Article About the Service Building
Some months after the opening of the Exposition the final accounts of the Contractors had been received, audited and recorded on the books of the Treasurer. The amount totaled something over $500,000.00. The First and Second Mortgage Bond issue amounted to $2,500,000.00. The only revenue to meet these obligations was the gate receipts, the receipts from the restaurants and the like, from concessions, exhibitors, and from the Midway, in other words, from the Public.
Most of the Contractors were taking a reasonable attitude toward the situation and felt that eventually things would be worked out in a manner satisfactory to all. There were a few, however, who were becoming impatient and quite truculent in their demands. Finally, two of the Contractors, thinking to outsmart the others, sued the Exposition and took judgment. The Exposition could have easily paid these judgments. But there was much more involved in the matter. If no resistance was made and the judgments were easily satisfied, it would be only a short time when we would be swamped with judgments. The whole structure would crumble. That would mean the closing down of the Exposition. The situation was critical. We were forced to take a stand.
About this date a special Exposition day was to be celebrated. It had been widely advertised. A large attendance was expected. The receipts would be large. We needed that money. I was tipped off that the sheriff was going to take advantage of the occasion to levy on the 3:00 p.m. gate receipts. He probably figured that this was the opportune time.
As soon thereafter as was possible, I conferred with Colonel Byrne, Chief of the Department of Police, and explained the situation to him. He was most willing to co-operate. It was arranged that at once two officers were to be stationed at each door of the Treasurer's office, and they were instructed that under no circumstances was anyone to be allowed to enter without my O. K. Colonel Byrne also agreed to send a lieutenant and a squad of police to each gate to act as escort for the gatemen at the 3:00 P. M. time of delivery. The plan was to have the ticket seller with the money in the center, next surrounding them were the ticket takers, and on the outside, the police.
To further safeguard the men with the money from levy, they were instructed to not use their leather money bags, but to tie up the money in a parcel and put it in their pocket or conceal it somewhere on their person. The law holds that a levy is not legal if made on something contained on one's person.
Everything went off according to schedule. The sheriff's deputies were on hand but no attempt was made to interfere with the Exposition employees. Additional police had been stationed in the corridors leading to the Treasurer's office to await the coming of the men from the gates. It was necessary that special care be used at this time when the men took the money from their persons and handed it through the teller's windows.
A few of the deputies attempted to create a diversion, but it was quickly quelled by the police. The receipts from the 3p.m. shift, as I recollect amounted to a little over $50,000.00. It had not been levied on and was safe in the custody of the Treasurer's Department. We had taken the first rubber. The deputies could not gain entrance to the office and had no way of finding out just where the money was located. So far we were sitting pretty.
There was a large steel vault in President Milburn's office on the second floor of the Service Building directly above the Treasurer's office. It had a black steel door with a combination lock on its front and looked very formidable. I think someone must have told the sheriff that the funds of the Exposition were kept in this vault. At any rate, as I was returning that night from an early supper, a man, who proved to be a deputy, stopped me and served me with specific levy on the funds in this vault. On going up to Mr. Milburn's office I found a man calmly seated directly in front of the door of the vault.
Well, at least, the money in it was safe and securely protected. The sheriff could not get it and neither could the Exposition. That situation would have to wait until later.
The Exposition Company had contracted with both the American and Wells Fargo Express Companies to collect and become custodians, of its daily receipts until they could, the next morning, be turned over to the bank. It was the custom of the express companies to send armored cars with guards to the Treasurer's office daily - at 6:00 P. M. for the 3 o'clock receipts, and again at about 10 o'clock for the 9:00 P. M. receipts. Six o'clock came, and no cars. Seven o'clock came, and still no cars. Eight, and again no cars. I called up both express companies, and the answer was the same. The sheriff had notified them that if they accepted the funds from the Exposition Company they would do so at their own risk.
Wow - was that a body blow? Probably over $100,000.00. Peanuts today, but real money 50 years ago. $100,000.00 and no place to go to get rid of it. It was to laugh; if it hadn't been so serious. The second rubber went to the Sheriff.
In the meantime, while we were trying to recover from the shock, the 9 o'clock receipts had come in. They were even larger than we had anticipated. What to do? Of course we could take a chance and keep the money in the T'reasurer's office, but with levies running around loose and liable to strike from any direction it did not seem any too good. A plan finally came to me that might work out.
