18403. A Shooting in Shantytown

If you had to pick the “roughest, toughest spot on the canal, would you pick here? With this reputation, perhaps it isn’t a great surprise that a fatal shooting occured in Shantytown on October 3, 1907. By 1907, the canal was in its later stages of operating life, but coal and other cargoes were still moving back and forth along the waterway. Cumberland was still a major boat building center. Shantytown was still a rough and tumble neighborhood. What is noteworthy about this shooting is that it marked the only time in history that a Cumberland Police Officer was ever killed in the line of duty. Cumberland, Maryland has been an incorporated city since 1787. Officer August Baker died October 5, 1907 as a result of a gunshot wound he received two days earlier at the hands of William Burns, who was being arrested for causing a disturbance on Wineow Street after being thrown out of a bar. Burns pulled a gun from his pocket and shot Baker as he attempted to arrest him. August Baker was a popular, well-liked police officer, a family man who sang in his church choir. The story of the shooting in Shantytown took yet another ugly turn when outraged local citizens stormed the county jail on Prospect Square in Cumberland, pulling William Burns from his jail cell. Burns was killed on the street outside the jail the night that August Baker succumbed to his injuries. Thus, a tragedy for the Cumberland Police Department was compounded by vigilante street justice for William Burns.

Shantytown never really lost its reputation as an unsafe area to be avoided. Even after the canal closed in 1924, school children going to and from school were warned to “stay away from Shantytown”.

When Industrial Boulevard was built, cutting through part of Wineow Street, Shantytown as it originally looked ceased to exist. One of the saddest days for the city of Cumberland started with a shooting in Shantytown.