HUB History - Our Favorite Stories from Boston History

Where two history buffs go far beyond the Freedom Trail to share our favorite stories from the history of Boston, the hub of the universe.


episode 235: Spring Gun in the Grape Vines

This week we’ll explore the strange case of a 1907 shooting in Jamaica Plain. There was a gun, a gunshot, and a gunshot victim… a child, in fact. But there was no shooter, or at least no human shooter. If this was today, we might be talking about a terrifying robot machine gun, but 1907 was a little early for that. Instead, we’re talking about a deadly trap laid by a homeowner to protect his grape arbor. For setting this deadly trap, the homeowner would face criminal trial for assault, but pay only a trivial fine. As bizarre as the case sounds, it was part of a trend that was sweeping the nation at the time, with many spring gun cases arising in the Boston area, until the matter was finally settled in a state supreme court case that every first year law student still studies today.

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Spring Gun in the Grape Vines
  • Globe articles about the Seiberlich case
    • Sept 23, 1907: First reporting on the case… on page 11
    • Sept 24, 1907: Front page, illustrations (see header and below)
    • Sept 30, 1907: Warrants issued for Seiberlich and Cantwell
    • Oct 3, 1907 (evening): Seiberlich fined $60
    • Oct 18, 1907 (evening): Cantwell and friends fined for trespass
    • Mar 8, 1910 (evening): Cantwell arrested for shooting craps
  • Patents for spring gun mechanisms
    • New and useful improvements in trap guns
    • Trap gun on a stake
    • Rotating trap gun (sounds safe!)
    • Adjustable trap gun for different sized animals
    • A trap gun for burrows
    • The kit that transforms a revolver into both a trap gun and a rifle
    • Crossbow trap gun
    • Trap gun box with a catnip tray
    • My favorite, a better mousetrap
  • Globe articles about other local spring gun cases
    • July 14, 1906: Spring gun shooting at a sportsman’s club in Canton
    • Nov 16, 1906: Hobo bleeds out in Bellingham basement
    • Nov 18, 1906: Photos of house and gun from Bellingham case
    • Dec 28, 1906: EO Woodbury tried for manslaughter in Bellingham case
    • Dec 20, 1911: Dedham man fined $300 for killing Italian immigrant with spring gun
    • Jun 14, 1923: North End teen dies from spring gun shot on Middle Brewster
    • Oct 27, 1923: Hjalmar Roos fined $750 for manslaughter in Middle Brewster case
  • A 1923 survey of Virginia spring gun cases
  • 1916 study of changing case law in spring gun cases
  • The Yale Law Journal examines spring gun case law in 1922
  • Seiberlich family history
  • Location of the German Baptist Church, next to the Seiberlich house
  • About the German Baptists
  • Katko v Briney finally settled the status of spring guns in the US
  • This blog post from the JP Historical Society tipped us off to the spring gun case
They built a better mouse trap!!!


 2021-11-08  35m