Febuary 0005

 Here’s another clipping from the New York Times’ archive about my venerable ancestor, Chinese Inspector Colonel John Thomas Scharf:

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Fifty-two Captured on Arrival from Canada and Thirteen Are Held for Examination

 

PASSPORTS TAKEN AT MALONE

 

Comely Young Wife of an Alleged Gambler Among the Prisoners-Chinese Accepted as Bondsmen with Consent of Assistant District Attorney.

 

Chinese Inspector J. Thomas Scharf went to Saranac Lake a few days ago on his annual vacation. Yesterday, ten days before his time was up, he returned to the city, having detected and rounded up fifty – two Chinese whom he found temporarily unprovided with the legal documents and registration papers which the Inspector holds are required by the Federal statutes.  

Of the fifty-two prisoners one was a comely girl, the bride of a few months of Lee Yuen, or Yin, as the Inspector registered him. Yuen was the tallest and fattest, and  apparently the leader of the party, and the police say his is one of the most expert fantan players of this city. He talks English with dignity and considerable fluency – when he feels like it. He, with Tue Lin, his wife, and eleven men, were held, and gave bail in $250 each to answer the charge of being illegally in the country. The other thirty – nine captured were questioned and released after being detained six hours.  

The inspector made the capture by accident, and when he wasn’t looking for Chinese. Coming back to the city on a night train, he noticed an unusual number of them on board, and asking the conductor, was told there were forty – nine. He investigated sufficiently to satisfied that the party was without papers, and then got the conductor to telegraph to the Seventeenth Precinct police at the Grand Central Station to meet the train, which was due in the city at 7:45 A.M. Yesterday six policemen were waiting when the train rolled into the station, and Inspector Scharf, with their assistance, gathered in every one of the yellow – skinned travellers and took them to the police station.  

Passports Held at Malone. 

For a few minutes there was considerable excitement and jabbering in Chinese. Then those of the party who spoke English got the Inspector’s ear and tried to explain to him that they had been properly passed over the border, and their papers had all been taken up by the Deputy Collector of the port at Malone, N.Y. All the men claimed to have been in this country before, some as laborers, and others as merchants, and they had returned by way of Vancouver and Montreal. Lee Yuen said he had been called back to China to marry the girl his father had picked out for him. He left shortly before Christmas, leaving his business at 16 Pell Street to be carried on by partners, and he complained that it was rather hard to be arrested on his honeymoon trip returning to this city, where his business is. Several others of the party said they were merchants, resident in Philadelphia or Baltimore.  

The inspector told them that he had no option in the matter save to arrest them, as they were without papers. The man against whom they had a grievance, if their story was true, he said, was the Sub – Collector of the Port, Nelson W. Porter, who kept their papers at Malone, instead of returning them in the police station he then posted down to report to the District Attorney. Assistant District Attorney Kohler authorized him to sift the matter as well as he cold and let those go who seemed to have been properly entered. He returned, and the examination at the police station occupied about three hours, during which thirty – nine in various ways proved their former residence here. One of the crucial questions at first was to tell where the New York City Hall is located, until the Chinese caught on and began to tutor the unlearned in Yew York topography. A few of the party were acquainted with newspaper reporters and one was lucky enough to know a Police Captain. Wong Get, who was employed as interpreter during the Lexow investigation, served as interpreter to the Inspector. 

The Bride Frightened. 

Naturally the most interesting case was that of Tue Lin. She was rather pretty, very demure, and evidently frightened. She was dressed in a blouse and bloomers, or trousers, the ordinary Chinese costume, of a glossy black material, and under the blouse a tunic of heliotrope color. She wore very small blue slipper, and when she stood up before the Inspector it was seen that she was little, if any, above 41/2 feet in height. She acknowledged to being twenty – one years old, but looked scarcely seventeen. She said she was born in Wuchang, and was taken to Hongkong to be married three years ago. She pointed out Lee Yuen as her husband. 

“Have you any papers from the American Consul at Hongkong?” asked Inspector Scharf.  

This question seemed beyond the comprehension of the little woman. Her six foot husband tried to help her,but the Inspector stopped him. At last she said she had got some kind of papers in Hongkong, but “the railroad man” had taken them from her.  

Lee Yuen was the next victim. He said he had been in this country eighteen or nineteen years.  

“Haven’t you the reputation in Chinatown of being a gambler?” 

“no” was the positive answer. The Inspector contradicted him. Lee declared he was really the husband of Tue Lin, and had been for three years, though he was only able to get away from China in order to bring her here in December last.  

After Tue Lin’s hearing she was taken to a seat behind the police Sergeant’s desk and turned her back on the crowd to escape observation. Lee left her to her own cogitations, and spent his waiting time talking with his more fortunate acquaintances, who were rapidly identified and dismissed. 

The unlucky thirteen who did not answer questions to satisfy Col. Scharf were started down town on the elevated railway to be arraigned before United States Commissioner Alexander. In the Inspector’s room there was still another examination and roll coll. Some of the prisoners who declared they had been in America fifteen years could speak no English. A crowd of Americanized Chinese were present at the hearing. 

