A bit of a break away from the original format today, there are no reports to be posted. That is, there are still many more to be posted in the near future but, not this time. I had some thoughts I had started to scribble down in my notebook before realizing the value of sharing it with you all.
Namely, who was Anna?
I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the idea of a real woman cop in the fifties. I had to find out more about her than the sparse details offered in the reports.
Some emails and a phone call to a kindly old lady with ill-fitting dentures got me a tour through the State archives; I went last week. The place is weird. It is ostensibly a bureaucratic library, housing millions of boring slips of paper that may lend themselves some form of usefulness to the odd researcher but, most of the time they’re just taking up space as they slowly deteriorate. The weirdness comes from the building itself, designed for the prolongation of the documents it was built to protect, not the comfort of we passing folk with a need for a factoid Google hasn’t got it’s hands on. The sealed windows, de-humidified air and Spartan furnishings, it’s not a place for people.
There was need to phrase my request a bit differently than what one might call “truthful”, telling them I was working on a book about women trailblazers in Maine’s history. The not-quite-elderly woman in charge of showing me around, Susan, seemed pleased to hear that, the lines around her mouth and eyes softening a bit after having sized me up as unsavory only a moment prior. With more kindness than I thought a bureaucratic cog capable of, I was quickly lead up some stairs and down some hallways, to a room filled to the gills with filing cabinets and one lonely looking table and chair combo.
Seeing the confusion bleeding out of me, Susan spared one more moment of her time and demonstrated how everything was organized before excusing herself and running back to the front desk. It was kind of her but, those lines in her face did creep back into view as she lead me through everything. Little polygraphic fissures of frustration cracking through the heavy mask of customer service.
As I wrote above, the place is weird. The harsh pulsing of the lights made even the dullest and most yellowed of documents painful to look at for too long. Not that the lights ever stayed on for all that long anyways, requiring a more than obvious movement from me every couple of minutes to remind them that they were very much still needed. And the one piece of furniture designed for humans was an unupolstered wooden chair made of nothing but ninety degree angles. There is no “right” way to sit in that thing.
I was there but for one reason, to find Anna. But, an hour of musty books and cold coffee later and I still hadn’t found anything of substance apart from her Troop assignment. Sure, I had found plenty about the hierarchal structure of the Maine State Police, the Troops, the Captains, the Chiefs and their jurisdictions. There was even a whole cabinet devoted to photographs of the Troops over the years. I had those laid out across that secluded table, photo atop photo of stiff and stern men eyeballing the camera before them, a sea of crisp blue uniforms and machismo. I didn’t see Anna in there.
Needing a refill of my choice poisons, I dog-eared my notebook and put away the photos before heading out.
Feeling my joints grind back into place as I walked the Archives’ deserted hallways, I readied a cigarette.
“No smoking inside, sir.”
That didn’t take long, I thought as my hand was just starting its descent from the cigarette.
“I wasn’t.” I said searching for a face to the accusation.
“Outside.” Susan commanded, emerging from a darkened side office, her face screwed up in disgust at my weakness, the lines on her face in a full hideous display. It was like a dried mud mask, with its fissures growing in depth and complexity as theher expression of disgust grew more firm.
I didn’t engage. Instead I glued my eyes to the floor and found my way outside. Susan followed, wordlessly shaming me for daring to place a cigarette between my lips while still indoors. She even gave me the stank-eye as I smoked outside. My goodwill was spent.
At least it was nice outside, one of those perfect summer days Maine is famous for; sun, a light breeze and the scent of leaves. Back inside was different. Susan, less than enthused by my “attempt”, remained curt and professional but, was no longer charmed by the premise of my fake book.
“Records related to specific police officers and their families are not accessible.” I was informed.
Makes sense, I guess. We don’t want some asshole with an axe to grind to have access to that information.
“Will that be all, sir?” She drove that shitty intonation home.
“No. You have been more than helpful.” I replied before slinking back to my car, scratching the scar on my hand.
I left the Archives, settled myself down the road in Bagel Mainea, where most of this has been written, and stewed over a good but over-priced “artisanal” lunch.
Let me tally it all up for you: an hour and a half of driving, a couple hours of aimlessly sifting through unrelated folders, getting cussed out for not smoking, and all in a day I called out of work for. Fuck me. Now take all that and consider the fact that all I got out of it was that she worked in Troop D, stationed out of Augusta. That’s not much more than I could have already guessed and all gained through the loss of a whole day.
Unfortunately, many questions remain, for me at the very least.
For one, was she the first woman officer in Maine?
I didn’t think women were allowed that kind of position back then. Maybe I’m wrong but, when I think 1950s America, I imagine pleated skirts and sweaters, hot dog stands and big cars. I guess I’m saying I see “Back to the Future” when I’m imaging that time period. Like, was Anna wearing such a getup or did she wear, I don’t know, a pants suit? That’s a practical concern that I’m sure had an easy fix but, really, how did a woman wind up in the Maine State Police back in the fifties?
We still have sexism to deal with today, how was it sixty years ago? More specifically, how was it sixty years ago in one of the most male dominated jobs around? How much bullshit did she have to deal with on a daily basis? The stares, the insults, the propositions, the systemic backlash against her very being in such an institution.
These documents come from 1954, a year before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move seats, a time in our history where a lot of “good” people banded together in the face of change and collectively said, “No.” When, after centuries of “normalcy,” of being the socio-economic top dogs, that situation, that societal foundation fell down. And rather than accepting those changes, all of those polite and white families and politicians double-downed and pushed back. Usually in the form of silent but, certainly painful displays of disapproval and exclusion; raised eyebrows, whispers followed by harsh laughter and the immovability of societal expectations. These polite hard-working folks had every reason to expect and desire the continuation of the status-quo, and yet there they were being attacked on every front. Women, African-Americans, the ever-present immigrant “threat”, communism, all of these groups and more pushing in to their realm competing for what they considered their jobs, their prestige and their social capital. Those groups were pushing against societal barriers long established for the benefit of those at the top.
Animals are most dangerous when backed into a corner, when the only direction for the violence to spring out is into the face of those at the door of the cage. Think of all of the ugliness this country has been through, all of the pain, fear, riots and mobs. Kind people are capable of true horror when the options have been cut down to another man or woman standing in front of them and that which they had assumed would be theirs. And this was where Anna chose to stand, in front of the cage, door ajar, with a pack of snarling beasts pushing forward.
Then again, what do I know. I’m just some asshole reading these musky and molding manuscripts, sixty years removed, trying my best to interpret just what may have happened back then. What about this case lead to it being boxed up and forgotten in the basement of some brick-clad crumbling building?
And I’m still no closer to knowing just who she was, Anna Fionnbarra.