Mark J. Price
Akron Patrolman Arthur A. McClister rarely made big arrests or solved major crimes.
He considered that a badge of honor.
In the early 20th century, the police officer commanded respect as he walked the beat in South Akron, cheerfully greeting pedestrians, patting children on the head and joking around with residents and business owners.
“If you check my record, you’ll find that I probably made fewer arrests than any officer ever stationed in South Akron. … I tried to rule by reason and common sense rather than by use of a nightstick,” McClister once told an interviewer.
The jovial cop was so well liked in the neighborhood that he earned several nicknames, including “The Mayor of South Akron,” “The Daddy of the South Side” and “The Police Chief of South Main Street.”
For his uncanny memorization skills, he also was dubbed “The Human Directory.”
“The time was when I could call every man, woman and child in South Akron by name,” McClister said.
Granted, there were fewer names to remember back then. The city’s population was a mere 42,720.
A Norton Township native who worked at B.F. Goodrich, McClister joined the force in late 1900 after John Durkin was installed as police chief. The 50-man squad was retrenching following the riot of Aug. 22, 1900, in which an angry mob dynamited Akron City Hall and burned down Columbia Hall.
McClister, 29, received a club, whistle, badge, helmet and cap, but had to pay for his uniform and gun on a salary of $60 a month (about $1,900 today). The son of Irish immigrants, McClister found himself on the force with such names as McAllister, Michelson, McConnell, McFarland, Mahoney and McGuire. The daily roll call must have been confusing.
The rookie cop was assigned to a territory bounded on the north by Russell Avenue, on the south by Cole Avenue, on the east by Brown Street and on the west by Summit Lake.
In those days, Main Street was paved only as far south as Russell Avenue. The future site of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. was mostly swampland. The future site of Firestone Park was mostly farmland.
Nearly 40 saloons dotted the streets on McClister’s sole-grinding beat. He often had to break up brawls between factory workers, especially on Saturdays, but he was blessed with the gift of gab and could usually defuse tense situations.
“I was never a fighter,” he once told the Akron Times-Press. “I just didn’t believe in it. Kind words are better than rough deeds.”
Instead of sending inebriated men to the city jail, a common practice of the era, McClister preferred to escort them home, where they could sleep off their uncivil behavior.
“I made few arrests,” he said. “I felt as if I was only taking bread and butter from children’s mouths. I figured that it was better to help a drunk home than to arrest him.”
That’s not to say that McClister didn’t have close calls. One time, while investigating a stabbing on Sweitzer Avenue, McClister trailed the assailant to a nearby basement. The gift of gab wasn’t enough to make the suspect surrender.
“We located our man in his godmother’s cellar on Andrus Street,” he recalled. “He refused to come up. I shot in the cellar. Then he hollered and said not to shoot anymore, that he would come out.”
He reluctantly violated his no-arrest policy that day.
McClister had a reputation as a practical joker, which sometimes got him in hot water with Chief Durkin.
He once sent a rookie officer on a search for a criminal. The sleuth returned empty-handed two days later, only to find the suspect seated at a desk in the city building. The man in question was actually another cop.
Another time, McClister had a new officer track a police motorcycle on foot through city streets. The panting cop gave up after four miles of pursuit.
McClister walked the beat for 17 years and 10 months, and watched Akron’s population grow to more than 200,000. Faces were unfamiliar. It was a struggle to memorize names.
“Things ain’t what they used to be,” he said.
In 1919, McClister was reassigned to the patrol wagon, hauling suspects from crime scenes to the police station. It was strenuous work because many suspects didn’t particularly want to go. After a year, he was reassigned to walk the beat at Perkins Woods Park, where his main duty was to make sure that young lovers didn’t get too romantic.
During his public service, McClister regularly invested in Akron real estate. He owned so many properties that he earned his most famous nickname: “The Millionaire Cop.”
He and his wife, Katie, moved into a brick home at 548 Dorchester Road, which McClister boasted was “the nicest residence owned by anybody on the force.”
By then, their three children were adults. Son Virgil A. McClister was an Akron councilman. Daughter Thelma Emmons was the wife of Summit County Common Pleas Judge Clande V.D. Emmons. Daughter Gladys Haberkost was the wife of plumbing and heating contractor Arthur J. Haberkost.
McClister’s final assignment in law enforcement was as bailiff in Akron Municipal Court, escorting defendants to appear before judges. He received high praise for his professionalism.
“He has been an exceptional bailiff, and has lightened the burden for many unfortunates who have come into his court,” Judge Carl Hoyt said.
Judge A.F. O’Neil agreed: “During my four years as judge of municipal court, I can truthfully say that I had no counsellor or adviser to whom I looked to with more respect.”
In 1928, McClister walked into Chief Durkin’s office and submitted his resignation. “I’ve served 27 years, and that’s long enough for anybody,” he said. “So here’s my resignation. I think I’ve earned a rest.”
Durkin reached into a drawer, pulled out a gold badge and pinned it to McClister’s chest. The badge was given to veteran officers for faithful service.
“Art, you’ve been a good patrolman and deserve a rest,” Durkin replied. “I congratulate you on your record.”
Beacon Journal staff writer Herman Bonchek reported: “Perhaps it was the reflection of the sun streaking the somber windows in the office with glorious colors, perhaps it was just a shifting of shadows, but the eyes of the chief seemed to glisten in a golden mist for a moment before he strangely turned his face aside.”
McClister and his wife enjoyed a quiet retirement of travel and leisure. They were three months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary when he passed away in 1943 at age 73.
During his tenure, McClister mentored such notable officers as Chief Robert Miller, Capt. Stephen McGowan and Detective Patsy Pappano. He touched the lives of countless others on the beat in South Akron and in the courtroom.
“When Chief Durkin pinned a gold badge upon the coat of Patrolman Arthur McClister, signifying that official’s retirement from more than 27 years of service, it was a mark of honor and respect in which the whole city joins,” the Beacon Journal reported in 1928. “Officer McClister was a credit to the force. He loved his work, and his daily contacts with the people, and they can understand that his day of retirement from service was an event that more than justified the attention shown him.”
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.