THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
In Recognition of Fallen Police Officer Joseph T. Gaber
(July 9, 1900 ?? May 10, 1929)
Working to Recognize Fallen Marinette Co. Sheriff's Deputy
Issue Date: May 18, 2022
Niagara Police Officer Mike Chapman recently discovered details regarding a local law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty. A young man named Joseph T. Gaber worked for the Marinette County Sheriff's Department, and resided in the Village (now City) of Niagara. Joseph was not a typical officer; he was a motorcycle officer who proudly served his community. He was on his third year with the Sheriff's Department when tragedy struck. Officer Chapman noted another tragedy was finding that Officer Gaber was never recognized on the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial (WLEM).
In February 2022, Officer Chapman was asked by Niagara Police Chief Angie Moreau to research information about an officer who died in the line of duty. When Officer Chapman learned of the date the death occurred - May 10th, 1929, he knew this would not be an easy task. A representative from the WLEM sent the Marinette County Sheriff's Office seven articles; these were forwarded to Officer Chapman to get him started on his project. He quickly determined Officer Gaber was never recognized on the memorial. Sgt. Ken Wood of Kingsford Public Safety was conducting research for his own department when he found articles about Officer Gaber; he was also able to confirm Officer Gaber was not acknowledged on the WLEM. Sadly, Officer Gaber was not the only name that was never documented. Sgt. Wood also found facts about Deputy Edwards from Florence County who drowned in the Menominee River in the 1960's while helping Kingsford Police look for a woman who walked out on the ice.
Officer Chapman credited others with supporting him in his research, noting "we live in a great community where so many people are willing to help". He was able to gain additional editorials from Sgt. Wood. The Niagara librarian, Rebecca Livick, aided him with obtaining useful articles and resources. Local historian Karen Klenke provided supplementary books and reference information. Lt. Barry Degnitz from the Marinette County Sheriff's Office also conducted his own investigation, and he and Officer Chapman shared their information. Using Ancestry.com, Officer Chapman was able to locate some living relatives. With so many people graciously providing assistance, he was able to learn about the life and death of Officer Joseph T. Gaber.
Joseph Gaber was born on July 9, 1900 to Maximillian and Mary Gaber. The family moved from Spaulding, Michigan to the Village of Niagara when Joseph was eight years old. The family resided at 525 Main Street. Currently this address does not exist in the city, but the numbering system may have been different in the 1920's. Joseph finished school in Niagara with his four sisters and four brothers. In 1926, Joseph became a member of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department.
Officer Gaber served his community well, based on the numerous news sources referencing him. From reckless driving, expired registration, and drunk and disorderly conduct, the young officer made the headlines. One notable article involved Officer Gaber arresting a restaurant owner for murdering an intoxicated male who was demanding to be served outside of business hours. After the man was told to leave the restaurant, he then forced entry into the restaurant by kicking in the door. The restaurant owner fired a handgun in the direction of the male, hitting and killing him.
Officer Gaber's years of service were during prohibition. On the night of May 9, 1929, he was assigned to police a dance which was taking place at the Grange Hall in the Town of Niagara, just outside the Village of Niagara. At approximately 12:30 a.m. on the morning of May 10, 1929, Officer Gaber was on his way to his home after policing the dance. While rounding a corner on his motorcycle, approximately a quarter of a mile south of the village, he was met by an automobile driving on the wrong side of the road. Officer Gaber attempted to swerve into the ditch, but was struck by the automobile. The officer and his motorcycle were thrown from the roadway and it is believed that he died instantly from the collision. The driver who struck Officer Gaber was arrested for fourth degree manslaughter.
A funeral for Officer Gaber was held on May 13, 1929 at the family residence at 525 Main Street in Niagara. An escort of 12 motorcycle officers from Iron Mountain, Green Bay, and Marinette accompanied the body from the residence to St. Anthony's Church. There were so many onlookers that only six of the officers were able to stay with the hearse. The other six officers had to direct traffic for all of the citizens looking to pay their final respects to Officer Gaber. It was estimated that over 2,000 people showed up to pay their respects. This was the largest funeral ever held in Niagara at that time, with onlookers extending several blocks from the church. Officer Gaber was laid to rest in the St. Anthony's Cemetery on Washington Avenue.
To get Officer Gaber added to the WLEM, Officer Chapman and Lt. Degnitz needed to find evidence that he was an active law enforcement officer at the time of death and that he died in the line of duty. Through the research conducted by the two, enough information was gathered to submit a request to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial to have Officer Joseph T. Gaber's name included. At this time, there is no answer when or if the decision will be made to add his name to the memorial. No matter what the decision, Officer Joseph T. Gaber will never again be forgotten.
Thank you to Niagara Police Officer Mike Chapman for his research and information