Short Story #248: The Ghost Patrol by Sinclair Lewis

Title:  The Ghost Patrol

Author:  Sinclair Lewis 


Photo of Sinclair Lewis. Image Source: Patrick Dorgan has served nearly all of his forty-five years in Forest Park.  He had opportunities to move up in the police force but wanted to stay in forest Park.  He did his work with great ability and care.  His neighborhood appreciated his tact and skill in dealing with calamities big and small.   He served his community well beyond what the badge required of him.  One time, he stepped in to help two young lovers pursue their love against the father's wishes.  When the father discovers, he shares his disapproval and takes his daughter away from her lover.  The lover spurs Dorgan and eventually ends up doing a few years in prison.  Right after this, Dorgan is forced into retirement.  He petitions this and tries to continue on but there is no legal way for him to do it.  Disheartened by this string of events, Dorgan becomes a hermit for two years.  During this time, the police force changes and this includes new uniforms which sends Dorgan back to his home to take out his old uniform.  Soon, people are reporting a "ghost" officer in the old clothes is walking the streets of Forest Park at night and dealing with crime.  The stories continue for some time.  One night, the police are called in to Forest Park on a phone call.  The police chief takes several men with him and they find a man tied up.  The man is happy to see the police and explains some ghost or dead officer did this and the man would like to go to prison now and sign a confession.  Other curious events continue and the police become more angered and intrigued by the ghost officer.  However, a glove recovered at one scene reveals that it is Dorgan.  The chief assigns a detective to follow Dorgan who witnesses Dorgan leaving his house in his uniform.  The captain and others call upon Dorgan and take him to an asylum for the elderly.  All the while, Dorgan worries about how well the current officer is taking care of his neighborhood.  Dorgan attempts an escape from the asylum, only to be captured and brought back.  He is set to working to keep him occupied.  He stays at the asylum for months but during a blizzard in January, he manages an escape back to his beat.  He is looking for the lover who went to jail and was recently released.  He finds the lover who has an impossible time of going straight and everyone will only hire him to do illegal things.  When Dorgan asks about his love, he says he has only received a letter from her.  Dorgan offers to go in with him on a garage that will rival the corrupt garage in the area and he agrees.  Later, they go to visit the father that is keeps the lover from marrying her.  In very simple terms, he re-presents the matter that the father realizes he would be happier if his daughter was happy.  


Published in 1917, this is an interesting story.  It has a bit of the detective story to it, clearly, but there is also the idea of the masked vigilante.  Dorgan seems to have the motif of Batman with the disposition of Superman.  Though it was an adventure story of sorts, it still had some interesting bits to offer.  Dorgan makes a comment at one point about doing time.  When talking to the lover, he explains, "“Then listen: You got to start in right here in Northernapolis, like you’re doing, and build up again. They didn’t sentence you to three years but to six — three of ’em here, getting folks to trust you again. It ain’t fair, but it is. See? You lasted there because the bars kep’ you in. Are you man enough to make your own bars, and to not have ’em wished onto you?”   I rather like how he makes and frames this observation. 

Short Story #248 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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