. Taverns and brothels were abundant and five policemen were supposed to keep all that under control. Horses were the means of local travel. Imagine unpaved streets and horse manure with accompanying flies and odors.

John Green wasn’t a resident of Greensburg until he came to take advantage of jobs available thanks to the improvements being promised and much needed. Green was an African American who, it was reported, was “not bright.” He came to town to work with the other laborers on the sewer system but had trouble following directions and was let go even before the sewer system was finished in 1905. He had been arrested for burglary, but wasn’t held accountable because he was considered disadvantaged. He was living in one of the brothels just west of the square and later hired by an elderly 67-year-old widow named Mrs. Sefton who lived alone in her home at 422 North East Street. He was to do odd jobs that she couldn’t do for herself.

White dives and black dives caused constant problems. Citizens were angry even before 1907. Mayor Frank Thomson was blamed for most of it, but with a five man police force one wonders what could have been done. News accounts stated, “Gambling ‘hell holes’ flourish day and night. Negro dives and the back doors of saloons have been kept open on Sunday.”

It is debatable about the time of day when John Green committed the crime that was to be the beginning of the trouble and that would cause Greensburg be named a Sundown Town to those who couldn’t be bothered to learn the facts. Some reports state that the crime occurred in broad daylight, others that Green entered the home and that he “turned out the dim light.”

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