Honoring Former Oswego City Police Officers

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego City Police Lt. John DeLapp works the graveyard shift in more ways than one.

Most times, you can find him at the police station, working the midnight shift.

John DeLapp places an Oswego Police marker at the grave of former officer Henry J. Fleishman in St. Peter’s Cemetery.On Tuesday, however, he was out in the sunshine – determined to get his man, or in this case men.

Each May 15, the department honors its deceased members. DeLapp was making sure each city police officer’s grave had an Oswego Police marker and flag.

The Oswego Police Department used to put maybe 30 or so flags on the graves of Oswego police officers, he explained.

However, thanks to the efforts of DeLapp, a former chief’s grandson, that figure has tripled.

“We’re finding out things about this department we never knew. For instance, there was one guy who was chief for something like 20 years and we never heard of him. I guess back in those days, they didn’t feel keeping track of things like that was all that important,” DeLapp pointed out.

Until just a few years, the department would place special markers on 32 graves.

Right now, DeLapp decorates the graves of more than 90 former police officers.

There are probably some others, DeLapp said, but if they went to another department (and retired from there), they’d be the one to mark the grave.

Some left the department to go off to war, for example, and when they got back didn’t return to the force. He doesn’t mark those graves, he noted.

About six years ago, he began to dig into the department’s history, he said.

He used to listen to stories by his grandfather, Frederick Scharf, a former chief, about the former officers.

Scharf put in 38.5 years on the force, retiring when DeLapp was 11.

In 1988, shortly after his graduation from the police academy, DeLapp was at his grandfather’s house and his grandmother took a picture of the two of them. The photo is one of two he carries with him to this day.

After his grandfather’s death in 2000 he began seriously looking into the whereabouts of all the former city police officers’ graves.

“I’d see a hundred or so graves with the city fire department markers and think to myself why are we just marking 32? There should be just about as many police officers as there were firefighters. Something’s wrong here,” he explained.

He has used various methods, from simple word-of-mouth to high-tech computers, to continue his search.

He found former chief Joel Baker by checking the Internet for Oswego men who fought in the Civil War.

Baker, he says, was a very intelligent man. He was also young when he died.

At 19 or 20 he was a school teacher. He then became undersheriff for the county. And, he fought in 13 battles during the Civil War, including Gettysburg, and was never injured.

After the Civil War, he came back to Oswego and resumed his duties as undersheriff. When he was 28 or 29 (there is some question to when he was actually born) he became chief of police, a position he held until he was 43.

During a baseball game (he was the catcher) he was hit on the side of head by the “striker” or batter as he’s called today. It cut his ear and 10 days later he died from a fever in the brain caused by an infection that would have been easily cured today by penicillin.

“Just imagine, this guy had bullets whizzing all around him in the war and never got hurt. When he comes home, there’s a freak accident. If that were these days, he would have gotten a shot of penicillin and been all better,” DeLapp said.

Ironically, Baker died on the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, DeLapp noted.

Baxter, he added, was the same age as Lt. Donald Hill was when he died, after being struck by a car while directing traffic.

The second picture DeLapp carries inside his hat is of his good friend Lt. Hill.

“When you get to a call, your hat’s the last thing you grab. As I get out of the car and pick up my hat and see that photo it reminds me to be careful, because you never know what can happen,” he said.

DeLapp says he knows of five members of the department that fought in the Civil War, or “uprising” or “rebellion” as it was noted in their obituaries.

Like them, his grandfather also went off to war. He was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered, he said.

“He then came back to Oswego and went back to work on the force. A lot of officers did that,” he said, adding, “Some didn’t come back, however.”

DeLapp says he wants to make this “more than just marking a gravestone.”

He’s putting all of his data into a huge binder, including the obituary, cemetery, section and lot, and a picture of the stone. He hopes one of the younger officers in the department will carry on and keep up the department’s history after he retires.

The book also makes it easier to find the gravesites, he added.

When he started looking for graves to mark, one of the directions he was given was: “upper level (of cemetery), under the tree.”

When he got there, there were hundreds of graves and hundreds of trees.

It took a lot of legwork to track down that grave, and several more.

“But, it’s worth it. This is about continuing the pride in our department,” he said. “This is part of our history.”

