Slow News Day?

From The New York Times, August 1, 1897, page 1.


Remarkable Result of Mr. Peter Drapp’s Rat Chase in a Fifth Avenue Store.


Perforated the Calf of Gilligan’s Leg and Caused Him to be Sent to the New York Hospital for Repairs.

There was a surprising disturbance of the public peace and public peace officer in Fifth Avenue yesterday afternoon. The primary cause of it was a rat, the propelling cause was an inoffensive citizen named Peter Drapp, the victim was a policeman, and a pair of shears figured incidentally, but prominently.

No. 409 Fifth Avenue is near the corner of Thirty-seventh Street, and is the florists’ establishment of Seibrecht & Son. It was one of the quietest places in New York. The avenue is not very busy at this season, and, while flowers grow best in Summer, they go best at other seasons. No vehicles were passing. The Fifth Avenue stage which was due to make a noise at that time was busy a block or two away, where the horses had stopped to look at the men giving imitations of laborers at work in the water main excavations, the driver was absorbed in mental mathematical operations intended to locate a missing nickel, and the passenger was waiting with the beautiful patience the stages are intended to develop.

Moved by the silence to a suspicion that he had overslept himself and was late for business, a large gray rat which lodges in the Siebrecht cellar suddenly ran through the hole he had made for himself in the store. Peter Drapp, who is a clerk, saw the creature, and gave chase. When they had gone a few laps the rat saw that Mr. Drapp was gaining, and fled out upon the avenue.

Police Officer John Gilligan of the West Thirtieth Street Station is an impressive policeman and was doing the force and himself credit as he strolled on his beat watching a young woman who was just ahead of him. He saw the rat, and so did the woman. She seized her skirts and cantered around the corner. He paused while a mental struggle occurred between instinct which men, terriers, and cats have in common to pursue a rat, and the dignity becoming a Fifth Avenue policeman, which forbids him from sharing any merely human interests or being subject to merely human impulses. Then he did a very human thing and said “Ouch!” A sudden shock and surprise had caused nature to triumph over dignity and the traditions of the force.

Mr. Drapp, fired by the chase and reckless with the eager ardor of pursuit, had seized a large pair of shears, ordinarily used for the amputation of flower stems, and essayed to use them as a dart or harpoon. Like Apollo of old, whose bad aim with a discus gave Mr. Drapp the hyacinths he sells, Mr. Drapp threw wild. His purposes were laudable, but his calculation was bad. The shears went astray, and the points of them perforated the calf of the right leg of Police Officer Gilligan, a calf at that moment belonging to the Mayor and Common Council of the City of New York. That was when Policeman Gilligan said “Ouch!”

Also he fell. The experience of having a stray pair of shears fly through the atmosphere of Fifth Avenue and stab a policeman twice in the calf of his leg was a new one, beyond the contemplation of the regulations. Gilligan did not know whether he was assassinated or merely killed, but he knew something remarkable had happened to him. Therefore he fell and waited. Meanwhile Mr. Drapp was paralyzed by the result of his harpoon practice and simply stood and stared. The overthrow of a policeman by a missile intended for a rat hurled by a florist’s clerk was beyond his conception and baffled his imagination.

It was some time before anybody did anything. The rat was first to recover presence of mind and withdraw.

Mr. Drapp finally ran out and saved his shears, pulling them out of Gilligan’s calf, where they obviously did not belong. They were uninjured.

The sight of a policeman prostrated with a pair of shears in his leg soon drew a great crowd, however, and many rumors circulated. Mr. Drapp found himself being pointed out variously as a maddened victim of municipal oppression, the leader of an Anarchist group, and a dangerous maniac, and withdrew from the scene. An ambulance from the New York Hospital removed the wounded man to that institution. The rat seemed to be all right when last seen.

Front page, ladies and gentlemen, front page.