I called the Treasurer, Mr. George L. Williams, at his home and made this suggestion: Mr. George V. Forman, President of the Fidelity Trust Company, and Mr. Williams were very warm personal friends. The Fidelity Trust Company was Trustee for the First and Second Mortgage Bonds, amounting to $2.500,000.00. The payment of the bonds was dependent on keeping the Exposition running. If we could get the money down to the bank, and if Mr. Forman would arrange to take care of it, one part of our dilemma would be solved. It seemed to me to be a perfectly wonderful plan - if it worked. Did it work? It did not. Mr. Forman passed the buck promptly back. He said the time locks were on the safe and were set not to open until 9 o'clock the next morning. There was no one on duty but the night watchman, and anyway he did not feel that the Bank should take the responsibility of receiving the funds, etc., with emphasis on the etc.
Mr. Williams said, "Stay there and I will call you back in about 15 minutes." I fully expected to stay there even if it meant all night. When Mr. Williams called he said, "Harry, if you can get the receipts down here you can put them in the vault in my basement. Let me know if you can bring them down. I will wait up until I hear from you."
All of the head men in my office were personal appointees, friends, strictly reliable, and dead loyal to me. I called them together in my private office and explained the whole situation in detail to them. A number of suggestions were made and promptly rejected. At last someone suggested a plan that might be worked out. If we could get the use of the ambulance at the hospital next door we might be able to run the Sheriff's gauntlet.
This seemed to be our best bet. Two of the boys were sent upstairs to engage the attention of the deputy. One of the fellows was dispatched to the hospital to explain the situation to the doctor in charge. The doctor entered into our plans with enthusiasm. The driver of the ambulance was game. He was instructed that he was not to stop for anything, was to keep ringing his bell, and the trip was to simulate a typical emergency call. On the return of our messenger, who reported arrangements all made, we started to prepare for the trip. Revolvers were borrowed from the Police Department, also police clubs. The leather money bags that were in the Tellers' cages were collected and taken to the back office opposite to the rear windows of the ambulance garage. I called Mr. Williams and told him we were on our way but did not go into particulars as I feared someone might be listening in. We formed a line from one building to the other across the airway, and the bags were passed one by one and stowed in the rear of the ambulance. The signal was given. The doors flew open, we climbed in on top of the bags, and with clanging bell we were on our way. We circled the Service Building and struck off down Amherst Street, past the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building. The dense crowd on the street, as they heard the clanging gong of the ambulance and saw our lights approaching, quickly drew aside. With wondering eyes and gaping mouths they watched us as we sped on our pseudo race of mercy. We circled the Court of Fountains and around the Electric Tower.
Down Delaware Avenue through the dense traffic, the bell still clanging and clanging, paying no attention to cross streets, we continued our way. As we neared North Street our speed slackened. We saw a tall, spare figure emerge from the gloom. We drew over to the curb and stopped. The Treasurer was waiting for us. It was a matter of minutes for us to jump down from the ambulance, each grab a couple of the bags and follow Mr. Williams through the grilled iron gate and up the walk to the house. The door opened as we approached. We entered the beautiful white marble hall. We went down the wide stairs to the basement. The door of the large vault was open. We checked the bags and deposited them on the floor of the vault. The heavy steel door was closed. The combination lock was set. It is for you to decide who won the final rubber and the game.
Several days later, pressure having been brought to bear on the Contractors, they decided not to attempt to enforce their judgments. The deputies were withdrawn. The police protection was discontinued. The Exposition resumed its routine way. The Contractors were satisfied because they had regained the respect of their associates. The Sheriff was satisfied because he felt sure that anyway there had been enough money in the vault to more than cover the judgments. The Secretary (to the Treasurer) was satisfied because he hoped his first ride would be his only ride in an ambulance. The Treasurer was satisfied because at a very critical time he had been able to come to the assistance of the Exposition. The Exposition was satisfied because it had not been obliged to close its gates.
What about the contents of the vault in President Milburn's office on the second floor? When the combination was worked and the big door thrown open, it was found that it contained nothing. It had never been used.
[Ed. Note: the judgments secured against the Exposition Company by the two contractors were an early sign that the settlement with all of the many contractors was not likely to go well. The Exposition had not taken in and would not take in sufficient income to pay for the construction and operation of the buildings and to also pay the individual stockholders of the Exposition. Contractors eventually received a portion of their outstanding charges by act of Congress; small stockholders received nothing. The largest stockholders, it is rumored, received some return on their investment.
The monies spirited away from the Sheriff by ambulance were taken to the new mansion of George Williams, a mansion known today as the Butler Mansion, located at Delaware and North Streets. Periodically, tours are available where visitors can see the "beautiful white marble hall" and descend the "wide stairs to the basement," just as Henry did that summer night. ]
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