In 200 years, two Belleville officers died on duty

News-DemocratJune 7, 2014 

Throughout its 200 years, police work in Belleville has been hazardous, even without a lot of shooting going on.

Incredibly, the city has had only two police officers killed while on duty in two centuries -- although that is two too many.

These numbers are courtesy of the Officer Down Memorial Page on the Internet.

The city was only a little more than 100 years old when its first officer was killed in a freak accident. Christian Peter died April 22, 1915, doing a routine part of his duty, checking street lamps.

He was electrocuted when "he attempted to shake an electric street lamp so it would burn," the Belleville Daily Advocate reported.

A woman witnessed the accident.

"He reached up and took hold of the steel chain used for raising and lowering the lamp and an instant later the woman saw him stagger back a few feet and fall on his back," the paper reported.

A doctor responded quickly and administered oxygen and Peter was taken to a hospital where a doctor "was waiting with a pulmoter (a resuscitation device) from the gas company." But that also didn't help.

The lamps had been presumed safe.

"The chains are fastened through porcelain blocks that are supposed to render the chains harmless," the paper reported. "The wires used to feed the street lamps carry 4,000 volts of electricity."

However, policemen apparently had been in the habit of shaking the lights even though that wasn't approved by anybody.

"One of the duties of patrolmen is to report to the light company all lights that are not burning," the paper said. "Many of the policemen were in the habit of taking hold of the chain used for carrying the lamps and shaking it in order to release carbons in the lamps that may be caught."

The lamp, meanwhile, lit as it was shaken, the paper reported.

Peter left behind a wife and six children. He died on his oldest son's 18th birthday. A crowd of 3,000 people was estimated at his funeral.

The next officer to die was as a result of the increased use of motor vehicles in the city.

John Schildroth, a motorcycle patrolman, died Sept. 27, 1930, when his motorcycle collided with a truck at 88th and West Main streets as he was chasing a speeding motorist.

The driver, Oscar Bossler, "was making a turn from the north side of West Main street to drive south on Eighty-eighth street, when Officer Schildroth, who was reported to have been giving chase after a speeding motorist, approached from the rear and crashed into the left front wheel of the truck with the cycle," the Daily Advocate reported.

"The jolt of the impact overturned the motorcycle and hurled the officer with the cycle a distance of more than 50 feet west to the street car tracks on the south side of the street where Schildroth's head struck a rail. The speedometer of the motorcycle was reported to have stuck at 70 miles per hour when the wreckage was examined."

Schildroth had been a motorcycle patrolman for six months and this was the second accident he was involved in.

He left behind a wife and two children and also was given a big sendoff.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email wspiers@bnd.com. EDITOR'S NOTE This is part of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

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