Friday, January 7, 2022

A "Robbery" at the Hanover Post Office

Page of one of Whitcomb's letters home“We have had some great excitement in Hanover,” Frank Whitcomb, class of 1911, wrote to his sister during his first winter at Dartmouth, “which is a very rare thing I assure you.” Whitcomb goes on to relate that the Hanover postmaster had claimed just days ago that, while he was counting out money, a man broke the window beside him, pointed a gun through it, and forced him to hand over hundreds of dollars. The Boston Globe commented that the robber was “surprisingly daring” to have committed the robbery “in easy view of the back part of a drug store and a hardware store,” and that the terror of being robbed at gunpoint left the victim in a “fainting condition.” If this sounds too dramatic to be true—it was. The broken glass from the window was found on the outside of the building, suggesting it had been broken from the inside. Unable to explain this, the postmaster eventually confessed that he had recently taken some money himself and faked the robbery to cover up the shortage.

Page of one of Whitcomb's letters homeAside from the crime taking place in Hanover, there was a commotion happening on campus. Whitcomb told his sister that Dartmouth student vigilantes heard about the “robbery” and took matters into their own hands, taking their “revolvers and shot guns” and running “about on [campus] shouting, here he is and there he goes, following their shouts with shots and yells” until it sounded like “the fourth of July.” Of course, they were chasing nobody, because the robber didn’t exist. But when the D gave its update on the “robbery” situation a few days later, it didn’t even mention the students’ response. It’s possible that in 1908, guns were so normalized on Dartmouth’s campus that students running around shooting them wasn’t considered newsworthy. It’s also possible that Whitcomb exaggerated this part of the story. It would not have been the wildest embellishment in Hanover that winter.

To read Whitcomb’s letters, come to Rauner and ask for MS-1438. (Or, ask about our other collections of student letters!)