Snohomish Police Department, Part 3: O. D. Morse

Beth Greenlee, born to Orrin and Maud Morse in 1929, may have trouble remembering the day of the week these days, but there is no hesitation in her telling of the time when her father, who was the city Marshall, unlocked the door of the gun room on the lower level of Snohomish City Hall to proudly show his young daughters the department’s latest acquisition of a “Tommy gun.”

“The layout of the building is unchanged,” Beth said, as we entered through the double doors at 1009 First. On the left was the City Clerk’s and Waterworks office. Across the hall was Mr. Knapp’s office, who was the city attorney. Straight ahead was where the council met, and the Police Court.

Today, this room is the Mariposa Day Spa, featuring an “intimate setting overlooking the Snohomish River,” according to its website.

On the lower floor, the door straight ahead was to the gun room, “and they had quite a collection!” To the right was the door to her dad’s office. “There was a roll-top desk against one wall and spittoons on the floor,” remembers Beth as a young girl. “And there was a big old safe, that has to be somewhere in town.”

Alongside the desk was one cell that was usually for women. “And behind his desk, you would open a door and there were cells on both sides and in the center, so it was like a ‘U’ — and that’s where people would come to …” Beth searches for a word with a polite chuckle, “rest.” Mentioned several times in our conversation, was Beth’s memory of her father bringing the prisoners breakfast.

The windowless room was the new city marshall’s office and “drunk-tank.” O. D. Morse, as he was known, and who was appointed Marshall only three years earlier, moved in August 1927.

The cells were removed long ago, but it was our police station/office for over 50 years. It’s now a private apartment.

Beth and her younger sister Billie would often hang-out at the city hall waiting for a ride home from their dad. Once, O.D. was bringing in a drunk who fought back on the way down the stairs, “and my little sister jumped up on his back and just beat the hell out of him,” as Beth tells it. “She couldn’t have been more than eight years old, just a little thing … she was always a rascal,” Beth adds.

O.D Morse served as city Marshall for 19 years, until 1943, the longest leadership of the Snohomish Police Department. Somewhere along the way his title changed to Chief of Police, so it could be said, he lead the way to creating a modern police force in Snohomish.

Except for his assistant, “Bicycle Jim” (officer Jim Wright), didn’t drive but could bike fast enough to pull over people driving cars! Let’s save that story for another time.

He looks stern, Beth agreed, “but he was a sweetheart.” He could walk into the middle of a ferocious fistfight and within minutes have the men shaking hands. According to his daughter Beth, O. D. never used the “Tommy gun.”

Beth: “…it was like living in a monastery sometimes.”

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 19, 2011.