Hiram Harper, Nashville Detective: From Boston to Alcatraz

hh1“One of the Best” – Detective Dave Beasley

Hiram Herbert Harper, my mother’s grandfather, passed away when she was only about seven months old. Our information about Hiram is limited to a few records and numerous newspaper articles. I wish I knew more about Hiram, because he seems like a fascinating man. Sadly, we don’t have many photos of him.

I remember hearing about Hiram as a teenager. My uncle, Johnny, was very into family history. He said that Hiram and his brother, Lonnie Harper, started out as barbers. He showed me the place downtown where their barbershop once was. I don’t know why, but Hiram and Lonnie decided to join the police force. Hiram drove one of the first patrol cars in Nashville.

According to the Jordan family and an old family friend, Hiram’s nickname was “Fats”.

My mom said that Hiram was an avid blood donor at the Nashville area American Red Cross. I checked with Red Cross and their records don’t go back that far, unfortunately.

As I became more interested in genealogy research, I scoured old editions of The Tennessean newspaper for Hiram’s name. I was overjoyed to find many articles about his work as a police detective. I have created a timeline of what I know about Hiram’s life. It saddens me that this short narrative could probably have been a novel if Hiram had lived on and if his story had been shared.

Baby Hiram
Photo courtesy of Mary Sue Langford Batey. Left to right: Newsom Jordan, Betton Work, Susie holding Leonte, Tom Brown, Red Jordan, Rosie Jordan, John Harper (in doorway), Nannie Jordan Harper, Bates Crouch, Tommie Jordan Harper, Lonnie Harper (in wagon), and Hiram Harper, far right. 
Hiram Harper
Hiram Harper, left; Unknown, right


7 Dec 1902 – Hiram Herbert Harper is born to Nancy Elizabeth “Nannie” Jordan and John Twitty Harper in Cheatham County, Tennessee. He has one sibling, an older brother, Lonnie. Some conflicting records list his birth year as 1903, but given census records, I think 1902 would be accurate. (Census records, Tombstone)

1910 – The Harper family lived on River Road in Civil District 10, Cheatham County, Tennessee. (Census)

1918 – Hiram is listed as a “helper” living at 701 49th Ave. N in Nashville along with his parents and brother, Lonnie, who was a barber. (City directory)

1920 – The Harper family was living on Delaware Ave., which would later be referred to 509 49th Ave.N. 17-year-old Hiram worked as a barber at a barbershop, along with his brother, Lonnie. (Census records, Deeds)

1922 – Hiram is still working as a barber and living with his parents at 509 49th Ave N. The barbershop he works at was owned by John Hagerty, located at 1151 Broadway. (City directory)

9 Jan 1923 – Hiram Harper married Ismay Tidwell in Williamson County, Tennessee. (Tennessee Marriage Records)

4 May 1923 – Twins Fred and Frances were born to Hiram and Ismay. (Census, social security records)

5 Dec 1925 – Twins Claude and Clarice were born to Hiram and Ismay. (Census, social security records)

Left to right: Fred, Claude, Clarice, and Frances Harper

1928 – Hiram and Ismay are living with Hiram’s parents at 509 49th Ave N. Hiram is still working as a barber, but is now at a barbershop located at 615 Commerce Street. (City directory)

1928 – 1929 – Sometime between these years, Hiram and Ismay split up. Both sets of twins stayed with Hiram and his parents. Ismay had a child in early 1930 with Benjamin Woodside, which narrows the years down.

1930 – Hiram lists his martial status as divorced. He, along with his two sets of twins, live with his parents. His occupation is still a barber. His brother, Lonnie, is living on Sigler St. and is working as a policeman. (Census)

1931 – Hiram is a barber, 615 Commerce St. (City directory)

Abt. 1931 – Hiram becomes a patrol officer with the Nashville police force. He was one of the first patrol car drivers in the city. He drove one of two patrol cars the city first put in use in 1930. (Tennessean newspaper, 27 Jan 1956)

Hiram Harper First Aid Red Cross13 Sept 1934 – Hiram was one of fifteen police officers to receive Red Cross first aid training. These fifteen officers were the first Nashville officers to be trained in first aid. (Tennessean newspaper, 14 Sept 1934)

1940 – Hiram works as a police officer, like his brother, Lonnie. 37-year-old Hiram and his children lived with his parents at 509 49th Ave N. (Census) He was promoted to detective around 1940. (Tennessean newspaper, 27 Jan 1956)

1942 – Although he never served, Hiram was required to fill out a WWII draft card. He described himself as 5’10” and 218 lb, with a light complexion, black hair and blue eyes.

1943 – 1944 – Hiram is listed as a Nashville City Policeman in the U.S. City Directory.

13 Dec 1948 – Hiram’s father, John, passes away. (Death records, Nashville Banner, The Tennessean)

1949 – Hiram had is listed as City Detective in Nashville. (City directory)

Sept 1954 – Hiram is diagnosed with lymphocytic “lymphatic” leukemia. (Death record)

1 Feb 1956 – Hiram retires after 25 years. He said he was looking forward to a “long rest.” (Nashville Banner newspaper, 26 Jan 1956; Tennessean newspaper, 27 Jan 1956)

Hiram Harper Long Rest
The Tennessean
Hiram Harper Retires NB
Nashville Banner

10 Apr 1956 – Only a couple of short months later, Hiram passes away from lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 53. (Death record, Tennessean newspaper, 11 Apr 1956)

Hiram Harper DiesFrom Tennessean article, “Hiram Harper Dies, Was City Detective”:

Mr. Harper served with the detective bureau for 25 years, retiring last January.

For most of that period he served on the check detail working against bad checks and forgers.

Detective Dave Beasley, who headed the detail, yesterday termed him “one of the best.”

“He was a fine man,” Beasley said, “with a terrific memory. He and I went all over the country together – from Boston to Alcatraz and he was one of the best liked on the force, among the public and among fellow officers,” Beasley said.


Hiram Harper Dies NB
Nashville Banner


Hiram is buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville along side his parents and daughter, Frances Harper Merritt. (Frances’ grave is currently unmarked.)

Hiram Harper tombstone

If you search old editions of the Tennessean or Nashville Banner, you will find hundreds of articles mentioning Hiram and his time as a detective. It’d be nearly impossible to share all of those here, although I am working on compiling them all.

I have picked out a few of my favorite articles about Hiram to share here. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


Hiram Signature

This article was originally posted April 10, 2020, 64 years after Hiram’s death. This is in memory of you, great-grandpa! 




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