The first act of a drama that involved our house was reported in the December 4, 1888, Brooklyn Eagle. The widow Mrs. Addie M. Palmer had pleaded not guilty to a charge of petty larceny that morning. A store detective testified that Palmer had shoplifted a “cheap pocketbook” from Loeser’s dry goods store and went on to say that the store had been “annoyed by female shoplifters who have a practice of stealing anything that they could conveniently conceal.” Detective Butler said that he observed Mrs. Palmer in the store several times but noticed that she seldom bought anything. Hiding behind a pillar, he watched her put the pocketbook in her bag. When Butler confronted her, she said that she had intended to pay for it. “Then she asked me if the matter could not be settled and stated plainly that money would be provided if required.” The store, however, referred the matter to the police.
The article continued that Mrs. Palmer “is about 45 years old and dresses in black. Her relatives occupy a most respectable place in society, and she herself has never been suspected of doing anything wrong before and regards her arrest as a gross outrage, as do her friends.” It said that she lived with her relative Charles Glatz at our address. Mr. Glatz told the court that a representative of Loeser & Co. had indicated that the store was willing to drop the matter, but the judge “replied that he had not been consulted in the matter,” and the case was continued. The news report concluded, “It is extremely improbable that the case will be pressed.” That prediction was wrong.
On December 19, 1888, a headline on the three o’clock edition of the Eagle blared: “Found Guilty. Mrs. Addie H. Palmer convicted of petty theft. Although well to do and most respectably connected she stooped to steal a forty-nine cent pocketbook. Many witnesses testify to her previous good character.”
The article indicated that she did not live with Glatz, who was her brother-in-law and who had bailed her out when she was arrested, but several blocks away at 109 South Oxford Street where she boarded after coming from Stamford, Connecticut, about a year earlier. The reporter concluded that the matter went to trial because “Mrs. Palmer was naturally animated by a desire to protect her character, and the firm equally desirous of protecting themselves against a civil suit.”
Again, she dressed in black, but this time she came with an entourage: “She was accompanied by her son, a young man of 18 or 20, her lawyer, two or three relatives and a dozen friends all bearing the stamp of the utmost respectability. Mrs. Palmer was remarkably self-possessed.”
The store detective added to his testimony from two weeks earlier that he had seen Mrs. Palmer at least 100 times in the store. Several other store employees testified to the interaction between the detective and Palmer. The clerks stated that Palmer was asked twice why she took the pocketbook and replied, “I don’t know.”
Mrs. Palmer took the stand and testified that she had intended to pay for the item. At least six character witnesses testified on her behalf including her sister Kate Anna Glatz, of our address, and Charles Glatz, “a dealer in watches” who said, “I have known Mrs. Palmer for thirty-seven years. Her reputation is of the best and she goes about doing good as her Master did.”
The defense attorney, a well-known figure, said that Mrs. Palmer was “a most respectable” woman and “the intention of stealing the pocketbook was never in her mind. The truth was the detective had made a mistake.” The prosecuting attorney, specially hired for the case, said that the defendant knew the store well and knew where to pay for the item. He stressed that when arrested Palmer wrongly said that she had lived at our address, as had been highlighted in a pressing cross-examination: “If she were the honest Christian lady she claimed to be she would not have told an untruth in giving her residence, and afterward have sought to defend the action by saying she was not on oath at the time.” The attorney concluded by addressing the class issue: “If she had come to court in rags not a single person who had heard the evidence would have had any doubt about her guilt.”
Judge Walsh, who tried the case without a jury as New York law then required, said, “The question of respectability does not affect me, for I pass on the cold facts alone. I should like my conscience to allow me to believe that this woman is not guilty, but it will not do so. There is nothing left me but to convict the prisoner—which I do.” The judge set December 28 for sentencing and required $200 bond for Mrs. Palmer’s appearance. “Mr. Glatz furnished the bail and Mrs. Palmer, who was moved scarcely at all, went away with her friends.”
I could find no further mention of Addie Palmer’s shoplifting. I assume some sort of deal was worked out with Loeser’s,* and the charges were dropped. If there were other acts to this drama, I don’t know them, but I wondered what Susan Glaspell could have made of this trifling court tragedy.
However, while our house was mentioned prominently and Palmer’s unexplained listing of it as her address may have affected the verdict, it and its owners only played a peripheral role in the case. Charles and Kate Glatz appear to have been solid citizens, with, perhaps, an unstable relative (who does not have one?), but my research has found nothing particularly notable about them. Indeed, the only prominent owner of our house was its builder Samuel Booth, a mayor of Brooklyn. Soon we will return to him and his many accomplishments on this blog.
*The Frederick Loeser & Co. store was an attraction much like a new suburban mall was twenty years ago. Loeser started with a lace and notions business in 1860 and in 1870 opened a department store near Brooklyn City Hall, which today is Brooklyn Borough Hall. In March 1887, Loeser opened a new building five blocks to the east. It was massive for the time, five stories tall taking up an entire large city block. The bottom three floors were for shopping; administrative offices took up the fourth floor; and the top floor had restrooms and ladies’ fitting rooms. Various sources say that the store had “all modern conveniences including electric lights, telephone service, elevators, restrooms, fitting rooms, and luxury duplex escalators.” Other sources state that Frederick Loeser & Co. “was long known as the favorite of the carriage trade.” The store was about a mile from our house, and Addie Palmer’s residence was a couple blocks closer.
The business went bankrupt in 1952, and the store closed. The building still stands, and the closest subway stop still has a stained-glass insignia of Loeser’s, which showed passengers the closest exit to the store. For years I regularly used that subway stop and walked past that insignia thousands of times without paying it any attention.