This article was written by Gayle Geber, Benedict G. Fischer’s Granddaughter, October, 2011
Benedict G. Fischer, St. Paul Police Patrolman
Part I – Tina’s Perspective
August 10, 1917 Thomas Avenue, just west of Hamline, St. Paul, Minnesota
Tina Fischer had a busy day, typical for a young mother. She made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her family, washing the dishes after each meal, drying them, and putting them back on the middle shelf in the pantry. She had been trying for several days to entice Herb into eating some mashed-up carrots, and today he actually ate them. She thought he must be going through a growth spurt. When Florence and Herb were napping, Tina went into the basement and scrubbed a few of Herb’s diapers on the scrubbing board with her home-made lye soap. Florence was talking more these past few months. She was as sweet as anything, but still it was tiring with a 2-year-old and an infant, especially those times she had to keep them reasonably quiet when Ben slept during the day when he was working the night shift with the St. Paul Police.
Tina beat the living room rug that she had hung over the clothes pole in the back yard, and then Ben dragged it back inside before the mosquitoes got too bad later in the evening. Back in the living room, Ben lifted up the heavy, brown couch so Tina could scooch the rug part-way back underneath it. As the day was winding down, Ben played hide-and-seek with his daughter. Florence “hid” in plain view repeatedly, but Ben didn’t tire of looking surprised every time he “found” her. It didn’t take much to make Herb smile, so Ben could simply tickle his son and get a good laugh out of him.
Around 7:30 that night, Tina walked up the stairway with Florence, telling her to be sure to hold onto the wooden spindles supporting the hand rail. They stopped at the potty, and then Tina put Florence to bed after a short story. It was still light outside and Florence didn’t want to go to bed. She jumped up when Tina pulled the shades half-way down in the back bedroom which overlooked the alley. Tina left both windows open to let some fresh air into the room. Finally, she tucked Florence into bed for the second time with an admonition to stay…in…bed. Just moments after Tina left the room and closed the door behind her, she heard Florence jump out of bed again. Smiling, she knew Florence was looking out the window, but Tina also knew her daughter would eventually crawl back into bed and cuddle with the little red lamb she had sewn for her.
Tina tip-toed three steps down the hallway and turned left into Herb’s tiny room. Herb was sleeping in his crib, but she knew that wouldn’t last long. It was a cool night – cool for Minnesota in summer, that is – so she covered up her sweet little boy with a light cotton blanket.
Just before 10 o’clock, Ben changed into his police uniform. As he left a few minutes later for the graveyard shift at the Rondo Station – the newer cops always got the late shifts – Tina kissed him good-bye. Ben then walked over to University Avenue to catch the east-bound streetcar to the station.
After Ben left for work, Tina had a few minutes for herself before she went to bed. Sitting on the couch in the living room, appreciating how clean the rug looked, she felt content. It was quiet. She hadn’t heard an automobile on the road in front of the house for quite some time.
Tina’s thoughts drifted from her sister’s upcoming wedding, to her wilted bleeding hearts in the backyard garden, to the latest gossip at St. Columba’s church. Soon, though, thoughts of the war intruded on Tina’s daydreaming, just like they eventually did with everybody’s thoughts. It’s all people talked about these days. The draft had been held several months ago. Tina was glad that Ben was too old to be drafted and fight in a war so far from home.
Ben would get off work tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock and Tina wanted to get a good night’s sleep before he got home, so she walked up the familiar stairs once again. She slipped into her night gown, brushed her hair, said her prayers, and dropped off to sleep in their bed. Around 1:30, Tina heard Herb rustling in his crib. With his bedroom so near, she could hear every sound he made. After a quick diaper change and a not-too-quick feeding, Tina laid Herb back in his crib.
She had been back in bed for just a few minutes but had already drifted off to sleep. In the corner of her dreaming mind she hears an automobile drive up Thomas Avenue and stop right in front of her house. She hears the auto’s door squeak open and quickly slam shut.
For a split second she thinks this is odd for so late at night. But a cop’s wife at some level of consciousness is always alert for something to go wrong. Always alert for what she doesn’t want to hear, what she doesn’t want to know. The increasingly gripping fear that fully rouses her from sleep makes her sit up in bed, pull aside the curtains, and look outside, all the while hoping that what she fears is not actually happening. There is just a sliver of a moon in the sky and Tina can barely make out what she doesn’t want to see. She glimpses a police officer – she recognizes the man who doesn’t belong here so late at night – walking quickly up the sidewalk to her front porch, and then she hears his heavy boots scraping against the porch floor.
The always-modest Tina doesn’t stop to throw a shawl over her shoulders or tie her hair back. She runs barefoot down the stairs as she hears the officer knocking on the sturdy wooden door. Tina can barely see the outline of her husband’s friend through the thin curtain that covers the tall oval window set in the front door. Without hesitation she throws open the front door and stands there, facing him. “Tina,” he says. “I’m sorry, but I have some bad news for you. Ben’s been shot.”
“Ben? My Ben? Shot?” Tina’s mind rushes to an image of her 6’ 3” husband with a solid, muscular frame, big hands, and an amiable disposition. The man who grew up working hard on the farm. The man who was with her when their first child died. The man she could rely on for everything. How could he be shot?
As the officer gently puts his arm around Tina to steady her, he continues, “I’m so sorry, Tina. He’s been shot bad, shot in his neck. We brought him to City Hospital. He’s unconscious.” He paused only a moment. “Tina, can I take you there now?”
“Ben? My Ben? How can this happen to Ben?”