When Wong Joe said, through the interpreter, he had been in this country thirteen years, the Inspector turned to some of the Chinamen who wore trousers and collars and neckties. 

Criticised Official’s English. 

“Why don’t you, John and Lee, over here, start a university and learn these fellows to talk English?” he asked. 

“We might teach them – can’t “learn” them.” Responded one, correcting Mr. Scharf’s English, and the other said the prisoners were “too lazy to learn.” 

Most of the thirteen had had time to arrange for bail, and when they were escorted into the Commissioner’s presence there was nothing to doe but sign the bail bonds. Commissioner Alexander announced to them, with Wong Get’s assistance, that the hearing would be held Thursday next at 2 P.M., and they could then bring evidence that they had been in this country, and had registered here according to the law. They would be required to bring two witnesses to prove their innocence of illegally entering the country. In the meantime they would be allowed to give bail in $250 each.  

As a special favor, Chinese residents and property owners were allowed to qualify as bondsmen. This is said to be the first instance, in this district at least, where Chinese were accepted as bail. The Assistant District Attorney approved the innovation. Pon Sing of the Kim Sun Low Company, a partner of Lee Yuen, brought the latter his certificate of registration, showing he had been properly registered at 14 Nassau Street, under the Geary law, as a merchant, and it was exhibited to the United States Commissioner, in the hope that the document would serve to release Lee and his bride. The ruling, however, was that the certificate was insufficient, and required two white witnesses to make it good.  

As to the woman, it was said by the Inspector that she, having never been in this country before, required a passport from the Chinese authorities, vised by the American Consul at the port of sailing, Hong Kong. For her there remains thus the interesting possibility that even if Lee Yuen shall properly clear his character of the charge of being a gambler (it is not disputed he has been legally resident here) and be passé, his wife may be shopped back to China. Several prominent residents of the city, however, were at the Federal Building and evidently taking sympathetic interest in her case, and it is not likely she will be excluded without a fight in her behalf. 

Throughout all the proceedings the “Chinese, both those who were arrested and their friends, took the proceedings with the utmost good nature. Advice was given to them to bring charges against the Deputy Collector at Malone for retaining their passports to make record entries at Plattsburg instead of returning the documents to the owners at once. The responsibility for the arrest of at least thirty – nine persons, who should not have been molested, lies between the Deputy and Inspector Scharf, and id it is expected the matter will not be allowed to drop without charges being filed against some one. Mr. Scharf admits that most of the twelve men, if not all of them, will likely be able to prove previous residence here. 

From The New York Times: August 21, 1897 

 

Things are clearly getting more and more mysterious. Here’s some questions. 

Did Scharf really intend to go on holiday, or was it a stratagem to carry out a raid which his political enemies weren’t expecting, and which they would therefore have difficulty in obstructing? Why did he come back to the city in the middle of his holiday? 

“He (Lee Yuen) talks English with dignity and considerable fluency – when he feels like it.” The journalist seems to be surprisingly well informed about the individuals involved, doesn’t he? 

“Yesterday six policemen were waiting…………..” Only six? How many would it take nowadays? 

“Inspector Scharf………gathered in every one of the yellow – skinned travellers…” Language! The journalist seems to have rather an ambiguous attitude towards the Chinese, doesn’t he? In fact, he seems to know a lot more than he’s saying, which is strange since he’s very open in some respects. Could he be being sat on not to say some quite specific things. 

“A few of the party were acquainted with newspaper reporters and one was lucky enough to know a Police Captain.” Coincidence doubtless. I wonder what the consequences of knowing these people were? 

““Why don’t you, John and Lee, over here, start a university and learn these fellows to talk English?” he asked. “We might teach them – can’t “learn” them.” Responded one, correcting Mr. Scharf’s English, and the other said the prisoners were “too lazy to learn.”” This sounds like an ignorant New York cop, but actually Scharf was quite a cultivated man, and wrote some significant local history in a perfectly literate style. “Learn” sounds rather too crass and clichéd to be entirely plausible – at least from him, and he’d have known what a university was. Maybe someone else said it, or maybe no-one did. Or maybe Scharf was just bullying his prisoners. 

“Several prominent residents of the city, however, were at the Federal Building and evidently taking sympathetic interest in her case….” I wonder what they were doing there, or why they got there so fast. Scharf believed there was a conspiracy to corruptly admit illegal immigrants. Were the unnamed prominent residents trying to protect themselves rather than Tue Lin?  

“Throughout all the proceedings the Chinese, both those who were arrested and their friends, took the proceedings with the utmost good nature.” A strange attitude. It sounds like they had reason not to be worried. 

The last nine lines: It looks like Scharf’s in trouble, and that the bad guys - or good guys, as they wanted to let the Chinese in – let’s just call them crooks – managed to foil him at the last minute, or at least to complicate things badly for him. This suggests they had quite a good organisation, and were alert for something, so it does appear that his suspicions were justified. 

All of this should have been a lot clearer to a contemporary reader. In the meantime, if anyone knows anything about this, do please let me know. 

Coming soon: - More Scharf Scandals!

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