It was just past twelve-thirty in the morning on Sunday, October 17, 1920. Downtown Davenport was filled with people leaving the local fraternal organizations and dance halls. Fourth Street in front of the Col Ballroom was particularly busy as a dance attended by hundreds of people was ending.
Pedestrians crowded the sidewalk as they walked home, returned to their cars or wagons, or caught a seat on the crowded trolleys.
In the midst of the cheerful chaos, Davenport Police Officer Raymond Costigan was heading west down Fourth Street; returning to Beat No. 4 from his “lunch” break.
Officer Costigan was working the night shift from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on foot patrol that ran from Marquette Street to Howell Street between West Davenport and the downtown district. Beat No. 4 was part of the 400 plus blocks of Davenport that had been divided into eleven sections by the police department. The entire area largely patrolled by officers on foot.
The police department operated with two twelve-hour shifts. Officers rotating monthly between day and night shifts. There was talk of moving to an eight-hour day with three shifts, but those were still ideas for officials to talk about.
It was a long walk back to Beat No. 4 from the downtown district. Most nights, a police officer would be able to hop on a passing trolley and ride for free back to their respective beat. But that was only allowed if the trolleys were not filled to capacity. This night, with crowds filling the streets, Costigan and other officers would have to walk back to their assigned areas.
It is on this long walk back that Costigan ran into a friend, Walter Petersen. Petersen, with a new Empire Sport model automobile, offered Costigan and two other acquaintances a ride. As the men walked west on Fourth Street; they had no idea Raymond Costigan only had a few more hours to live.
Raymond E. Costigan was born July 13, 1895, in Davenport, Scott County, Iowa to John and Sadie (Powers) Costigan. A sister, Ella, was born in 1903. His father, John, was a fireman for the Davenport Fire Department and moved up the ranks to Assistant Chief.
Costigan attended St. Mary’s parochial school, Davenport High School, and was involved in the early days of independent football teams as both a manager and football player. After leaving school, Ray worked at the Rock Island Arsenal and continued playing/managing local teams.
Shortly before his twenty-second birthday, the United States entered World War I. Ray’s draft card from June 5, 1917, lists him as a single man employed at the Arsenal. His physical description is of a tall man of medium build with light brown hair and blue eyes.
On August 3, 1917, local newspapers released the names of the first men picked in the national draft. Costigan’s name was on the list of those to report before the Scott County exemption board to pass physical and mental exams to enter the United States Army.
On August 22, 1917, Raymond married Marie C. Quinn of Davenport. Their wedding at St. Mary’s Catholic Church was featured in the newspapers along with the announcement of their two-week honeymoon near Chicago and the lake area.
Raymond Costigan reported to the Scott County War board offices on September 19, 1917, and left the following day on the 12:30 p.m. train to Des Moines, Iowa, and Fort Dodge. Originally assigned to a machine gun division; Costigan was quickly reassigned to the 351st Infantry Ordnance Detachment which was part of the 88th Infantry Division.
On May 15, 1918 while stationed at Fort Dodge, Raymond became a father with the birth of his daughter Mary Rita Costigan. On August 15, 1918, he shipped out to France on the SS Saxon. Around September 1, 1918, Costigan’s unit was in Cherbourg, France, and making their way to “No Man’s Land” at the Haute-Alsace front.
Along the way, the unit faced their first real test when they held off a German raid at Schnoholz Woods. They soon arrived at the front to be faced with barbed wire, flooded and collapsed trenches, Influenza, gas attacks, and bombings. While the 351st did lose men in battle and sickness, they were proud that they did not lose a single man to gas attacks. They had trained extensively in putting on masks before arriving at the front and that training paid off.
With the November 11, 1918 Armistice, the 351st was moved around France as needed before sailing for home on May 20, 1919, aboard the U.S.S. Mercury. Back in Des Moines, Iowa, and Camp Dodge in early June, the infantry was met with a large parade and on June 6th the men were officially mustered out of the Army and Raymond Costigan was free to return home and return to civilian life.
We next learn about Costigan when on October 7, 1919, The Davenport Democrat and Leader announced he and Joe LaGrange passed the semi-annual police examination. On March 8, 1920, the Costigan’s welcomed a son, John Joseph, into the family. Costigan was then appointed to the Davenport Police Department on April 5, 1920.
April of 1920 was a month of change within the Davenport Police Department. Chief Packey Phelan asked to be moved back into the ranks of officers. Mayor Barewald appointed a long-time officer, Charles Boettcher, to the position. Boettcher had previously been Chief of Police from 1916 – 1918.
Chief Boettcher stated in newspaper articles that he wanted to increase department efficiency and increase enforcement of traffic regulations. He also moved officers to new patrols with Raymond Costigan moving from the No. 11 “Sawdust” beat along East River Street to patrol the No. 7 Northwest section of Davenport.
