William Obanhein

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William J. Obanhein (October 19, 1924 – September 11, 1994), sometimes better known as Officer Obie, was the chief of police for the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He was a member of the police force there for 34 years, 1951 to 1985. He is fairly well known for his appearances in popular culture.

Obanhein was the "Officer Obie" mentioned in Arlo Guthrie's 1967 talking blues song "Alice's Restaurant." Obanhein later stated that some of the events in the song were not completely true; for one, he never "handcuffed" Guthrie during the arrest nor did he remove the toilet seat from Guthrie's cell to prevent suicide as Guthrie implied (it was instead removed to prevent theft).[1] Obanhein later would note that he would not have actually arrested Guthrie had the amount of garbage been smaller (he would have simply picked up the garbage himself)[2] and meant to use the arrest and subsequent media circus as an example to deter any further large-scale littering incidents.

Disagreements with Guthrie aside, Obanhein nevertheless played himself in the 1969 movie of the same name,[3] telling Newsweek magazine (September 29, 1969, where his photo appears) that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool.[4] Working on the film caused Obanhein to develop greater respect for Guthrie, and the two became friends for the rest of Obanhein's life.[5]

Obanhein posed for Norman Rockwell (himself a resident of Stockbridge) for a handful of sketches, including the 1959 black-and-white sketch Policeman With Boys, which was used in nationwide advertisements for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).[6] He is sometimes mistaken (including on Guthrie's own website) for the officer who posed for Rockwell's more widely known painting The Runaway, which appeared on a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post; this was not Obanhein but Massachusetts state trooper Richard Clemens.[7]

Obanhein died September 11, 1994 from an apparent heart attack.[2]


  1. ^ Saul Braun, "Alice & Ray & Yesterday's Flowers," in Playboy's Music Scene, Chicago, IL, 1972, pp. 122-125. Online copy
  2. ^ a b William J. Obanhein; 'Alice's Restaurant' Lawman, 69. The New York Times (September 14, 1994). Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  3. ^ Doyle, Patrick (November 26, 2014). Arlo Guthrie looks back on 50 years of Alice's Restaurant. Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  4. ^ Zimmerman, Paul D. (September 29, 1969). “Alice's Restaurant's Children.” Newsweek, page 103.
  5. ^ Gentile, Derek. Arlo Guthrie marks 50th at scene of 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree'. Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  6. ^ Berry, Lois. "Norman Rockwell – A Sense of Déjà vu" Accessed March 1, 2009.
  7. ^ Boyd, Jim. "Rockwell Illustration 'The Runaway' Turns 50", TheBostonChannel.com / WCVB-TV, September 19, 2008.

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