Handsome: Cincinnati’s Beloved Police Dog
By Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired)
Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Historian
Certainly, the most well-known police dog, and the only one preserved over a century for posterity, is Handsome.
The hardest beat in Cincinnati was, without argument, the Bottoms, which included the riverfront/riverboat area of the second district headquartered on Hammond Street. The beat was a collection of low dives, cutthroat criminals, and very little different from Shanghai. The men who patrolled the Bottoms, or at least did so successfully, were just as hard as the clientele; including “Big Jim” O’Neill.
One night, Patrolmen O’Neill and John Dowd, running on the levee beat out of the Second District station on Hammond Street, found a hungry, dirty, freezing, and whining puppy on the riverfront. They coaxed him back to the stationhouse and, with three bars of soap, cleaned him up. Food from the other officers’ lunch pails and a warm blanket by the stove made him a happy puppy. After 24 hours of napping and getting to know the officers, O’Neill and Dowd left to do their rounds and Handsome scratched at the door to join them.
The pup and O’Neill became inseparable, and as the warmer days came, Handsome grew big and strong. Early on, he became known and recognized as the great “policeman” he was. He would eat only when fed by a policeman in uniform, or by “Mother Morgan” who ran a restaurant on Broadway near the river. He slept during the day when his partners were home. During the great 1907 flood, when his partners worked day and night, Handsome had to be restrained in order to get some sleep.
Handsome considered a hand raised to a policeman a sin requiring an immediate bite. If a prisoner bolted, the patrolman would say, “Handsome. Take him!” and Handsome did. He would patiently watch as arrests were made and if the man tried to escape, Handsome would chase him down with unfailing success, usually grabbing the violator by the seat of his pants. Sometimes he would take a beating, but no matter how badly, he would not let go.
Handsome assisted in hundreds of arrests. He plodded along several feet in front of policemen, with his head to the ground. On and on he plodded, hour after hour, day and night, year in and year out. He worked unceasingly.
Detective Captain Patrick Hayes with his brother officers were patrolling the “river beat” one night when they noticed a man hurrying along in the shadows. Hayes became suspicious of the man, who was across the street and some distance from them. He told Handsome to “get him.” The dog raced after the fugitive, who had begun to run. Soon, they were out of sight down in the “bottoms.” Hayes and his partner then heard Handsome barking on the riverbank. They hurried down the hill, and there they found Handsome. The man was completely disrobed. The dog was standing over the prostrate thief, baring those long fangs and growling at the man’s throat. Jewelry and watches were scattered all over the pavement. Handsome had caught another burglar! The prisoner confessed that he had broken a jewelry store window “uptown” and removed the window’s contents.
His instinct in selecting which runner to pursue seemed infallible. On another occasion, a murderer slipped through a police net. He fled to the dives on the riverfront. The police squads closed in. Handsome did not like the outsider patrolmen and wandered off on his own. It was not long until his partners heard the faint sound of Handsome’s barking. They left the other officers and traced the barking sounds. Handsome was located in a dark hole under the main deck of a steamboat. He had his man at bay. The murderer pleaded with the officers to call off the dog.
August 17, 1904, Patrolman O’Neill was working alone with Handsome because his partner, Patrolman Ringer, was in the Hammond Street stationhouse processing a prisoner. As O’Neill attempted another arrest of Boone Morgan at Front Street and Broadway, Morgan broke loose and ran toward Sycamore. Citizens assisted O’Neill in his pursuit, but Morgan was putting distance between he and them. Suddenly Handsome shot past the pursuers and launched into the air. He fastened his teeth on Morgan’s leg and brought him to the pavement. He tried to get up and run again, and Handsome grabbed hold of the seat of his pants until Patrolman O’Neill arrived to place him under arrest.
On August 20, 1904, Handsome was out with two newer officers, Patrolmen Martin and Weller. While they patrolled Front Street between Sycamore and Broadway, Handsome strayed for a little bit, as he was wont to do, looking for trouble. A scallywag, Peter Bell of Front Street, had a massive bulldog affixed to a chain and came across Handsome. There had long been a “hit” put out on Handsome by the wharf rats. Seeing no officer at his side, Bell attacked Handsome with his bulldog. The bulldog sunk his fangs into Handsome’s neck with sufficient force to cripple up one of Handsome’s legs. Before the officers arrived, however, Handsome had turned the tables and had mastered the bulldog. Bell had a tough time getting him to release his prey. He then fled with his brute.
The entire night shift searched for Bell through the night and into Saturday morning. It was later learned that he had escaped by boat to Kentucky. Then, when Patrolmen Ringer and Ellenrieder searched the Silver Moon Café, one man took off running and, on three paws, Handsome ran him down. He was not Bell, but Handsome’s reputation was intact. Bell was not heard from again for almost two years.
