Retiring police chief helps preserve a part of Salem’s history
SALEM – Bob Floor’s service as Salem police chief ends Friday, but he will remain a part of the history of chiefs- a history he decided to share Monday with local historians.
He explained that about a year ago, an unknown woman showed up in the lobby and handed over a scrapbook, saying she wanted to leave it for the chief of police.
Floor wasn’t available at the time, but when he returned to his office, he found a small treasure trove of newspaper clippings about some past police chiefs and police cases compiled by Nerr Gaunt, who served as Salem police chief from Feb. 27, 1946 to June 24, 1954.
Many of the clippings were about Gaunt, about a murder case and about his promotions, but many of the clippings told the story of his predecessor, Ralph Stoffer. Stoffer became chief on Feb. 25, 1933 and remained as chief until an unusual incident took place in Deerfield in 1946, when he became involved in a shooting with a city-owned machine gun and was shot himself.
The clippings highlighted what happened that night and followed the aftermath, including Gaunt being sworn in as the new police chief and Stoffer being indicted by the grand jury.
“It ought to be where it’s accessible to more people,” Floor said.
He talked to his successor, J.T. Panezott, to make sure it was OK with him and then donated the scrapbook to the Salem Historical Society. SHS Museum Director David Stratton said they had already received some other historical material from Gaunt’s family, but nothing to do with the police department.
The scrapbook will add to an already growing collection of items from past chiefs and the Salem Police Department. The historical society has the gun holster which belonged to former chief Martin Lutsch, who served from 1958 to 1972. Floor’s predecessor, Mike Weitz, donated his billy club and a bag phone, the predecessor to today’s cell phone.
They also have the last jail door and the keys to that door in the museum, along with many other items related to the police department.
According to Floor, Panezott will be the 13th police chief in Salem history because the first person in charge of the department had the title Police Marshall back in 1898. His name was J.W. Johnson. The list of police chiefs began with William D. Turner in 1902 and continued with Charles E. Cook, J. Gottschall, Thomas Thompson, Stoffer, Gaunt, George Early, Lutsch, Richard Whinnery, John Sommers, Weitz and Floor.
Stratton and Museum Curator Janice Lesher said they have 127 scrapbooks of miscellaneous material that’s been donated over the years. Lesher said they’re working on cataloguing all the scrapbook material.
The Gaunt scrapbook will be a research tool and become part of the collection at the Dale Shaffer Research Library.
Stratton said they welcome anyone who finds interesting stuff about Salem while cleaning out closets and clearing out a relative’s home to give the historical society a call before pitching the material.
He said they’re happy to take a look at items and decide whether something should or should not be thrown out.
To contact the Salem Historical Society about found items and possibly donating them, call 330-337-8514 and leave a message.