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Story ID:10693
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Syracuse New York USA
Person:Dick Tracy
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By Fred Wickert

I don’t remember the year exactly. I think it was 1944. If not, it may have been 1943. I lived a half mile outside the city limits of Syracuse, NY on a farm and was going to school in Grant Junior High School. I think I was in the fifth or sixth grade.

At the time, in the comics there was a very popular detective by the name of Dick Tracy. They even made a couple of movies about him in addition to the comic books and what we used to call the “Funny Papers, “ a section of comic strips in the newspaper.

At Syracuse University the football stadium was known as Archibald Stadium, but there was more there than just a stadium. There was an armory too. The ROTC trained there but so did some Army units during the early part of WWII. That armory and stadium had a fire and was badly damaged before the fire was put out.

Quite a few of the boys in Grant Junior High lived within a block or two of the burned out stadium. They were showing up at school with a number of different souvenirs they had found while exploring the burned out building. After school one day, I could not resist the temptation. I went with a couple of my friends to explore the burned out building too.

As we walked through the remains it had an eerie feeling. Everything was black and charred. It was in the winter so there were icicles and patches of ice here and there where the water used by the firemen had frozen. In the debris we found a few items that were badly burned and of little use. I got lucky. I found a bayonet. That was my trophy and of course, I took it home. The sheath had been burned so I discarded that. Once washed, the bayonet itself was in good shape. When I got home I said nothing about it and took it to my room.

A few days later on a Sunday afternoon a strange car pulled in our driveway. Two men dressed in suits got out and came to the door. Dad sat on the sofa reading the Sunday paper so Mom went to the door. The men introduced themselves as Detectives Tracy and Himes and showed their badges. They asked if I was home. Mom said I was. They wanted to come in so she stepped back from the door and they entered. They looked straight at me and the one called Tracy told me to get dressed and said I was coming with them. Dad told me to go get my clothes for outside like the man said.

I knew instinctively why they were there. I asked if they wanted me to bring the bayonet too. Tracy said, “Yes, please. Is that all you have?” I told him it was. I went to my room and put on hat and jacket and brought the bayonet. I guess while I was doing that they explained to Mom and Dad what it was all about. When I came back to the living room, Detective Himes relieved me of the bayonet.

We got in the car and they drove back to the city. They asked me questions about when I had entered the burned out building and who I was with. They wanted to know other boys I knew of who had gone there and what they had taken if I knew. They went to a couple of other houses and picked up two more boys that I did not know. One of them had a rifle and they put that in the trunk of the car. They asked the other two boys a lot of questions too.

It began to get dark eventually, and they told us it was getting to late to go to the station so they were going to take us home. We were all to come to the station early on Tuesday morning and we were to bring a parent with us. They dropped off the other two boys first and then they took me home. They personally escorted me to the door and spoke to my parents before leaving. I was told to go start my chores.

Early Tuesday morning I was rousted out of bed and told to hurry getting my chores done. I had to be at the police station at 8:00 A.M. After I finished my chores I ate breakfast and changed clothes. Mom and I walked to the end of the bus line and took the bus to down town Syracuse. Mom seemed to know where to go. When we got there we entered a huge room. There were chairs all along the walls. We went up to a counter and Mom told the Sergeant who we were and he told us to have a seat.

There was a lot of activity going on in that big room. Many people were milling around. I was amazed at how many boys were sitting there and more kept coming. Every now and then a policeman or two came in with someone in handcuffs and took them through a door on the side with frosted glass so you couldn’t see through it. A lot of different police officers came and went. It was a busy place.

Soon a man in civilian clothes, wearing suspenders and a shoulder holster with a gun came out in the room with a clip board. In a loud voice he called out about eight names. He told them to follow him. They were all boys and they went somewhere out of sight with the man. Every once in a while they came and got some more.

At a little after 11:00 A.M. it was my turn. I was one of those called. The man took us through a door and down a short hallway to an elevator. We went up one floor and in to an office. There were more detectives there. They pointed at a large sofa and some chairs and told us to have a seat. They took two at a time. They had the two they were working with sit in a chair facing a detective seated at a small table with a typewriter on it. The detective asked questions and then typed the answers on the form they had in the typewriter.

It was about 12:30 when there was a conversation between some of the detectives. Some money was handed to one of them who put on his coat and left. After about 20 minutes he came back with a large bag. After he took off his coat he started handing out sandwiches to each of us and they also had one. One of the others left the room and soon returned with a number of cold bottles of soda. We were all thrilled these detectives had bought us lunch. Obviously the money was out of their own pockets. I suddenly felt so ashamed and worried about Mom. It was bad enough for her to suffer the humiliation of having to sit there in the police station waiting for me, but now I was being given a deli sandwich and she was probably not having any lunch at all.

I was tired and I was bored. I lay across the back of the sofa. It was more comfortable lying down than it was sitting. Soon another boy was finished and the detective called out to me. He said, “Okay there sleeping Jesus, let’s go. It’s your turn now!” All the other boys burst out laughing and they teased me about it until we were released. The ones that knew me told the other kids at school about it and I was called “Sleeping Jesus.” for the remainder of the school year.

Finally around 2:30 in the afternoon we were taken back to the big room and told we could go. My Mom was told that unless notified otherwise there was nothing further. I asked Mom if she had any chance to eat. She replied she had managed and refused to comment any further on the subject. I told her I was sorry she had been made to go through all of this on my account. She just told me if I had remembered I was taught not to take things that didn’t belong to me, all of that would not have happened.

I anticipated that I was going to be reminded of it constantly thereafter. I was not. It was rarely ever mentioned, and when it was, it was not in a chastising way. As time went on I encountered an application or questionnaire about something or other and the question was asked, have you ever been arrested. I used to say truthfully that I was, and I added, “By Dick Tracy.” Most people just accused me of being a smart ass, not believing it. Once or twice people tried to verify it and found no record of it. I suppose because I was a juvenile and other than making a report, getting my statement and recovering the bayonet, the records were sealed.

He wasn’t the cartoon character, but his name really was Richard, or “Dick” Tracy and I was arrested by him. I was later told the reason for the big investigation is that two brothers who lived near the university had somehow managed to get their hands on a BAR, (Browning Automatic Rifle.) Somehow they managed to acquire some ammo for it. They took it out in their back yard there in the city and wanted to try it out. They pointed it skyward and pulled the trigger. A neighbor got upset over automatic rifle fire in her neighborhood and called the police. Police came and confiscated the weapon. The decision was then made to investigate and find everything that had been taken from the burned out armory and recover it before somebody got hurt.

It seems to me the smart thing to do would have been to guard the building’s remains until it could be secured.

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