The Gilded Age Plains City

The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos of Lincoln, Nebraska


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Spatial Narratives

Interpretation and Narrative

Andrew Sawyer

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On December 3, 1887 a large crowd of Lincoln citizens greeted Andrew J. Sawyer, the "reformist" mayor, and his city council as they arrived at the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad passenger depot (Figure 1) (Figure 2) (Figure 3) at Seventh and P streets. They were returning from Omaha where they had been incarcerated in the Douglas County jail for ten days by United States circuit court judge David J. Brewer. Brewer committed them after they refused to pay the fines that he had levied against them for charges of contempt in the case of police judge Albert Parsons. Despite Brewer's order to withhold trying the case, Sawyer and his council met and removed Parsons from his seat after John Sheedy and August Sanders brought forth charges of malfeasance and embezzlement against the police judge. The case itself gathered national attention (it was tried before the United States Supreme Court) while Sawyer and the other city officials gained the support of many residents of Lincoln. Reformist Lincolnites, along with the Knights of Pythias marching band, greeted the mayor and council with enthusiasm and treated them as martyrs upon their return to the city. When the case came up before the Supreme Court, Sawyer traveled to Washington, D. C. to await its hearing. During that time he met with President Grover Cleveland in hopes of obtaining a pardon in case the court did not rule in his favor. Although Cleveland offered his support, it was not needed as the Supreme Court sided with Sawyer.

As mayor of Lincoln, Sawyer met weekly with the city council and interested citizens at the newly constructed city hall on the northwest corner of Tenth and Q streets. The chamber in which the municipal government met is shown in a photo of the Haymarket Square taken early in the twentieth century (Figure 4). It is the one story building in the lower right side of the photo.

From the time Sawyer moved to Lincoln from Illinois in 1875, he was a prominent figure in the city's political and legal circles and as such, he occupied many offices throughout the town. Upon his arrival he moved into the primary law offices in the city at the time, the Union Block on the east side of Government Square. After working with various law partners, he relocated his law office into the newly constructed Burr Block on the northeast corner of Twelfth and O streets with his then partner Novia Z. Snell. The outside of his office in the Burr Block is shown in a photograph of the building (Figure 5); it is the sixth office from the left on the fifth floor located directly next to the offices of Lionel Burr and Stephen Pound's law firm, Burr and Pound. Sawyer's name is seen painted on the window of the building. Sawyer and Snell, along with their new law partner Lincoln Frost, then moved their offices to the McMurtry Block at 239 South Eleventh Street, the old site of the district and county courts. In 1898 the firm moved across the street into the Montgomery Block at 204 South Eleventh Street before settling into the First National Bank building building at 1003 O Street. The First National Bank building, known also as the State Block, was located on the southeast corner of Tenth and O streets and was three stories high. It is pictured in two photographs (Figure 6) (Figure 7). In 1910 the First National Bank built a new building on the same location and when it was completed, Sawyer acquired an office there on the seventh floor. He worked there until his death in 1924.

Sawyer congregated with friends and colleagues often as he belonged to an array of social and booster organizations. He was president of the Citizens' Law and Order League of Lincoln of Lincoln from 1885 until 1887. The League maintained a law office above the State National Bank at 109 South Tenth Street; the building is shown in the following sketch (Figure 8). The League also occasionally met at the Young Men's Christian Association on the southwest corner of South Thirteenth and N streets (Figure 9) and the chapel at the State University. As a member of the Lincoln Board of Trade Sawyer also attended meetings at 1104 O Street until the organization disbanded around 1892. In January of 1897 the Lincoln Commercial Club accepted him as a member and he continued to belong to the group after it joined the Union Club in the same year becoming the Union Commercial Club. Like many members of the middle class, Sawyer was a Mason; he additionally belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a philanthropic fraternal group that occupied an elaborate building at 344 South Eleventh Street (Figure 10). Odd Fellows Hall was located on the third floor of the building. Religiously, Sawyer attended the All Souls Unitarian Church.

Sawyer's home at 1718 F Street, which he constructed in the late 1870s, (Figure 11) was not merely a location for his immediate family to reside, but also a public space where Lincoln's most prestigious and powerful residents gathered. From 1889 until about 1914 Sawyer hosted an annual New Year's Eve party at his home for around one hundred fifty of his friends. Although no direct evidence exists of William Jennings Bryan's presence at these gatherings, it is highly likely that the fellow Democrat Bryan attended Sawyer's residence on occasion given that the two had been close friends and remained as such for years, up until Bryan's support for free silver. The Sawyer home also was the scene of many social meetings in Lincoln; the Haydon Art Club and the Nebraska Art Association, for instance, occasionally met at their house for board of directors meetings. In addition, Sawyer used his spacious residence to help young people in need of a place to live. Before his death, over fifty children and young adults had at one time lived in the house.

Brewer, David J. [Brief Biography]
Bryan, William Jennings [Brief Biography]
Burr, Lionel C. [Brief Biography]
Cleveland, Grover [Brief Biography]
Parsons, Albert F. [Brief Biography]
Sanders, August (Gus) [Brief Biography]
Sawyer, Andrew J. [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Snell, Novia Z. [Brief Biography]

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