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Report Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic. (photo courtesy of medium.com)
Fads come and go. Those who were alive during the 1970s, for
example, remember the national obsessions with streaking, CB radios and Pet
Rocks. Every generation has them and most of them are benign and eventually
forgotten. Such was the case with a fad that swept the nation during the early
20th century, and gripped the city of Monmouth 105 years ago—in November 1913.
That was the month when Jack the Hugger came to town.
On Dec. 4, 1913, it was reported in the Monmouth Daily Atlas
that over the past few weeks, a man had been “trying to make life miserable for
the women who have occasion to travel in certain fashionable sections of the
city after nightfall.”
It reported that the “hugger” generally struck between 6 and
7:30 p.m., after the sun had gone down but before the streetlights had been
The Monmouth police had been frustrated, however, because
“Jack” was elusive, rarely appearing in the same locale. The paper reported
that attacks had become so prevalent in one part of the city that the men of
the neighborhood had loaded their shotguns with rock salt, hoping to teach the
attacker a lesson.
Nationwide, Jack the Hugger had been on a rampage. He first
appeared in the media in 1889, just a year after Jack the Ripper made his debut
in London. In that year, “Jack” reports were made in Little Rock, Memphis and
Detroit. In 1890, a “hugger” attacked young women in Denver, Fort Wayne, Ind.,
and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
More hugging incidents occurred throughout that decade. In
1894, a man in St. Paul, Minn., seeking to avenge an attack on a woman, donned
a dress and managed to draw a hugger’s attention, then proceeded to beat him
up. By the time the police arrived, though, the hugger had vanished.
In 1899, a Jack the Hugger terrorized Pittsfield,
Mass.—riding a bicycle. At the same time, two young Pittsfield women thought it
would be fun to play the part of Jack and put on brothers’ clothes with false
mustaches. When they attempted to hug a young girl, she attacked them with what
had by then become the regulation defense weapon for young women in the days
before car keys—a hat pin.
Over the next decade, Jack the Hugger incidents were
reported across the country, from Syracuse, N.Y., to Butte, Mont. In Appleton,
Wis., two Lawrence University coeds were attacked on April Fool’s Day, 1905.
The “hugger” fad would again capture the public’s
imagination in 1913. That February, two “athletic” sisters in Oakland, Calif.,
gained headlines when they beat up an attacking “Jack.” By year’s end, Jack was
active throughout Illinois, plaguing Rock Island, Danville and the Chicago
On Dec. 4, a boy came hurrying into the Monmouth police
station with information that the “hugger” had just attacked a young woman—this
time later than usual, after 8 p.m.
That Atlas reported that some “mischievous students have
taken advantage of the operations of the ‘hugger’ and have been having a little
fun on their own account, but that some other parties are concerned also seems
evident, and some of these fine evenings the miscreants are apt to find their
pranks may not be all fun. Complaints from the south end of town last night
told of a possible ‘peeper,’ who like the ‘hugger,’ has the faculty of making
himself scarce when steps are taken to learn his identity.”
It was reported on Dec. 8 that Monmouth’s hugger “has
developed into a lecherous tongued individual who hurls the grossest insults
and vilest epithets imaginable at his victims.” In the neighborhood of North
Third Street and East Boston Avenue, he hurled obscenities at two young women
who were walking downtown. The corner was one of the most dimly lighted in
On the night of Saturday, Dec. 20, two “hugger” incidents
were reported, and the testimony of one woman on the south side caused police
chief Morrison to arrest a young male suspect. Mrs. Fred Barnett and a woman
companion had been attacked on East Ninth Avenue and Mrs. Barnett was thrown to
the sidewalk as the assailant attempted to choke her. When her companion began
to scream the “hugger” ran away.
Mrs. Joe White, accompanied by her mother and sister, was
walking along the same avenue on Saturday evening when she was attacked by a
young man who released her after she had screamed loudly enough to be heard by
the people living near by. All three of the party were badly scared and gave up
their trip to town.
After being identified by Mrs. Barnett as her attacker,
Leroy Hoon of South Sixth Street was arrested on Sunday afternoon. He was also
identified by a citizen named Haz Hedge, who had heard the screams and followed
the assailant for some distance. The police noted that Hoon wore a “raincoat
and light colored cap” similar to those reported in other “hugger” incidents.
Hoon, who was employed at the grocery store of W.T. Morris
on the south side, had never had any legal trouble. He was released on bond and
ordered to appear in court. At the hearing, his attorney, George Cox, demanded
a jury trial and six jurors heard the case.
Attorney Cox called a number of witnesses to the stand who
testified about Hoon’s good character and gave convincing evidence that he
could not have been in the neighborhood of the alleged assault at the time it
W.T. Morris, Hoon’s parents, the Rev. E.P. Smith, and a
number of others all testified on his behalf, and convinced the jury the charge
against him was not substantiated. Of the witnesses for the state, Mrs. Barnett
was the most explicit, and Haz Hedges endeavored to corroborate her testimony.
On cross examination, however, Hedges testified he had only returned to
Monmouth three weeks ago after a long stay in another city and was not well
acquainted with the defendant. He admitted there might be some possibility of
his being mistaken in his supposition that the assailant of Mrs. Barnett was
the young man on trial.
Following a verdict of “not guilty,” all hugging instances
ceased and Monmouth settled in for a peaceful Christmas and New Year.