The Davenport Democrat and Leader on May 17, 1920, printed an article about Chief Boettcher moving long-time officer Walter Wiese to Costigan’s Northwest Davenport patrol while Costigan was being moved to Wiese’s former spot on the No. 4 beat from Marquette to Howell Streets. This move was in response to Costigan’s good work since joining the department stated the Chief.
From studying newspaper articles, the outer patrols were usually assigned to newer officers or officers needing improvement. The downtown patrols were for officers considered to be excelling at their job. Any movement closer to downtown beats would have been considered a sign that your work was regarded well. For an officer barely two months on the job it would most likely have been seen as approval on job performance.
By 1920, the Davenport Police Department still patrolled mainly on foot. Their transportation was a mix of horses and wagons, a handful of older cars, and a few motorcycles that patrolled during the day. The war had prevented many cities from fully changing from animal power to automobiles.
Officer Costigan remained on the No. 4 patrol through the summer and into the autumn months. Never taking a sick day, an unexcused absence, or suspended from duty according to the Police Roll Call Ledger covering April – October 1920.
Our knowledge of what took place on October 17, 1920, has been gathered from local newspaper articles and transcripts of the inquest that followed.
While returning to his beat from his “lunch” break, Officer Costigan met Walter Petersen and accepted a ride from his old friend. Costigan was on foot and the trolley cars were filled at the time. Costigan asked Petersen to wait a moment as he needed to step inside the Coliseum Ballroom to speak to the officers on duty. The Coliseum being just outside his patrol area.
As Costigan headed towards the Coliseum, Petersen ran into two other men and he offered rides to them. Ed Richter and Art Swindle joined Petersen at his car. Petersen getting into the driver’s seat with Richter and Swindle getting in the back seat. The front passenger seat saved for Raymond Costigan.
Inside the Coliseum, Costigan spoke with Officers William Ruhl and George Rogers who had been covering the event during their off-duty hours. Costigan spoke briefly with Rogers and said he had been at his meal and was returning to his beat. Costigan was asking how everything had been going that night and if there was anything to be aware of. Both Officers said Costigan was there for a short period of time (under 15 minutes) and left when Walter Petersen stopped for him.
Ed Richter testified in the inquest that Costigan said something to Petersen as he got into the car about “burning up the road” and “license”. Richter was talking to Art Swindell at the time and did not catch the full conversation. His assumption was Costigan had seen a speeding vehicle as he got into the car and wanted to follow it to catch the license plate number under an electric light farther up the road.
This strikes us as unusual today to have a police officer ask a civilian driver to follow a speeding car, but this was a normal practice in the early twentieth century. Most police departments found themselves without the vehicles to follow speeding cars and respond to incidents. Searching through newspapers, we located several articles from the late-nineteenth century into the 1920s in which Davenport (and other local police departments) used civilian wagons, carriages, and automobiles to follow speeding vehicles or reach accident or crime scenes.
According to Swindell and Richter, Petersen started the car and began driving west on Fourth Street. Less than half a block later they were at the intersection of Fourth and Marquette Streets. Richter said they entered the intersection and he suddenly saw headlights of an oncoming car heading south on Marquette. He said he braced for the impact and felt Petersen swerve to try to avoid the car. Swindell, who was on the right rear passenger side was turned to talk to Richter and had his back to the approaching car.
The car coming towards them was an older Velie auto both larger and heavier than the Empire Sport driven by Petersen. Stephen Giles was driving the borrowed vehicle. Mae Helgerman was sitting beside him while Arthur Bivans and Minnie Porske were in the rear passenger seats. The top was down as they drove from the Northwest Turner Hall down Marquette Street. They planned to turn on Third Street and drive down to the Rock Island Arsenal Bridge to return to their respective homes in Rock Island and Moline.
Raymond Costigan, Walter Petersen, Art Swindell, and Ed Richter were all thrown from their car on impact. Swindell and Richter sustained minor injuries, but Costigan and Petersen were both seriously hurt. Costigan was unconscious.
The Velie tipped to its right side with Bivans and Porske jumping out of the car as it went over and Giles and Helgerman being able to remove themselves after. Only minor injuries were sustained. The worse being a sprained wrist.
Immediately after the accident, neighbors ran from their houses to help the injured. A passing taxi stopped and picked up the unconscious Costigan. Officers Ruhl and Rogers both heard the accident and responded quickly. Ruhl going with Costigan to Mercy Hospital and Rogers attending those at the accident.
Giles and Bivans were both arrested at the scene. This was normal procedure for accidents involving out of town drivers. Rogers also stated both men were uncooperative in assisting those hurt and cursing at the scene.
