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                  The village constable gets deposed.

        In the spring of 1964 I was a senior at Kenyon College, in rural Ohio.  Revolution was in the air, nationally, but somehow it was not easy to find a subject for revolution in that idyllic small town, and when the revolution came it was difficult to make it quite as vulgar or noisy or violent as in more urban settings.  But we managed to rebel successfully, overthrow what needed overthrowing (at least locally), and a good time was had by all.
        Kenyon College was founded in the 1820's. The large building now called Old Kenyon was built around 1827.  Forty years later a second building was needed, and the builders didn't want to make things too crowded so they built it one mile north, the two buildings being connected by a gravel path that is still there, called Middle Path.  Slowly over the years some of the spaces in between have been filled in, but no one would accuse the campus of being crowded. And at some point it occured to someone that maybe a town was needed, so a small stretch -- one sixth of a mile long -- was reserved in the middle, for a village. The town of Gambier grew out to the sides, but at least in that one-sixth of a mile of downtown  it is still true that the campus surrounds the village, rather than the other way around.
        In the early days I'm not sure that there was any distinction in government between the town and the college, but eventually a town government was formed. Not uncommonly, the same people were elected to town offices and college faculty offices, but the system broke down by the early 1960's. By late in my student career -- I was a senior in 1963-64 -- there had been an election when the faculty wasn't paying enough attention. What we called ‘the farmers' took over,  the town council did not get on too well with the college, and we had a bit of a town-gown problem.
       The town council decided that the college security man was no longer enough to keep order, and appointed a village constable.  From the student's point of view, they chose the wrong man for the job. They erected numerous stop signs, which seemed to us superfluous in such a small town, and the constable began enforcing them.  And to make matters worse, he was rather vulgar. Now, it may not distress you if I admit, even though I am a loyal alumnus of the school,  that in the 1960's even we students could be rather vulgar. But we didn't think the constable should be.
       The constable had a talent for noteworthy incidents, and two deserve mention.  In those days the college had a divinity school, Bexley Hall, located in the building at the north end of campus. And the Rev. Desmond Tutu of South Africa turned up to give a lecture.  This was long before that first Black Episcopal Bishop of South Africa became famous, and before he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in keeping the changeover in South Africa so peaceful. But he was a very peaceful and quiet little man, known to and beloved by the students.
       Rev. Tutu was being driven to his lecture by Dean Almus Thorpe, Dean of the Divinity School. On the way, Dean Thorpe stopped to pick up his mail.  The Post Office was on the main street, in the center of town, next to Middle Path.  And as was the local custom, Dean Thorpe left his car sitting in the middle of the street while he went in to pick up his mail. This local custom had never bothered anyone before, but apparently the presence of a Black man in town was distressing to the constable (at least, the students believed).  Poor Rev. Desmond Tutu, who was completely innocent in the case, got a stern lecture from the constable, and a ticket for blocking traffic.
       Shortly after this, some enterprising soul erected signs where one left the campus to enter the village. They read "Achtung! Sie Verlassen jetzt den Americanischen Sektor" In German: Attention: You are now leaving the American Sector.  They were a reasonably accurate copy of the signs in divided Berlin in those days, between the American and Russian sectors.  Dean Bruce Haywood of the College, a German scholar by discipline, remarked to me on the quality of the signs and said "If I knew who did it, I'd give him one of the Dean's discretionary prizes for the work, for contributing an academic flavor to the dispute. But I'm glad I don't know who it is, because if I did, and gave the prize, [the constable] would probably sue."
         And then came the straw that broke the camel's back. One of the most popular faculty members of the day was Professor Denham Sutcliffe, chairman of the English Department. Like many faculty members then, he lived immediately adjoining the campus and his children were well known to the students. He had an eleven-year-old daughter, who was popular not only on her own but because she kept a horse in the college barn and occasionally rode on campus.  And one day the constable flagged her down and gave her a traffic ticket -- for riding her horse too fast.  Now there is a real possibility, by hindsight,  that she was in fact violating a town ordinance of the 1890's, prohibiting galloping a horse on Middle Path. But no one doubted her story that he had been extremely vulgar with her, bawling her out in language that would have been inappropriate for a constable to use (we thought)  even on a college student.
       Shortly thereafter, a typed and unsigned notice appeared on the bulletin board outside the main student dining room. "The Student Body will assemble outside the Post Office at 2:00 PM Sunday, for the purpose of deposing the village constable".
       It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in early May, 1964. The perfect day for a hike in the country.  Several hundred students assembled in front of the post office, and a motion carried to walk out to the country,  to the farm of the constable, and to sit in his front yard until he resigned.  Accompanied by a fair number of faculty and their families, who had come along to watch, we walked out to the farm.
         The constable reacted as if he had an urban riot of the period on his hands. He called for reinforcements from the State Police and from the Fire Department in Mount Vernon, eight miles away.  Three Highway Patrol cars and a pumper fire engine arrived.  Some students hoped they would turn on the fire hoses: it would seem more like a demonstration, thought some, while others thought it would be fun to play in the water. But the representatives of law and order found the students sitting peacefully playing cards on the grass, or tossing Frisbees, enjoying the pleasant spring weekend. And most of them relaxed, settled in, and chatted with us, enjoying the nice weather themselves.
      Then the head of the township council turned up, very unhappy about the situation, and he was going to ruin everyone's good temper if  left to make speeches. So something had to be done. A council of war was convened in one of the police cars: the student body president, the editor of the student paper, the chairman of the town council, a highway patrolman, and eventually the township attorney. After awhile President Lund of the college was consulted, and then President Lund announced to the students that a solution had been reached and we should all walk back to the auditorium in Rosse Hall to hear the details.
           The solution, President Lund explained at the auditorium, was a compromise he was sure we would find acceptable. The Town council had apologized to the students and the College for the behavior of the constable.  They did not feel that having him resign immediately was a good idea; it might he hard to hire a new constable if it was too obvious that the old one had been fired or resigned after a public demonstration (or, as the town council was inclined to view it, a riot).  They had however agreed to put an education requirement on the job, a requirement that the present constable could not meet. So, we were promised, he would be replaced by the time the students returned in the coming Fall.  In the meantime, they had agreed to somewhat restrict the activities of the constable, "I'd better let this part be told to you by the township attorney," President Lund said, "because the phrasing is rather precise."  The township attorney introduced himself and said that the township council had met and given a formal instruction to the constable, which he was now going to explain to us.  They told him he had been both too petty and too blunt in enforcing the laws. For the remainder of his term, he was to give tickets only in cases where someone was actually endangered, that is, where what the driver was doing was actually unsafe. And in the course of giving the ticket, the attorney said, "and now I'm going to read the exact words of the council's resolution on the subject, and I want it clearly understood that these are their words, not mine: In giving a ticket, it is O.K. to call a spade a spade, but you are NOT to call it a God damned shovel."
       President Lund complimented the students on their fine behavior during our outing in the country, praised them for having chosen such a beautiful day, and suggested that the entire community should take a walk together in the country like this more often.

Edward Ordman ( C) 2001

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