Down East 2013 ©
It looks like something for transporting Hannibal Lecter, but when Sanford J. Baker, a deputy sheriff in Oakland, created this device in 1896 he had much less fearsome prisoners in mind. Baker built three of these wheeled contraptions, which consisted of flat metal strips formed into a chair shape with a hinged — and quite lockable — window on its top half, as a means of confining and displaying “tramps” who wandered into town. In an 1899 article in the Washington Post, Baker admitted that his invention “resembles some of the ancient instruments of torture used by the Inquisition” but claimed its presence had freed Oakland from “the hobo nuisance” it had endured for years. He even went so far as to position one of the chairs at the State House for an entire session but failed to convince legislators that the state should adopt such barbaric treatment.
After his defeat, Baker’s three chairs scattered across Maine, with this one turning up on a Belfast sidewalk after auto dealer Bernes O. Norton discovered it in a nearby field. For half a century it was hauled by the handle, at far left, in parades and elsewhere around town, with brave passersby posing in it. An unidentified photographer was able to catch this young fellow trying out the tramp chair in his cap and dungarees around 1920. His haunting image eventually made its way into the expanding collection of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.
This particular chair disappeared from Belfast around 1980, but Maine vagabonds should take note: One of Baker’s other originals remains on display at the Bangor Police Department, a challenge to the claustrophobic fears of wanderers more than a century after a Maine lawman first created it.
(Photograph Courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum )