Originally posted 2016-11-09 12:29:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


Following Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. Presidency, it may be useful to look into the past to see what may happen. There you will find Joe Barker, the man I have called Pittsburgh’s Trump. ( A spoiler: It doesn’t end well for him.)

Let’s revisit the post written last year:


Pittsburgh’s Trump

Some say Donald Trump is one of a kind. That may be, but he is not the first of his kind.

We had one here in Pittsburgh in the mid 1800s.

His name was Joe Barker. It was an appropriate name. He did a lot of barking.

It got him elected mayor, and it often landed him in jail.

In fact, he was stewing behind bars when voters amused themselves by writing in his name on the ballot. To the shock of political insiders, he was elected to the city’s highest office.

Let’s set the scene. It was 1849. Pittsburgh had a population of 36,000, many of them Irish.  Stylish, bearded young men wore black stovepipe hats when they went clubbing, which was often and late.

Joseph Barker

Joseph Barker

On the street, or more often on  a bridge that crossed the canal that ran through the city, these men frequently encountered Joe Barker. Like them, he was dressed in a black cape and donned a stovepipe hat. Unlike them, and other men of his era, he was clean shaven.

Out of his mouth came sermons on the ills of society. James Owens, a contractor who built many of the structures in the city at that time, included Barker in his memoirs.

“. . . Some said he was crazy, others said he was only a crank who wanted to make a living on the credulous people, and his main point was to escape hard work,” Owens wrote.

 “Joe’s chief hobby was his hatred for the Catholics. Wherever he could draw a crowd he would harangue the people on his favorite topic. “ But,  he had others.

James Owen, who wrote "Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903"

James Owen, who wrote “Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903.” You will find no better book relating the flavor of a remote era. Some of the facts are off, but let an old man reminisce.

Barker argued that people born in this country  were better and due more consideration than those born outside of it. A large percentage of people in Pittsburgh were born overseas. That included Barker’s parents and his wife. Barker also preached that Pittsburgh police were corrupt stooges. He often was collared by them. 

“When the boys of the town would see Joe . . .coming along Liberty Avenue they would follow, shouting and cheering, and soon Joe would reach the court house or cathedral, and mounting the steps would make a speech,” Owens recalled.

“Joe became more and more of a general nuisance, until finally the Catholics had him arrested for speaking from the cathedral steps. The judge sent him to jail for 30 days. When he got out, he was more reckless than ever, and also more noisy, so he was again arrested . . ..”

You may recall that when Donald Trump was told his Iowa poll numbers were falling, he called Iowa voters stupid. Barker would have approved.

When he was found guilty of blocking streets and using “indecent, lewd, and immoral language calculated to deprave the morals of the community,” Barker turned to the jury and the judge. He told them to go to Hell. (I can see Trump supporters laughing with approval.)

Judge Benjamin Patton then told Barker where to go. And, for how long.

He sentenced Barker to the County Prison for one year. He  fined him $250. After that, it all became a big farce.

 Young Fellows Took It As a Fine Joke

It was election time. Barker became a symbol of free speech.

“It might have been intended for a joke, and it might have been in all seriousness, but the young fellows of the city took it as a fine joke, and they started out electioneering for Joe with all their enthusiasm,” Owens wrote.

It was 10 o’clock at night when the returns had all been counted and it was assured that the next mayor of the city was then languishing in jail.”

Barker got 1,787 votes to the 1,584 for Democrat John B. Guthrie, and 1,034 for Whig candidate Robert McCutcheon.

“The young fellows of the city were enthusiastic over their victory and went marching up and down the streets. Finally, it occurred to them that Joe would enjoy being in on the jollification, so the crowd headed for the jail on the run. The leader demanded the prisoner, and the sheriff refused to deliver him. Then we secured heavy pieces of wood and started to break down the jail door.

The sheriff, seeing that we were in earnest, opened the door, and Joe was brought out. Some of the fellows raised him up on their shoulders and the triumphant procession started for the mayor’s office, then located on Third Avenue.


Mayor John Herron was literally unseated by Barker supporters

We found Mayor Herron sitting in his office, so we gathered him up in our arms and soon had him sitting on the curb outside, while Joe occupied the official chair. All that night, we kept Joe there, listening to his speeches and cheering him, but in the morning the court informed us that he could not become mayor . . . until Mayor Herron’s time expired, which would be two months later. So, we allowed Mayor Herron to return to his office, and Joe went back to preaching, the court signing an order for his legal release from jail.”

Fortunately, mayoral terms were limited to one year. Quite a year it was. Mostly it was about feuding with police. Sometimes they would arrest him. Sometimes he would arrest them.  He replaced them with friends. Two police forces patrolled the city until the courts eliminated his.

‘I Am for America All the Time!’

A German band on a steamboat sought to bar the use of a calliope on a nearby vessel because it was drowning out their music. Barker, who was born American, refused.

“The calliope is an American institution, and the brass band is a damned imported Dutch (Deutsch) institution. I am for America all the time,” he declared.

Barker had the Catholic bishop and Mother Superior of Mercy Hospital arrested.  He fined  them $20 because the hospital’s sewer line was  creating a nuisance. The bishop paid up. 

There were indications Barker’s administration encouraged harassment of Catholics and vandalism of their institutions. Parishioners worked in shifts to guard churches and Mercy Hospital amid rumors they would be set ablaze.

Mayor John B. Guthrie defeated Barker the second time around.

Mayor John B. Guthrie defeated Barker the second time around.

Barker tried for a second year as mayor, but voters had had enough. Guthrie was elected. Barker resumed street preaching.

His mayoral legacy? Well, it took a while for Pittsburgh police to become a force again. In the meantime, near anarchy prevailed in some neighborhoods.

Barker could still incite riots, though. He allegedly did so at least once after leaving office.

But, he was unable to muster votes. He lost elections for mayor in 1852 and 1854. He may have been going for state office when he went into the state Senate chamber in Harrisburg. He was drunk and ranting obscenities. That got him sent to a state work farm.

Barker loved rallies. He went to one for the Northern cause on Pittsburgh’s North Side. It was August 1862. That was early in the Civil War when the polarized nation was in pitched battles both vocal and military. Barker really lost his head. I mean really.

He was walking home after the beautiful rally. It was a beautiful thing, let me tell you people.  Beautiful. . . But, apparently he was too close to the railroad tracks. I’m afraid to say a train decapitated him.  Took his head off. Terrible. Yes,sad.  (Sorry, that was my inner Trump voice speaking.)