HUGH M. ALCORN (1872-1955)
Hugh Mead Alcorn was born in Suffield in 1872. Hugh Alcorn’s parents had come to Suffield as children in 1838 from Northern Ireland. His father had served four years in the Civil War, had been twice captured and twice escaped and had suffered the hell of Andersonville Prison. The experience left him with a drinking problem that led to his death by drowning. That left a scar on the young Hugh Alcorn that he never forgot.
He was educated at the Connecticut Literary Institution and then studied law with the Hartford firm of Case, Bryant and Case. In 1900 he married Cora Terry Wells of Suffield. In 1903 he ran for the legislature. He was nominated and elected as representative from Suffield and re-elected two years later.
Aggressive, alert, with an incredible ability to read rapidly and retain what he read, Hugh Alcorn advanced fast in the law. In 1908 he was appointed by the Superior Court of Connecticut as State’s Attorney for Hartford County. It was a post to which he was successively re-appointed every two years for a total of thirty-four years. On his resignation in 1942 he had established the longest tenure of the office in the history of a post that had begun in colonial times with the King’s Attorneys.
State’s Attorney Alcorn prosecuted over fifteen thousand criminal cases during that period. Many were of national prominence, resulting in federal legislation to control white slavery, loan shark operations and medical standards.
The Gilligan poison murders of 1913-16 formed the basis for the internationally known play Arsenic and Old Lace. In 1920 Hugh Alcorn was appointed Special Attorney General of the United States by President Woodrow Wilson to prosecute Edward A. Rumely on charges of being a German agent in purchase of the New York Evening Mail as a German propaganda medium. In 1926 there was the prosecution of Gerald Chapman, head of the largest crime syndicate of the day.
There was the Connecticut angle of the Lindbergh kidnapping case in 1933. There were quack doctors, stock swindlers and the longest criminal trial in Connecticut Court history. That was the Waterbury conspiracy case when Alcorn prosecuted Frank Hayes who was then Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and Mayor of Waterbury at the same time. Hayes and his gang took over three and a half million dollars in graft out of the city in a two-year period.
President Hoover tried to appoint Hugh Alcorn as Special Attorney General in charge of Prohibition enforcement. The appointment was blocked by the political antagonism of the Connecticut senators and the Roraback political machine. They objected to the independence of a man who had been on personal terms with Presidents Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
In 1934 Hugh Alcorn was the Republican nominee for Governor of Connecticut, the first Suffield native so honored. He was defeated in the Franklin Roosevelt landslide by the smallest vote margin in the state’s history.
The quality of his public service had been recognized with many and varied honors. But the recognition Hugh Alcorn most cherished was the award of an Honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1928.
He was in his eighty-third year, still active in his profession, when he died in 1955.