Mayor Joe the Turk

Mayor Joe the Turk
By RYAN HEINZ, Eagle Staff Writer

Macomb Eagle, IL
May 28 2004

Here at the Macomb Eagle, we get no shortage from week to week of
proclamations from the mayor’s office. At any given time, our fax
machine could be clogged with notifications that this is in fact
“Administrative Professionals Day,” “Humming Bird Appreciation Week” or
“Wear a Hawaiian Shirt to Work Month.” Now don’t get us wrong, we could
hardly get by without our administrative professional, we think humming
birds are neat and we would love to wear a Hawaiian-style uniform
for a month, but some of these proclamations can get a little unusual.

Then there was last week in which we received notification that it was
Salvation Army Week. That didn’t seem too out of the ordinary, but a
release from the Salvation Army titled “The Saga of ‘Joe the Turk'”
did get our attention. Essentially, the release was a mini-biography on
one of the Salvation Army’s most colorful, real-life characters, Joe
the Turk – a mustachioed man with a penchant for “flaming red, baggy
zouave trousers,” fezzes and Jesus. Throughout the one-page report
on Joe it chronicled his life, including his rise up in the ranks of
the Salvation Army and his many run-ins with the law for disturbing
the peace. And then there was Joe’s stint in our very own Macomb.

The release read: “After rescuing a local Salvation Army officer from
a lynch mob in Green Bay, Wis., Joe the Turk made his way to Macomb,
Ill. in September 1892 where he succeeded in driving out the mayor
of the town, said to be a desperado from Texas who had taken over
the town, and himself became the acting mayor. He then appointed the
Salvation Army Corps officer as chief of police and for six weeks
Macomb was the only town in the world run by the Salvation Army.”

It sounded like a “Spaghetti Western” or at the very least a good
premise for a silent film (just imagine Charlie Chaplin as Joe the Turk
running around Macomb in a shoddy black and white film with a tinkering
piano as the accompanying soundtrack). But while the plot would appear
to be a bit outlandish, was there actually a little bit of truth to it?

“Zero,” said noted local historian John Hallwas. “We must understand
that folklore – that is things that never really took place – are
still common today. But they were even more common a century ago.”

And then there is Maj. Florence Moffitt’s take on the story of Joe
the Turk’s encounter with Macomb. As director of the Salvation Army’s
Midwest Regional Museum in Des Plaines, she agreed that there were
some holes in the story. Still, she believed the bulk of it to be true.

“The story is true that (Joe the Turk) was the mayor of Macomb,”
Moffitt said. “It’s disputed how long. Some people say three weeks,
some people say six weeks, but he did used to carry a sign around
with him that said ‘Ex-mayor of Macomb, Ill.'”

Since there is little evidence in the way of what actually did happen
when Joe the Turk was in Macomb, the only thing to do is give both
sides the whole saga and let the reader decide for themselves. Here
today we’ll give the Salvation Army’s angle with the second scenario
in the next issue of the Macomb Eagle.

Joe the Turk takes down a desperado mayor

Much of the great Joe the Turk epic was collected in March 3 and
24 (1934) issues of The War Cry – an official publication of the
Salvation Army. In an article by Adjutant William G. Harris, Joe
the Turk’s Macomb saga is thoroughly explored, as are several other
classic stories about this eccentric man’s life. In fact, he was such
a unique individual that Harris almost immediately pointed out in his
article that, “Joe has the color of the East, the showmanship of the
West, the passion of the Latins, the fervency of the colored folk,
the determination of the Scot, the pertinacity of the Norseman and
the enthusiasm of the Irish.”

Or as Moffitt put it, Joe was simply “a very colorful personality.”

“He made up his own uniforms; he didn’t always follow the regulations
as far as the military uniform is concerned,” she said. “I mean,
he used to wear pantaloons, bright-colored stuff and he wore a fez
on his head. Well, now that’s not exactly Salvation Army attire.”

Joe the Turk was born Nishan Der Garabedian in Tallas, Turkey in
1860. However, he was actually not Turkish, but instead Armenian. He
later went by the name Joseph Garabed, although he was widely known
simply as Joe the Turk.

Joe was a spiritual boy growing up, but he was not always a Salvation
Army devotee. Instead, he went on to become a noteworthy shoemaker,
practicing his trade out of Turkey’s capital of Constantinople.
Unfortunately, his great success as a shoemaker was short-lived thanks
to the Russo-Turkish War, during which time he lost everything. Joe
then went on to Russia for a brief time to start all over again,
but soon decided to move to America after receiving word from his
brother that there was a great deal of opportunity there.

It was on his trip to America that Joe first encountered the Salvation
Army during a stopoff in Liverpool, England. Despite not knowing any
English, Harris wrote that Joe was greatly awed by their meetings. But
upon joining his brother’s side in Worcester, Mass., he delved deeply
into drink and smoke during his 13-month stay. He would later again
feel the calling of the Salvation Army when he relocated to San
Francisco. From there he became a full-fledged member, eventually
gave up his bad habits (including his indulgence in some occasional
fisticuffs) and gave his heart over to God. Moffitt said at this
point in his life, Joe learned to channel his rugged, thuggish ways
into becoming “a very aggressive evangelist.”

“He used to have a stamp that he carried that said ‘Jesus Saves,’ and
when he was put in jail he used to stamp the walls, ‘Jesus Saves,’
‘Jesus Saves,'” she added. “When he went into peoples’ houses, he
even stamped it on the bed linens and stuff like that. That didn’t
always go over well.”

Prior to making his way to Macomb, Joe was often arrested and sometimes
jailed for disturbing the peace. This had less to do with him throwing
his hefty six-foot, 250-pound frame around than it did for him playing
music instruments in the streets as he preached the word of God.

According to Harris’ article, Joe received no warm welcoming when
showing up in Macomb. As a result, the Salvationist asked to see the
mayor, who is not favorably described by Harris.

“The mayor proved to be a desperado who years before in the days of
local option, when the town had declared itself dry, invaded it with
a band of his Texas henchmen. The invaders were all heavily armed,
easily captured control of the place and soon had the town under their
thumb,” he wrote. “The mayor opened a big saloon and ran it himself
and managed to retain power by the simple expedient of not allowing
elections and resisting by brute force every attempt to oust him.”

Enter Joe the Turk, who apparently was able to successfully overthrow
the corrupt mayor. Harris’ article stated that Joe ordered a band of
“local Salvationist forces” to the local jail one night “to cheer
up their commanding officers (who had been jailed earlier) with song
and testimony.” The crowd was then met with by the mayor who was so
furious that he assaulted the sergeant-major and then attempted to
shoot him with a firearm, although the gun did not go off.

Joe, upon hearing this, quickly moved to confront the mayor and soon
made every effort to oust him from his post. This included going to
the three local papers and writing a daily column “denouncing the
conditions of the day.” Eventually, the people of Macomb came together
for “a great parade and rally” that was so intimidating to the mayor
that he and his thugs “cleared out of town.”

Joe then declared himself mayor and appointed as police chief one of
the Salvation Army officers, which essentially meant the Salvation
Army was in charge of the town. This went on for a matter of about
five to six weeks before Joe endorsed an editor of one of the town
papers as a suitable replacement. Of the replacement, Harris wrote,
“(Joe’s) suggestion was received with great cheering, the motion
being carried unanimously.”