Officer killed in 1912 is honored with hero plaque

— Joint ef­fort among Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice, loc­al at­tor­ney and in­di­vidu­al spon­sors has honored 253 po­lice of­ficers to date.

Phil­adelphia Po­lice Chief Charles Ram­sey hands a flag to the dis­tant re­l­at­ives of Thomas Dowl­ing, whose 100th death an­niversary will be honored with a plaque at 5th and Vine St., Tues­day, June 26, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Four years ago, Teresa Za­po­tochny met Bob Bal­lentine when he walked in­to the of­fice where she worked, the Phil­adelphia Hand Cen­ter.

Bal­lentine is re­cord­ing sec­ret­ary of Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5, and Za­po­tochny is the great-niece of Thomas J. Dowl­ing, a po­lice of­ficer shot to death in 1912.

The two got to talk­ing about the hero plaque pro­gram co­ordin­ated by the FOP and at­tor­ney James J. Binns.

The plaque was ap­proved, and Za­po­tochny wanted to time its un­veil­ing to the 100th an­niversary of her great-uncle’s death.

Last week, a dozen mem­bers of the Dowl­ing fam­ily gathered at the in­ter­sec­tion of Fifth and Vine streets for the plaque un­veil­ing. The group in­cluded Trish Dowl­ing, a Holme Circle res­id­ent and Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer as­signed to the Delaware Val­ley In­tel­li­gence Cen­ter.

“His memory has stayed alive in our hearts,” Za­po­tochny said.

Re­tired Chief In­spect­or James Tiano em­ceed the event. Among those in at­tend­ance were Binns, Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Charles Ram­sey, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams, City Coun­cil­men Den­nis O’Bri­en and Bill Green­lee and an aide to U.S. Sen. Bob Ca­sey Jr.

Joseph Lar­a­gione was the cit­izen spon­sor of the plaque.

Tiano and Ram­sey presen­ted roses and the City of Phil­adelphia flag to mem­bers of the Dowl­ing fam­ily.

Binns ex­plained that the pro­gram is in its 11th year. There have been 105 Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficers honored and 253 over­all.

Za­po­tochny re­called her great-uncle as one of six chil­dren of Ir­ish im­mig­rants Richard Dowl­ing and Cath­er­ine Mc­Caf­frey, and she ad­ded the Ir­ish trans­la­tions of “Thank you” and “God’s bless­ing on you” to all as­sembled.

Dowl­ing was single and just shy of his 24th birth­day when he died on June 26, 1912. He had less than a year with the de­part­ment, hav­ing joined on Ju­ly 11, 1911. A neph­ew, Richard Dowl­ing, was an in­struct­or at the Phil­adelphia Po­lice Academy. He was un­able to at­tend last week’s ce­re­mony.

The area of Fifth and Vine was a lot dif­fer­ent a cen­tury ago. There was no Ben­jamin Frank­lin Bridge back then, with rowhomes dom­in­at­ing the land­scape.

As for the po­lice de­part­ment, there were no ra­di­os to sum­mon help if needed.

The old Phil­adelphia Re­cord chron­icled the day Dowl­ing died.

Dowl­ing worked in what was then the 7th Po­lice Dis­trict and was vis­it­ing pawn­shops to serve no­tice of stolen goods.

A clerk told the of­ficer that a 17-year-old cus­tom­er, Homer C. Wig­gins, of Wilm­ing­ton, Del., was wanted on sus­pi­cion of rob­bery. The teen­ager was there to dis­pose of a valu­able un­set dia­mond.

Dowl­ing grabbed Wig­gins by the left shoulder to lead him away, but the youth pulled out a gun and shot him in the arm slightly be­low the shoulder. The bul­let took its course through the lungs and chest walls.

“I’m shot, Ed,” he told a friend who was wait­ing for him out­side the shop.

Wig­gins re­peatedly kicked the of­ficer in the ribs and chest be­fore flee­ing. He ran up Fifth Street to Cal­lowhill Street, curs­ing and yelling that he would shoot any­one who tried to stop him.

Non­ethe­less, po­lice of­ficers and a crowd of cit­izens chased him for six blocks. He ran in­to a burned-out build­ing, but a bul­let jammed in his gun. He threw away the gun, which turned out to be stolen.

The gun­man ran away, but a po­lice­man threw his club at him, hit­ting him in the head and knock­ing him to the ground. He fought back, but was sub­dued.

“It will kill my moth­er when she hears of this. She al­ways thought I was all right, and this will break her heart,” he told po­lice.

Dowl­ing, who lived in the area, was ad­mit­ted to the old Roosevelt Hos­pit­al and giv­en last rites by the pas­tor of St. Au­gustine Cath­ol­ic Church. He died soon after.

Earli­er in the day, Binns ded­ic­ated a plaque for Eu­gene “Chick” Lu­cas, a po­lice of­ficer in Con­sho­hock­en who was shot to death in 1917 as he was serving a war­rant.

The fol­low­ing day, he ded­ic­ated a plaque for Pennsylvania State Troop­er John J. Brown in West Chester. Brown died in the winter of 1985 when he was hit by a car as he in­vest­ig­ated an ac­ci­dent on an icy stretch of Route 1 in Chester County.

The next plaque ded­ic­a­tion will take place on Ju­ly 25. It will me­mori­al­ize Frank Magro, a po­lice of­ficer who died in 1977 when his mo­tor­cycle skid­ded on trol­ley tracks at 31st Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue and he was hit by a car. ••

Any­one in­ter­ested in spon­sor­ing a hero plaque can con­tact James Binns at 215-275-3000.


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