TBT: To Catch a Counterfeiter – Pt. 1 – the Challenges


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.

Internal Challenges:

The Secret Service was a federal organization, meaning their jurisdiction spread across the network-1020332_640entire 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.


External Challenges

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





TBT: Victorian Death Superstitions Pt 2


Here are just a few fun superstitions from the Victorian Era about death. These were collected from the Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery.

  • If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers would bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, only weeds would grow.
  • If several deaths occur in the same family, tie a black ribbon to everything left alive that enters the house, even dogs and chickens. This will protect against deaths spreading further.
  • Never wear anything new to a funeral, especially shoes.
  • You should always cover your mouth while yawning so your spirit doesn’t leave you and the devil never enters your body.
  • It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you see one approching, turn around.  If this is unavoidable, hold on to a button until the funeral cortege passes.
  • Large drops of rain warn that there has just been a death.
  • To lock the door of your home after a funeral procession has left the house is bad luck.
  • If rain falls on a funeral procession, the deceased will go to heaven.
  • If you hear a clap of thunder following a burial it indicates that the soul of the departed has reached heaven.
  • If you hear 3 knocks and no one is there, it usually means someone close to you has died. The superstitious call this the 3 knocks of death.
  • If a firefly/lightning bug gets into your house someone will soon die.
  • If you smell roses when none are around someone is going to die.
  •  If you don’t hold your breath while going by a graveyard you will not be buried.
  • If you see yourself in a dream, your death will follow.
  • If you see an owl in the daytime, there will be a death.
  • If you dream about a birth, someone you know will die.
  • If it rains in an open grave then someone in the family will die within the year.
  • If a bird pecks on your window or crashes into one that there has been a death.
  • If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the home will die.
  • If a picture falls off the wall, there will be a death of someone you know.
  • If you spill salt, throw a pinch of the spilt salt over your shoulder to prevent death.
  • Never speak ill of the dead because they will come back to haunt you or you will suffer misfortune.
  • Two deaths in the family means that a third is sure to follow.
  • The cry of a curlew or the hoot of an owl foretells a death.
  • Having only red and white flowers together in a vase (especially in hospital) means a death will soon follow.
  • Dropping an umbrella on the floor or opening one in the house means that there will be a murder in the house.
  • A diamond-shaped fold in clean linen portends death.
  • A dog howling at night when someone in the house is sick is a bad omen. It can be reversed by reaching under the bed and turning over a shoe.

Are there any superstitions you know about? Share them in the comments below.

TBT: Victorian Death Superstitions and Rituals

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 clock-63741_640and 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.


Premature Burial

bellcoffinFor 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.


Resurrectionist Men

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!

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