Doing time: Shenanigans at the Aberdeen jail

The Aberdeen city jail has seen much change from the pre-fire days when it was a rough shanty with bare wood plank walls and floor.

The Aberdeen city jail has seen much change from the pre-fire days when it was a rough shanty with bare wood plank walls and floor, located between the fire department on South G Street and a three-story flop house called the Mack Building where the Great Fire of October 1903 was sparked.

Following the fire, the brick combination city hall and jail was erected at Market and I Streets in 1905. Here are some tales from the earliest days of Aberdeen’s penal system where fire continue to be a problem.

A fire alarm was rung at 5:30 Friday evening. It was occasioned by smoke issuing from the city jail and the cry of fire from a prisoner, who had a narrow escape from premature cremation. Henry Humphry had been locked up in the morning for being d.d. [drunk and disorderly] and had laid down while smoking a cigarette the butt of which, on being thrown away, fell on some blankets which were on the floor. The prisoner, who had fallen asleep, was awakened by the smoke of several pair of burning blankets and a mattress. His cries attracted notice and in a few minutes the jail was opened and the fire extinguished with the Babcock machine. Humphry was fined $5 and costs the next day by Judge Andrews. – Aberdeen Herald, Oct. 6, 1898.

The young sailor in the jail, who is suffering from delirium tremens, forced himself past Officer Vanucie Wednesday and running to the dock jumped into the Chehalis. He was rescued with difficulty, but is improved by the bath. — Chehalis Valley Vidette, Dec. 18, 1903.


Joseph Campbell set jail afire and both inmates nearly smother to death. Campbell was confined to the house of correction yesterday, having refused to pay a fine imposed by the police court. Not being in a sober state of mind and objecting to such an infringement on his rights, he set his bed on fire in an effort to burn the jail down to secure his liberty. Smoke was seen issuing from the place, and an alarm turned in. A bucket of water put out the fire, and a little of the same fluid in Campbell’s face restored him to consciousness, from which he nearly departed by the suffocation route. A little more of it would have finished him along with another inmate unlucky enough to be Campbell’s fellow prisoner. Campbell paid a total of $79.90 in fines and restitution. — Aberdeen Bulletin, June 1, 1904.


Seeing smoke issuing from the jail this morning “Bill” Anstie proceeded to investigate as he was passing, and discovered flames in one of the cells, which was extinguished quickly.

The cell was occupied by a drunk, who had evidently set fire to the bed clothes while lighting his pipe. He was dragged out by Mr. Anstie in an almost helpless condition and had not the flames been discovered as soon as they were, the unfortunate individual would have been cremated. Marshal Carter reports, but little damage done. — Aberdeen Bulletin, Nov. 7, 1904.


For the first time in many months the fire engine has had a chance to work and the firemen to attend a real fire, which, while not of alarming proportions, gave them a chance to work.

About 2 o’clock a box alarm came in and the city jail was discovered to be up to its old tricks of being found on fire. The department responded quickly and when they arrived upon the scene volumes of smoke was pouring from the structure.

The engine was stationed on the corner of F and Hume Street and several streams were soon playing on the interior of the building after it was found the chemicals would not answer.

The jail was open at the time the fire was discovered, the inmates being engaged in some work about the place in charge of an officer. The blaze originated from the stove pipe, which was too near the woodwork. The actual damage done by the fire was small but a few holes were chopped in the walls and the place thoroughly soaked. All blankets and clothing were taken out safely. The fire attracted large crowds but they had to go away disappointed.

Had the blaze secured a good start the adjoining building undoubtedly would have suffered for the jail is between the Olympus Theatre and a dwelling house, all set close together. The three are frame structures and might have been a fierce fire despite the fact they have been well soaked by rains. Everything about the engine and department in general worked well and the boys were ready to tackle any kind of a conflagration. — Aberdeen Bulletin, Dec. 28, 1904.

The city jail caught fire Wednesday afternoon and the entire fire department, police department and all citizens within hearing of the clang went to the fire. There were no occupants in the jail at the time. The damage to the jail was inconsiderable. The Japanese citizens next door got a thorough smoking. – Grays Harbor Post, Dec. 31, 1904.


One of Aberdeen’s greatest needs is a patrol wagon, and it is probable that the council will be asked to make an appropriation for purchase of a wagon. It not infrequently happens police officers are called upon to arrest drunken men, and last Sunday two such offenders were dragged screaming through the streets. The spectacle in each case was disgusting. It is said that a patrol wagon could be added to the police equipment at slight additional expense, and that the acquisition of this convenience would greatly facilitate the work of the officers. — Aberdeen Bulletin, May 29, 1906.

Prisoners at the city jail during the week broke the gas jets and were nearly asphyxiated as a result. Gas is bad stuff to monkey with. – Grays Harbor Post, Aug.18, 1906.

Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and is most pleased he has never had to experience the amenities of the jail of this or any other city – not that it wouldn’t have been warranted a time or two.