Many of the older obituaries went into much more detail about the person’s life and death than they do today, he noted.

By including that with the rest of the data, he says, it will help people better understand who these officers were – beyond just being a police officer.

He remembers hearing stories about the department from his grandfather. Just from listening to all the names his grandfather mentioned, DeLapp said he realized there had to be many more graves than the 32 being marked.

One of the officers who was appointed (July 24, 1976) under his grandfather was Alexander Zukovsky, the former chief, DeLapp said.

The Lake City Police Club bought the flags and markers. Some police officers have purchased markers as well to help defray the cost.

“We’re going to get some new flags next year,” he said. “We get close to 100, enough to last for about three years.”

The Oswego City Police Department was incorporated (metro) on June 8, 1870, DeLapp explained. Before that, dating back to the mid 1850s, the department was responsible for Scriba and other areas surrounding Oswego.

John DeLapp clears the grass away from the marker of Patrick W. Slattery’s grave stone. Slattery was an Oswego police officer and a captain in the Civil War, serving with the 147th New York Volunteer Infantry, a group which became known as “Plow Boys.”In the course of his (volunteer) duty, DeLapp has discovered some of the markers were in the wrong place; one was at the grave of the officer’s father instead of his.

Now, he says, he has located all of the former police officers.

There is also a former city police lieutenant buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Otisco, he said.

Another officer (Julius Kachien) is buried in Chicago.

“A member of the Chicago police department got a hold of me to see if I could help locate one of their former officers,” DeLapp said.

It wasn’t long afterward that he came up with the information. And, then, the Chicago officer returned the favor when he located information regarding a former Oswego officer.

DeLapp credits the people who oversee the various cemeteries, the historical society, the city library and many other people with helping him locate the final resting places of the former officers.

There are 26 officers’ graves in Riverside Cemetery, 25 in St. Paul’s, 22 in St. Peter’s, 8 in Rural Cemetery and the rest scattered among New Haven, Scriba, and Mount Pleasant cemeteries among others.

“It took a long time to actually locate all the graves and make the maps,” DeLapp said as he walked around St. Peter’s Cemetery performing his solemn task. “Doing this is the culmination of all that work. It will be easier now to just add a page to the binder to continue our history.”

“This is a job I take a lot of pride in. These guys were just every day people, good guys who happened to be police officers. It’s nice that we can remember a little bit more about than just their jobs,” DeLapp continued. “There were a lot of good guys on the force back then, and there are a lot today, too. Sometimes the public forgets about that.”

DeLapp said that when things seem tough for OPD these days, they can look back and see that they predecessors overcame the same things, if not tougher challenges.

“This gives us a sense of where we came from,” he said, adding there are many ties between the department’s past and present. When doing research on one former officer he showed his photo to a current officer; they both had the same number on their police hats.

“It’s the little things like that that remind us of our link with the past. We’re doing more than just doing our job. We’re carrying on a tradition that began more than 150 years ago.”

DeLapp says he started out doing some research in the library and found a lot of information.

Then, some people have come up to him and said, “you know, my great uncle was on the force from this time to that time,” he said. “We don’t know. There could be several more people out there with some kind of connection to this department. We don’t want to offend anyone by leaving him or her out. We would appreciate any information anyone is willing to share with us.”

DeLapp said he is still searching for any kind of photograph of Joel A. Baker, Oswego’s first police chief.

According to DeLapp’s files, Baker was born in 1842, the son of Julius and Elvira (Mack) Baker. On Dec. 14, 1871 he married Florence Morse, who was born in 1849 to William H. and Marietta (Van Buren) Morse.

Baker entered the Civil War on Aug. 23, 1862, and served with the 147th New York Volunteer Infantry.

He was part of a group of 379 that joined at the same time. These farmers were soon known as “Plow Boys.”

After being discharged, Baker became the first police chief of Oswego.

“I have some information on him,” DeLapp said. “But there appears to be no photos of him anywhere. I am looking for a photo so I can make a print to hang in the police station along with the other police chiefs’ photos.”

If anyone has a photo of Chief Baker, DeLapp asks that they contact him at the Oswego Police Department at 342-8120 or 343-1212.

Information about any other former city police officer would also be appreciated, he added.