Bagged by his Underwear

Wardrobe malfunctions have been a problem since humans began wearing clothing. Celebrities, whose body parts fall out of their clothing occasionally, have nothing on John Morgan, whose clothing malfunctioned with disastrous consequences for him.

John was imprisoned on May 3, 1901, at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, for stealing three blankets from nearby Fort Leavenworth. He claimed he had purchased the blankets, but the jury disagreed, and he was sentenced to one year and one day at hard labor.

He’d served more than half his sentence when he seized an opportunity to get out a little early. While the guards were distracted by a prison mutiny, John, who was working outside in the prison rock quarry, escaped. He headed east to Missouri and ended up across the state in St. Louis.

John enjoyed his freedom in the big city and especially appreciated the opportunity to tipple whiskey in the city’s many saloons. Things were going well until one evening in mid-December.

John had something of a problem where alcohol was concerned. That night he had a bit too much to drink at a downtown watering hole. With his inhibitions loosened, he fell into an argument with another customer and a fracas ensued. The bartender grabbed him by the coat to throw him out, and the coat, along with his vest and shirt, were ripped. His underwear was exposed beneath his torn clothing; the prison numbers painted on it were clear for all to see.

Let’s not even think about the consequences of wearing the same underwear for several weeks.

John Morgan mug2
John Morgan, Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate photograph, 1901. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

The bartender, William Kelly, held John at the bar and notified the St. Louis police. The police identified him, possibly through his prison mugshot.

morgan telegram
Telegrams from William Kelly and the St. Louis Police to the Leavenworth warden, John Morgan’s inmate file. Collection of NARA-Kansas city, Missouri.

The bartender got a $60 reward. John got a trip back to Leavenworth to finish his sentence.

Featured photo: John Morgan, Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate photograph, 1901. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

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