It has been a while since I posted a Throwback Thursday, but as I am getting ready to dive back into my hero’s plot, I thought it would be fun to start a series titled “To Catch a Counterfeiter”. If would like to read a brief introduction to the Secret Service, click here.
Do you think you have what it takes to bring down a criminal ring of counterfeiters in the mid to late 1800’s? The challenges were immense and the resources limited.
The Secret Service was a federal organization, meaning their jurisdiction spread across the entire country. However, between 1875 and 1910, the division never employed more than 47 men, and the average was only 25. And between 1878 – 1893 when my story takes place, the average number of servicemen was well below that.
In addition to being stretched thin, Secret Service operatives were subordinate to policing institutions. They did not have the authority to search for evidence or even arrest criminals without the cooperation of the local police authorities.
These two major issues, along with insufficient funds could have crippled lesser men, but Secret Service Operatives were resourceful, determined, and loyal to their country.
Counterfeiting was no accidental crime. It was committed purposefully, requiring skill, equipment, and a network of likeminded criminals. Like all criminals, counterfeiters did not want to be caught and did whatever they could to protect their criminal network. It wasn’t uncommon for them to grease the wheels of corrupted police officers making it difficult as a Secret Service operative to determine who could be trusted.
Counterfeiters had fully developed criminal subcultures that were difficult to break into, and anyone could be a counterfeiter, from the lowly street peddler all the way up to the upper crusts of society. No level of income was exempt from potential involvement. Even a sweet old grandma down the street could be the ring leader. Networks could stretch the width of the United States and relied on a decentralized underworld structure that transcended community boundaries.
Bringing Criminals to Justice
The Secret service adopted a long-term strategy for suppressing counterfeiting. While the country was split into 11 districts, covering multiple states and territories, the first step of this plan was to concentrate its operatives in the largest urban centers: New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.
There, they sought to penetrate the criminal networks by starting at the lowest level and gradually working their way upward to identifying an arresting the manufacturers. Informants were crucial to their success, providing information as well as introductions into these secretive gangs of counterfeiters.
Good cases took weeks, even months, to develop, and required an enormous amount of patience and dedication. Although not usually dangerous, (the first operative to lose their life on the job was not until 1907), operatives stayed in peak condition to contend with criminals who did not wish to be caught.
Operatives were scrutinized by their superiors and were required to write extensive daily reports. Expenses were itemized, including information about the purchase of counterfeit notes, travel expenses, even their personal expenses. In 1875, Chief Washburn demanded that field operative Andrew Drummond obtain a refund from a Philadelphia telegraph operator who had overcharged him one cent. Ever dutiful, he obtained the refund.
Not only were their expenditures itemized, their days were detailed from waking moment until slumber. A typical report might say: “I got up at 5:30 AM, ate my breakfast, left home at 7 AM, arrived at the office at 8 AM, at 8:30 I went to First National Bank…., I returned home at 10 PM and went to bed at 11 PM.”
Though they faced internal and external challenges, through the use of informants, undercover work, and both investigative and instigative techniques, the Secret Service was able to reduce counterfeiting from the most prominent criminal activity in the United States prior to the Civil War to a spattering of successful occurrences by 1900.
What do you think? Do you have what it took to be a Secret Service operative? Which would be the most challenging for you? The internal or external challenges? Why?
Me? No way. Did you see that wake-up time? Uh uh, nope. Mornings and I have a mutual disdain for each other. It is only out of sheer love for my children that I am up in time to get them to school. When it comes to documenting details… forget it! I’m lucky if I remember to put an appointment on my calendar. As far as which would be most difficult for me? Definitely the internal bureaucracy. As for the external challenge? I might be lucky enough to be able to worm my way into a counterfeiting ring, but it would likely be how my heroine did. Completely on accident! (Although she is handling it way better than I would!)
Next Throwback Thursday (3/9/17): To Catch a Counterfeiter – Pt 2 – The Informant
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the focus on kindness, charity, and family togetherness. The decorations are calming and enjoyable to me. In fact, I spend three days decorating my entire upstairs and downstairs and then three months enjoying it. Yes, my Christmas decorations do not come down before February. 🙂
Each section of my house has its own theme. We have one large bookshelf that I empty and my children decorate with a Christmas village. Then there is narrower bookshelf of nutcrackers given to my husband every year by his mother. We have a collection of dancing penguins given to my mother-in-law every year partying away in front of the fireplace.
I will admit the Christmas tree is beautiful, but I actually despise it. I hate putting it up, fussing with the lights, and then decorating it. But I do it every year because my husband loves the tree, my legally-blind mother-in-law loves seeing the lights, and my boys love decorating it.
However, of all these wonderful and sentimental decorations, my favorite is my collection of nativities. Just for the fun of Christmas and my own personal curiosity, I decided to do a quick post on the history of nativities. Enjoy my decorations and the interesting history of nativities through the ages.