Raymond Costigan was taken to Mercy Hospital shortly after 1:00 a.m. He never regained consciousness. Dr. E. C. Ficke attended him and soon realized Costigan was dying.
Officer Raymond E. Costigan died at 5:00 a.m.
An autopsy showed only minor cuts and bruises on his outward appearance. The right side of his skull was fractured in two places and a blood clot the size of an orange found on the left side of his brain.
Walter Petersen was unconscious for a period of time. He was found to have a broken collarbone, two broken ribs, and a sprained back/hip. When he was first admitted to Mercy Hospital it was not known if he would live or die.
The evening of October 18, 1920, an inquest was held into the accident and death of Officer Raymond Costigan. Except for Costigan and Petersen (who was in the hospital and unable to speak according to the inquest notes), the other driver and passengers were questioned along with Officers Ruhl and Rogers, Dr. Lamb who performed the autopsy, Dr. Ficke who attended Costigan, and John Martens who lived near the accident scene and had seen the vehicles afterward.
During the inquest, occupants of both cars said their respective drivers were not speeding. The intersection of Fourth and Marquette Streets was known for its blind intersection, no stop signs, and lack of lighting at night.
The question came down to the right of way in an intersection. Officer Ruhl was a traffic officer for the police department. When asked about the right of way at an intersection, Ruhl replied that according to the State of Iowa the car to the right has the right of way (a law that took place in January 1920). Ruhl was not able to respond when asked who has the right of way when one car was already in the intersection. The laws were not clear on that.
The end result was, based on the inquest, a fatal accident with no one at blame.
It appears as though Petersen’s Empire Sport auto had entered the intersection as Giles’ Velie approached. Neither car could see the other until the Empire Sport was in the intersection. Both the Assistant Scott County Attorney and the Coroner visited the accident scene later that day with the cars still in place.
They decided by the condition of the cars that the Velie driven by Giles had struck a blow to the right rear side of the Empire Sport driven by Petersen. The Velie had only slight damage to its fenders and the left front wheel spokes were broken. The Empire Sport had severe damage with broken fenders, a gash in the right side where struck, damage to the right rear tire spokes, and the top and windshield had broken away as if the car was flipped.
While the conclusion of the inquest may seem surprising to us; traffic laws were only just being created officially. Animal pulled transportation competed with automobiles and motorcycles on the roads. In a smaller town like Davenport, stop signs were few in 1920. During the day, police officers directed traffic at busy intersections. At night there was no supervision and few rules.
We also researched the intersection of Fourth and Marquette Streets to see if other accidents had occurred there. Between 1919 and 1921 we found many accidents involving automobiles hitting other automobiles, trolleys, wagons, and pedestrians. The blame always the same. It was a blind intersection with buildings blocking the line of vision until it was too late.
On October 19, 1920, Davenport Police Officer Raymond Costigan was laid to rest at St. Marguerite’s Cemetery (now Mt. Calvary Cemetery) in Davenport. Both the American Legion and Davenport Police Department escorted the body from a crowded St. Mary’s church to the cemetery. The Davenport Police Department and the community mourned the up and coming officer and the station was draped in black bunting.
Officer Costigan left behind his wife Marie, daughter Mary Rita, and son John Joseph along with his parents and sister, Ella.
His co-workers at the Davenport Police Department requested and were given permission to hold a benefit dance for his widow and children. $1,689.10 was raised for his family at the December 1, 1920 event.
The response to the benefit held was so great within the community that the benefit committee had to rent the Coliseum for the event. The largest dance hall in the city.
And also, by tragic coincidence, the last spot Raymond Costigan was seen alive before the accident on October 17th.
- 88th Division – 351st Infantry – Historical Notes 1917 – 1919. C. F. Brantner, Published 1919.
- The 88th Division. Iowa in the Great War 1914 – 1919. Transcribed by Sharon R. Becker. www.iagenweb.org/ringgold/
- The Rock Island Argus, August 22, 1917. Pg. 8.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, September 2, 1918. Pg. 3.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, April 6, 1919. Pg. 34.
- The Daily Times, June 6, 1919. Pg. 1.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, October 7, 1919. Pg. 10.
- The Daily Times, April 27, 1920. Pg. 8.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, May 17, 1920. Pg. 11.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, October 17, 1920. Pg. 1.
- Moline Dispatch, October 18, 1920. Pg. 4.
- The Daily Times, October 18, 1920. Pg. 1.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, October 18, 1920. Pg. 12.
- The Daily Times, October 19, 1920. Pg. 9.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, October 19, 1920. Pg. 14.
- The Daily Time, October 19, 1920. Pg. 8.
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, October 19, 1920. Pg. 3.
- The Daily Times, October 27, 1920. Pg. 8
- The Davenport Democrat & Leader, December 13, 1920. Pg. 7.
(posted by Amy D. )