The Kiss That Rocked Skaneateles

In February of 1893, John T. Doyle of Skaneateles, a barber, was making a few extra dollars as a New York State census-taker, and found himself on the porch of the Samuel Wilson farm near Shepard Settlement. While a young boy held his horse, Doyle rapped on the door. The farmer’s pretty twenty-three-year-old wife, Tamer, responded, and what ensued was subject to debate for the next three months.

Mrs. Wilson said that after the young man took down the census data, he stepped inside the door, threw his arm around her neck and kissed her. Mr. Doyle said that wasn’t how it happened, but did not deny that a kiss took place.

There was general agreement on what happened next: Samuel Wilson arrived at home moments after the young man left, found his wife trembling, determined the cause, picked up a horse whip and ran off in pursuit.

“Doyle didn’t stop,” Mr. Wilson said, “but kept on. Then I went into a neighbor’s, took a horse, jumped on his back and started after the man. I didn’t catch him, but I kept hollerin’ and he didn’t stop. He kept his horse going up hill and down.”

The chase was futile but Mrs. Wilson complained to the authorities and Doyle was fined $5 by Justice M.F. Dillon. However, one newspaper noted, “the valuation placed on her kiss by Justice Dillon did not flatter the pouting young matron, and she decided to make Doyle pay full market value for it.”

And so Mrs. Wilson went to Onondaga County Court in an attempt to extract $1,000 in damages from Mr. Doyle. The newspaper reporters covering the courthouse must have felt like children on Christmas morning. One reporter described the kiss as “the osculatory theft.” Another described Doyle “pressing her gently to his bosom and emplanting upon her rosy lips one fond kiss of affectionate regard.” A third cited it as “that labial cataclysm.”

Mrs. Wilson, the only witness called, said she struggled, called the young man a “nasty, dirty thing” after the kiss, and drove him out of the house with a revolver. On February 8th, a jury believed Mrs. Wilson and awarded her $250.

Mrs. Wilson objected, wanting more money, and Mr. Doyle objected, not having been present to testify, and so a second trial was held. Doyle took the stand and a reporter described him thusly:

“He is a dapper young man, somewhat of the dude variety. He has a black moustache, which is somewhat scarce as to growth, and he combs his hair pompadour. A large and spacious drab necktie which he wore, with several glittering pins, attracted attention.”

Doyle testified that he entered the home at the young woman’s urging and that she asked him to explain the census papers, and as he was looking at them, she placed her hand on his shoulder. Here I yield to the reporter, whose prose surpasses anything I could offer:

“By this time the witness had worked himself up to the memory of that little stolen kiss, and told it with a vividness which would have done credit to him if he had had the jurors in his tonsorial chair. Said he, as he dramatically flung his arms, ‘Mrs. Wilson drew her chair so close to mine that I couldn’t write. I finished the paper, and putting it in my pocket started to go. Then Mrs. Wilson grabbed my right hand and squeezed it, and said, “You’re not going now?” “Oh, excuse me,” said I, “I have a business engagement at Skaneateles and must go.” “But stay and get warm,” she said. “I’m sorry; I can’t, because I have not had my mid-day meal,” I replied. “I want these census papers explained,” said Mrs. Wilson. Then I explained the papers over again, and when I had finished Mrs. Wilson looked up into my face and smiled and laughed and said she couldn’t understand them a little bit.’”

“At this point in the evidence, the climax came. The gay ‘tonsorial’ artist leaned toward the jury and acted out the stealing of the kiss; the spectators raised themselves in their seats, they were so intensely interested, and the silence could almost be felt… ‘When Mrs. Wilson laughed about the papers, she put her smiling face within three inches of mine and then—I will admit—I forgot myself and kissed her; the boy yelled that was holding my horse, and Mrs. Wilson jumped back.”

At this point, the judge had to gavel the courtroom to order, following an outburst of laughter. Doyle testified that again Mrs. Wilson asked him to stay, saying, “My husband won’t be here until 5 o’clock.” But the young man said he must go, and as he departed, he saw Mrs. Wilson in the window waving.

Under cross-examination to determine why she jumped after the kiss, Mrs. Wilson noted, “I am not nervous generally, and have not been treated for nervousness, only for grip.”

Of the jury itself, the reporter noted, “At 3 o’clock the jury still had the kiss under discussion, and evidently intended to ponder upon it for some time, for the jurors sent a request to the court for leave to buy cigars. The cigars were allowed.” After enjoying some smokes, the second jury awarded Mrs. Wilson $405.20.

In March, when Mr. Doyle had not yet paid, pleading poverty, he was arrested in Skaneateles by one Deputy Cahill, taken to Syracuse and then released on $810.40 bond. But he was not allowed to go outside the Syracuse city limits. A few weeks into this, the newspaper noted:

“The dizzy whirl and maddening rush of life in a great city has made him heartily sick of his lot, and he is anxious to return to the quiet seclusion of the rural life in the village on the Syracuse municipal reservoir. He is even willing to pledge himself not to forcibly kiss Mrs. Wilson or any other Skaneateles damsel, married or unmarried, for an undefinite period if only he can return to his lather brush and scissors under his father’s roof. But the gay Mr. Doyle is not penitent enough to come forward and tell the sheriff where to find enough of his property to satisfy the 400 dollar judgment, and that is just the reason why he is being held in Syracuse, which, like true Skaneateles people, he declares is far worse than being confined in jail.”

In April, Doyle’s lawyers sought to have his confinement overturned on the grounds that Mrs. Wilson’s attorney used the wrong form in applying for it, and said that if they were successful, they would proceed to sue Mrs. Wilson for false imprisonment. At this point, the newspapers seem to lose interest in the case, and one can imagine that Mrs. Wilson may have as well.

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