The History of the Nativity Scene
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with staging the first nativity scene in 1123. According to St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who wrote the biography The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis got permission from Pop Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals – an ox and a donkey. He set up the manger scene in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio, and then invited villagers to come and gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlem”. Supposedly, he was so overcome with emotion that he could not say the name “Jesus.”
My favorite nativity.
Nativity scenes as we know them today started in the 1300’s. First, they began as terracotta display pieces for Italian churches. At this time, Nativity sets were displayed year around.
My newest nativity made out of Kentucky coal.
In the mid-1500’s, they began to make their appearances in the homes of wealthy citizens. These were much smaller versions than the statues found in churches and were generally made out of wood, wax, or terracotta. The figures also began to develop beautiful clothing.
“Escape to Egypt” – made out of olive wood from Bethlehem.
Over time, the nativities spread to practically all Christian countries, each region giving its own flair to the set. The tradition in Germany is to display all parts of the Nativity with the exception of baby Jesus, who is only displayed after Christmas Eve. Although most Americans do not follow this tradition, our local non-profit hospital does follow this tradition.
What is your favorite Christmas tradition or decoration? Share below and if you can, attach a picture!
Halloween is just around the corner and since my book does require the death of a secondary character, I thought it might be fun to share some of the superstitions I discovered during research of Victorian funerals and mourning rituals.
At the Time of Death
If the death occurred at home, the curtains would be drawn and the clocks would be stopped. Symbolically, it represented the family in mourning, and if you have ever lost someone, the idea of a clock showing that your entire world has stopped seems accurate. Stopping the clock also “prevented” anyone else in the family from experiencing a run of bad luck.
In addition to the clocks being stopped and curtains drawn, mirrors would be covered with crape or veiling to prevent the deceased’s spirit from getting trapped in the looking glass. Picture frames were sometimes turned down to prevent the spirit from possessing one of the remaining survivors.
Due to eyes being affected by rigor mortis first, they were swiftly closed and often times pennies were placed over the eyelids to prevent them from reopening. However, there was also a superstition that being looked at by a corpse could threaten you and your kind.
Wakes were held in the home for generally 4 days by friends and family. This allowed time for family members to travel. Staying with the body was a sign of respect for the deceased, although some believe it was used to make sure the deceased did not wake up from a coma.
If you remember the story of Lazarus, he had been dead four days before Jesus commanded for the stone to be rolled away. What was the response of Martha? “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” (I love the KJV of that story. Who wouldn’t love to say stinketh?)
So now imagine your loved one lying dead in your house for four days… because of that wonderful aroma, flowers and candles would fill the room and bed of the deceased, at least until embalming became common.
When it was time for the body to be removed from the house, they were carried out feet first. This was to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning another member of the family to follow him.
For some strange reason, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a fear of being buried alive developed.Some entrepreneurs took advantage of this fear and developed a safety coffin, where a bell was placed on top of the grave. One end of a rope was fixed to the bell and the other to the hand of the deceased. The idea was if they woke up they could ring the bell and alert the graveyard workers to their situation, thus being “saved by the bell.”
Other coffins were fixed with elaborate tubes and mirrors which allowed gravediggers to look into coffins for signs of life.
Grave-robbery became a real problem in the 19th century as medical schools grew and needed fresh cadavers for dissection in their classes. Bricking-over a grave or putting a wrought iron cage over a grave was a way of guaranteeing some security of the body being undisturbed after death.
Was anything new to you? What do you think about these old superstitions? Do you know of any other superstitions? Share in the comments below!
Fashion through the ages can be quite interesting, especially when examining women’s fashions. You have the simple beauty of the Empire-waist dresses during the Regency era; the elegant, wide sweeping gowns of the Civil War Era; and the form-accentuating narrow skirts and bustles of the Victorian Era.
I love to peruse the internet for beautiful dresses to include in my stories and fantasize about wearing, but sometimes the practical side of me pokes its little head up and asks some great questions.
If you hate spending more than fifteen minutes getting ready in the morning, why one earth would you want to spend hours getting ready in one of those ridiculous dresses? And can you imagine going to the bathroom in one of those dresses?
Those two questions were my only hesitations in buying and wearing my Civil War gown for the ACFW genre dinner. I would only have 30 minutes between the last session and the genre dinner to get to the room, change clothes, and do my hair. I might be able to avoid the bathroom issue, as long as I didn’t drink too much water, but I knew myself better than that.
Praise the Lord for placing me in the information age and YouTube. Someone posted on Facebook a wonderful post about Civil War fashion, which led me to these wonderful videos from PriorAttire. I learned so much just from watching them.
Debunking the Myth: It Took Hours to Get Dressed
The Bathroom: How on earth did they do it?
What did you think of these videos? I know they helped me. Although, split drawers were not an option for me and the bathroom stalls were very narrow, even compared to modern standards, so the bathroom was still an interesting feat at ACFW.
What are your thoughts? Are there any reenactment people out there who would like to share their experiences and insights?
If you could go back and wear any era dress, what would be your preference?
Share your answers below. In the meantime, here is a sneak peak of a couple of the dresses which inspired what my heroine wears in my current Work In Progress.