I recently wrote about District of Columbia police mug shots of criminals (primarily from 1883-1890) held by the National Archives in “Mug Books: An Unusual Avenue of Genealogical Inquiry” on “The Unwritten Record” blog of the National Archives. As one commenter noted there – “they are all dressed well…” – hence the title for this post.
Most of the mug shots were created by the DC police, but there are others collected from the police departments of New York City and Philadelphia. One of the most striking things about this series is that over 100 of the 717 cards in this series are for persons were arrested on March 4-6 of 1885 or 1889. This was not a coincidence. The presidential inaugurations of Presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison occurred on March 4, 1885, and March 4, 1889, respectively. One can imagine professional pickpockets and other con men going to Washington, DC, to ply their trade in the well-off crowd visiting the capital for the big event. This was most likely true of famous professional criminal Charles Hallert, alias “Red Hyle” or “Cincinnati Red,” and his friend Charley Williams, alias Shane Campbell, who were both arrested on March 6, 1885. Red Hyle, “one of the most celebrated hotel thieves in this country” is profiled by NYC Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrnes in Professional Criminals of America (New York: Cassell & Company, Ltd.), at pages 109-110.
The significant “inaugural connection” of this series is not immediately obvious at a casual glance. It is an example of an archival truth – it can take deep immersion in a body of records to truly understand them. In this case, while laboriously tagging each photo in the National Archives Catalog, it eventually struck me that I was seeing “March 4” over and over again. I knew March 4 was inauguration day in the 19th century. Then I checked which years the “March 4” cards were from. With but one exception, they were from 1885 and 1889. Inauguration Day.
I hope that researchers will thoroughly study this series. There are undoubtedly many other interesting things that can be learned from it.