I was doing a little history research on the Internet which I know has plenty of fake news when I came across some interesting information about financial institutions. I was looking for a topic for this week’s column (since last week’s rant war rather negative) when I stumbled upon some ancient history about banks.
From watching old western movies as a kid I believed bank employees – especially tellers – had easy access to firearms in the 1800s and possibly before. In holdup scenes, the cameraman would often pan over to a teller who was cautiously reaching for a pistol that was hidden on a shelf beneath the counter. If the teller was brave, he would make a sudden grab for his gun and ultimately get shot by a bandit who was already brandishing a loaded and cocked pistol.
As a gullible youth, I assumed banks in the wild west days employed their own security system in the form of employees with access to firearms, and that was true. It is was not only true in North America, but England also where the tradition of having revolvers for protection ended in the mid-1920s. However, the driver of a bank van that transported cash continued to be issued a weapon.
In Canada, tellers were supplied with a pistol and were responsible for the firearm’s safekeeping. One bank required the guns to be regularly cleaned and kept on the counter during business hours. I would definitely find it strange to I walked into a bank and see a pistol sitting in plain sight just out of the reach of the public. Seeing a bank employee cleaning a firearm at work would most certainly be a deterrent to robbery. Such action would undoubtedly generate a lot of discussion in this day and age and would help ensure employees of banking institutions receive courteous treatment by all patrons.
Back in the day, if a pistol was not visible at a teller’s wicket, it could be assumed it was carefully concealed. A potential bank robber would not know if a bulge in a teller’s breeches was natural or actually hid a Derringer, Colt, Remington or Smith and Wesson handgun. I guess a person could have asked and watched the reaction of the teller’s face to determine if he was telling the truth or one of May West’s movie lines could have been used: “Is that a gun in your pocket or you just happy to see me?”
As recent as 1964, a memo outlined the number of firearms that should be kept at a branch based on its size. It was suggested that a bare minimum of two revolvers be on hand for a bank that employed six people. A staff of 40 workers would have access to five pistols and large branches were told to have 20 or more revolvers readily available. The guns were supposedly used for protection when moving money within a city, but I am sure they would be very handy if a branch was held up. One photo showed a revolver engraved with the bank’s name, and location (Regina) where it was kept ready should it be needed.
Other interesting tidbits about old banks include a suggestion that since the employer had provided a stove for clerical staff, each worker in that department should provide four pounds of coal per day during the winter months. Frontend service providers were also required to provide their own pens, could not wear bright colours and had to be present when a morning prayer was said. They were overjoyed when the workday was shortened to 10.5 hours.
When we lived at Whitehorse, the standing joke was the sun kept banking hours in the winter because it rose at approximately 10 a.m. and was setting by 3 p.m.
Skip forward to the present and the possibility of quick riches through a bank heist continues to seize the imagination of people, especially in the movie business. Recently, there was an incident at Crawfordsville, Indiana when police fire upon an actor of a low-budget movie.
Setting the stage was a production company that neglected to inform law enforcement officials a robbery scene was being filmed at a neighbourhood brewery. A good Samaritan saw a person dressed in a black ski mask and holding a pistol in his hand at the facility and quickly phoned the local police. When actor Jim Duff stepped outside in full costume complete with a fake firearm, police officers had him in their sights and ordered him to drop his weapon.
However, Duff panicked and turned around to get a better look at what was happening.
“The next thing I know I heard a gun shot and something buzz by my head,” he said in an interview with the Journal Review. He tore off his mask, threw his replica gun on the ground and yelled, “It’s a movie!”
The fake robbery could easily have ended with a death since the production company had not posted any signs about filming a movie. Furthermore, all the camera gear was inside the building, so it was not apparent an actual robbery was not underway.
What can a person learn from all this? Behave yourself while in a bank or credit union because the rules for self-protection and monetary assets may have reverted back to the 1800s with the recent increase of terrorism. Also, remember it’s not polite to ask about employees’ personal protection and bulges in their pants.