Handsome did not like other dogs, but when a half-starved cur walked into the stationhouse in August 1904, Handsome took a liking to him, to the amazement of the patrolmen. The new dog was named, “Dick.” Handsome immediately began coaching Dick in the art of the apprehension of criminals. However, he was never able to teach Dick not to bite, but only to worry the criminal until the patrolmen arrived to arrest him. The officers grew fond of Dick, calling him a substitute police dog and Handsome the regular police dog – similar to calling new patrolmen, substitute patrolmen. But Dick apparently did not work out, because we do not hear from him again.
On October 14, 1904, Patrolmen O’Neill and Ellenrieder were patrolling their beat with Handsome when one of them noticed an open coal chute at Gilman and Hurschmann’s Saloon at Pearl and Vine Streets. O’Neill looked into the windows, saw nothing amiss, and the officers began to walk away. But Handsome stayed and growled into the coal hole. The officers found a burglar laying on the floor in the bar and arrested him.
On January 2, 1905, Handsome was patrolling with Patrolman Israel toward a commotion at 447 East Front Street. While Israel had yet to perceive the cause, Handsome discerned that a man, George Clark, was about to strike a woman, Mary Elliot. Handsome took off, passed through the crowd, and leaped on Clark, knocking him to the ground. He then stayed on his chest until Israel arrived.
By 1906, some believed Handsome to be a reincarnated policeman, such was his intelligent handling of situations. He would work every night without fail, turn in at 7 a.m., and four hours later, hit the streets with another set of patrolmen; sometimes by himself.
In those days, paddleboats would come to the wharfs filled with product and evil doers and the policemen would go to meet them. When Handsome heard the signal whistle, he knew which boat was coming and the wharf at which it would dock.
By April, 1908, Handsome had chased about fifty men. His longest chase was from the Central Bridge to the Southern Bridge, resulting in a capture, holding the criminal until police caught up.
Handsome’s two favorites were clearly Patrolmen O’Neill and Henry Crowley. O’Neill was offered $500 (almost $18,000 in 2022 dollars) by a circus for Handsome and he refused, saying, “Money cannot buy him.”
On May 22, 1908, Patrolmen Henry Weller and Peter Giltanan were wrestling with two men who had been fighting each other at Front and Sycamore Streets. While they were getting the better of John Brady, Sam Brown broke free and took off running. He made it several blocks before Handsome grabbed hold of his trousers. A piece tore off and Handsome dropped it and took another bite of Brown’s trousers and leg and held him until officers arrived to make the arrest.
On September 21, 1908, Joe Johnson of Chicago, snuck into Mary Hearn’s candy store at 407 East Third Street and stole money out of the cash register. She saw him and chased after him, as did several citizens. Then Patrolman McCorkhill joined in the chase, but Johnson was too fast for them. Handsome was meandering around Front Street and saw the chase coming down Sycamore. He passed the posse and grabbed hold of Johnson by the leg. Johnson fought the canine and was bitten a few more times before Patrol McCorkhill arrived to make the arrest.
While several patrolmen and a sergeant in the Second District were trying out other dogs in an obvious attempt to augment or replace Handsome as he grew older, Handsome continued his reign of terror on the desperadoes of the Bottoms. On Christmas Eve 1909, Dan Loving found Handsome was still spry. Loving ordered, ate, and refused to pay for pork chops at the Silver Moon, and escaped the proprietor and several hangers-on and ran to the riverfront. Patrolmen Giltanan and Robert Moran arrived soon after the ruckus and were made aware of the theft and direction of travel. Handsome was already on the scent and caught Loving on the gangplank of a docked boat. Handsome’s bite was less accurate than usual and Loving required repair of his leg at Cincinnati Hospital before going to jail.
On September 19, 190, Patrolmen Weller and Jacob Henn and a crowd of produce men and farmers were chasing Robert Murray, who had stolen a gum vending machine of a wall at Second Street and Broadway. Handsome joined the chase and caught him in a box car, where he detained him until the officers arrived.
Handsome, after 14 years of service died, on October 28, 1911, 26 days after his final arrest. Handsome fell asleep in a switchman’s shanty at Front Street and Broadway and never awoke.
Second District Patrolmen started a collection to have Handsome processed by a taxidermist and mounted at the Old Hammond Street Station, by then a municipal lodging house. The costs donated on average amounted to that which each policeman was paid for a day’s work, such was the love for Handsome. He was mounted in a glass “cage.” The cage was set in the Hammond Street facility, then for sixty years in District 2’s lobby at 314 Broadway. When that location closed, he transferred to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge Hall in Tusculem-Columbia. When they sold that building, he was housed in a stuffed animal collection maintained by the Cincinnati Park District in Burnet Woods. When that facility closed, he returned to the FOP at their new site on Central Parkway. During 2002, the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society retrieved him from the basement and placed him at their newly acquired location at 959 W. 8th Street. When the Police Museum was opened, he was the star attraction. He then moved to 308 Reading Road in 2015 with the Museum and has guarded the halls ever since.