Perched on the end of my Grandma’s cushioned rocker, my cousin and I glanced nervously at each other as she slowly and quietly lifted the receiver. Then squeezing closer together, we leaned into the phone so that we could both hear the conversation.  

Grandma had gone out to her garden and we knew we only had a few minutes before she would be back. We also knew the call wasn’t for Grandma because each person on the party line had their own distinctive number of rings. But curious as to what gossip might possibly be shared that day and feeling a little bored, we decided to listen in, making sure not to make any sound that would give us away.

Over the years, telephones have gone from party lines with multiple households sharing the same line to cell phones, where every family member with a cell phone has his own line. Phones have been used to unify friends and family, as a source of information and mischief and unfortunately, they have also been the source of trouble.

Recently I came across the following article which shows just how much trouble can be caused by a telephone, which in this case resulted in the death of one man and the imprisonment of three. The newspaper article provides additional information for my three-part series “Moonshining in Alabama” which continues to be one of my most visited series on my blog. Part 1 of the series can be found here HERE

moonshine, Alabama, revenuer, telephone, ancestry, genealogy, family history, Gurganus,
Atlanta Georgia and News 1907-1912
June 13,1910
Georgia Historic Newspapers, Image 7

John Morgan, who has begun a 20-year sentence in the Atlanta Federal prison, was convicted on a peculiar charge, that of telephoning a warning to the murderers of Deputy Collector W. A. Anderson. In speaking of the matter, J. H. Surber, revenue agent said:

“In the case of John Morgan, who was convicted of the conspiracy and who is now serving a 20-year sentence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he was accused of telephoning old Man Gurganus of the approach of the officers. 

“He had nothing to do with the actual firing of the fatal shot, but the private system of telephones throughout the country was the greatest menace which the revenue officers had to contend with.

“In searching for the murderers we discovered at least 30 telephones. 
“This telephone business has got to be stopped and the sentence of Morgan should be a good warning to all others.” 

Public Domain

The very phones that were supposed to help keep Marion and his boys from getting into trouble with the law ended up being the thing that set everything into motion, ultimately resulting in a charge of conspiracy for John Morgan and ensuring that Marion and Johnny Gurganus were fired up and waiting for the revenuer when he showed up. Truly it would have been best for them all if their telephone business had been stopped. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2018, All rights reserved
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18 thoughts on “This Telephone Business Has Got to be Stopped!

  1. Thank you! We not only liked to see if we could get away with listening on grandma's party line, but worried about anything we said when we got a call. We lived in another state and didn't have party lines where I lived, so I was totally intrigued with Grandma's line.

  2. Oh my goodness, this gives a new (old) perspective to the word "accomplice." What a great find! Our family also had a party line when I was young. Our problem was picking up the phone to make a call only to hear two women talking a mile a minute and hearing, "Please hang up the phone. This is a private conversation." There really wasn't much privacy on phone lines in those days.

  3. It's funny that we both have memories of two women talking up a storm on the party line. You are sure right, there wasn't much privacy on the phone lines then and I think the party lines were frustrating for everyone involved!

  4. Oh, yes, the telephone! A great article. My mother was a telephone operator in our small rural town when she was in high school and a short time afterwards. During WWII she heard the calls about soldiers who were wounded or killed. She knew much about what happened in town but wisely kept it to herself.

  5. I love this story! And, I loved your intro paragraph about you & your sister listening in on a party line. Growing up we often visited my aunt & uncle's house out in the country and they still had a party line.

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