Editor’s note: The year was 1918. America was embroiled in World War I, women were pushing for the right to vote, and a flu pandemic would soon devastate the country. Our Throwback Thursday takes a look back at our most popular stories from this month in history, from the quirky to the heartbreaking.
Today’s story comes from Aug. 13, 1918 under the headline “Police Find Small Child Under Irons.” This upsetting case of child abuse tells us about both the standards of the legal system and the popular view of cultural differences at the time. If the $25 fine seems low, it is! Adjusting for inflation, it’s just a little over $400.
Days of darkest Russia, the dreary plains of Siberia and chains with shackles around the limbs of downtrodden people were called to mind last night, when Chief of Police L. B. Rogers went to 782 N. Schuyler Ave. and found a little, 13-year-old boy in irons.
His name is John Staszkawicz and he had been in the chains for hours. His slender legs showed where the links of the chain had been drawn tight. His skin also bore marks where his father had lashed him with a club. He had been weeping until he was almost exhausted.
Chief of Police Rogers decided to take the boy under this own guardian wing for the night and hauled him to the police headquarters. He also took the father to the police station to make an investigation. The man, who is Mike Staszkawicz, was released after an examination and told to appear before Police Magistrate W.A. Hunter this morning. The boy slept soundly all night on a couch at the city hall. The chain had to be filed off his ankles.
At 10 o’clock this morning the matter was taken up before Police Magistrate Hunter. Miss Martha Hutton, of the Associated Charities, was present with sufficient evidence to justify court action.
The mother of the boy, according to Miss Hutton, is a hardworking woman and treats her children with patience and charity, although she cannot speak a word of English. The father is given to violent fits of temper, during which he is said to maul the children with brutal force. The beatings are said to be nightly occurrences. He is a carpenter and speaks only a small amount of English. The parents are Lithuanians.
A girl, now 16 years old, is said to have been driven to work at the Paramount Knitting Factory at the age of 12 years, although her father made affidavit that she was 14. She finally was compelled to leave home on account of the treatment accorded her by her father.
The boy, taken by the police last night, has reached only the third year of school, although he is 13 years of age. Another boy is 11 years old and is in the fourth year of school. Another child is seven years old and still another only 3. The 13-year-old lad told the police last night that his father often has seized him by the heels and beat his head against the wall.
On the other hand, the children are said to have been in trouble frequently, the 11-year-old boy having been in court about a year ago on a charge of stealing.
Man of high temper
The disposition of the father was noticeable in the courtroom this morning every time he was asked any questions. He talked in nervous and excitable tones, showing that he was a man of very high temper.
After hearing all the evidence, it was decided to suspend a fine of $25 over his head, the amount to be payable the next time he starts to abusing his children.
He offered an alibi to the effect that this is the way people punish their children in Lithuania and that he was not aware of the fact that the American custom is different. He agreed to handle his youngsters more leniently in the future and appeared to understand fully that disobedience to the court instructions meant a fine of $25.
Assistant State’s Attorney Whittemore announced that further action would be taken as soon as County Judge J.H. Merrill returns to the bench.