Silas Spicer, Monomaniac

Silas Spicer was born in Noank, Connecticut in 1836, son of Eldridge Spicer, a merchant and whaling Captain. He followed his father into the seaman’s life, and was a mariner when the Civil War began. He married Hattie Brewster in June 1861, and their son Charles was born in July 1863. While Silas was away at war, Hattie died on April 16 1864, and Charles died on October 11 1864.

Eldridge Spicer

General Sherman’s army completed its March to the Sea by occupying Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. The city of 22,000 surrendered without a fight, avoiding the fiery fate of Atlanta. On January 2nd, Captain Silas Spicer was appointed Harbor Master, responsible for managing all ship traffic in the port.

Silas settled into society in Savannah, and in March 1865 he opened the Cosmopolitan saloon and bowling alley on Broughton St.

Ladies Night Out

Widower Silas married local girl Celia Herbert in May 1866.

The Happy Couple

In 1867-1868, a man repeatedly exposed himself to young ladies at various locales of the city. None of the ladies would testify, as it would besmirch their purity. In March 1868, Silas was caught red-handed (so to speak) and arrested. The Savannah Republican gave all of the juicy details, and did not spare Silas’ feelings.

Men are said to sometimes make beasts of themselves, and occasionally there are isolated cases wherein representatives of the human family not only put themselves upon a level with beasts, but, by their actions, render themselves even lower than the specimens of the animal creation. Deeply we regret that in our report of the proceedings of the Mayor’s Court of Saturday, we are compelled to sully the fair name of our city by the recital of a tale which cannot but excite disgust wherever there is one spark of manly or womanly feeling. For months past complaints have been made by respectable ladies, and by families, against a man who was continually making indecent exposures of his person. Occupying, as he did at one time, a high position in authority, and being of a good family, and with sound mind and in full possession of his faculties, there was no excuse to be found for such disgusting conduct on his part. When Messrs. Wylly and Meinhard were erecting their new buildings on Broughton street, he would repair to that place, and under cover of the unfinished houses he would make these indecent exposures in full view of ladies who resided opposite, many of whom complained to their fathers and husbands, and Lieutenant Wray was notified as to his conduct, and detailed one of his detectives to watch for the man and catch him in the act of playing his pranks; as those who had seen him were mostly ladies, who would not have liked to have appeared against him. He had always been careful to keep these beastly practices from the police or from any person who could punish him: but one evening the detective who was watching him at that time caught him in the act and started to arrest him. His purpose was baffled, however, by a gentleman who had been a witnesss to his conduct, and who knowing nothing about the detective, started for the culprit with a revolver, and chased him some distance. He next resumed the practice of his unnatural tricks in an unfinished building on Perry street, and also at Drayton street and South Broad street lane, where he would station and exhibit himself when the young ladies who attended the Chatham Academy were coming out.

Next we heard of him some five months ago, when complaint was made to the Chief Detective that no lady could pass along on the side of the street where he lived, on account of his indecency. Having no regard for virtue and modesty, and in order that nothing should be sacred from his profane and obscene gaze, he would repair to the cellar of his dwelling, and through a grating in the sidewalk, play “Peeping Tom” too his heart’s content. So cautious and careful was he in his operations that all attempts to catch him failed; as he never carried them on, save when there were none but young females within view, and he was confident of his safety, so far as they were concerned, as their natural modesty would prevent them from appearing against him.

The oldest foxes sometimes get caught in traps, however, and on last Friday afternoon this man was at last brought to grief. He had gone to Forsythe Park about five o’clock in the evening, where his suspicious actions attracted the attention of a young man who had heard of him before, and concluded to keep watch and see what he would do. He took up a position where he could see and not be seen, and soon he observed the beastly person making a nasty exhibition to attract the attention of some little girls. He immediately went for a policeman and caused the arrest of the person. In the Mayor’s Court this young man swore positively as to what he had seen, and a fine of one hundred dollars was inflicted upon the beast. The defendant was anxious to keep his name out of the paper, and after thinking over what we have heard from police, detectives and citizens for the past six months, we concluded to comply with his wish, and will, therefore, content ourselves with the statement we have given of the case, and by saying that he is called Silas Spicer, once a Federal army officer, then Harbor Master of this city, under the military regime, and finally, keeper of the Cosmopolitan bowling saloon and bar-room on Broughton street, south side, between Bull and Drayton streets.

He was convicted, fined $100, and exposed to the scorn of the city.

After this extraordinary public shaming, his life in Savannah was over, so he and Celia moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where he began work as a ferry boat pilot, carrying people across the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Crossing the Hudson

Celia died in 1878 at 34 after bearing four daughters, and Silas married his third wife Agnes Abbott.

The life of a ferry-boat pilot is supposed to be very routine, but the half-mile voyage across the Hudson was unexpectedly perilous.

On October 15 1883, Silas was Captain of the Weehawken when it collided with the Pavonia, and was suspended for 30 days.

On March 19 1886, Silas was Captain of the Lackawanna when it collided with the Baltimore.

On January 24 1887, the Lackawanna and Pavonia collided.

Silas eventually left the wheel-house and became Superintendent of the 14th Street Ferry. Silas and Agnes’ son Edwin died in January 1904 at the age of 23. Agnes died 2 months later, and was buried next to 2nd wife Celia.

Silent as the Grave

Silas died December 14 1922 at his home in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, and was taken to Noank for burial in the Spicer plot. The obituary did not mention his time in Savannah; if he brought his monomania with him to New Jersey, it was never detected.

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