The Paul Henderson Photograph Collection contains over 6,000 photographs of mostly unidentified African Americans from ca. 1935-1965. When the Paul Henderson: Baltimore’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 exhibition opened in 2012, several people from the media asked why it was important for MdHS to identify the people Henderson photographed in and around Baltimore. If you’ve ever looked through a family album and asked yourself, Who is that with so and so? or thought, I wish this person was around to ask who or where this was taken, you can sympathize with an archive’s desire to identify people and places in a historical record like a photograph. Library professionals have an obligation to the materials housed in their repository and to tell their stories to the fullest degree possible. Though most librarians are quite knowledgeable about the collections they serve, it is nearly impossible to be an expert on all the wide ranging topics covered in their holdings. For this reason librarians often function as facilitators, bringing their collections to the communities they document.
Most of the more famous individuals Henderson photographed (Lillie May Carroll Jackson, Paul Robeson, Governor Theodore McKeldin, Bayard Rustin, Senator Verda Welcome, to list but a few) have already been identified. Now MdHS is focused on putting names to the faces and places that aren’t so familiar.
To start the process of collecting names of people and places, underbelly will feature some of Henderson’s photos and we invite you to look, share, and comment. For this edition of the Henderson Who or Where? series, we present two curious photographs that were shot in September and October of 1948.* They were labeled “Group of ladies” and “Taking a picture.” Looking closely at the two photographs, you can see a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and almost everyone who is pictured is female. Click to enlarge the photographs.
If you think you know who is featured in the photographs or where the photographs were taken, please respond via the Henderson Collection Survey. If you have questions, please feel free to email email@example.com. To view more of Henderson’s work (including many more unidentified photos), learn about the exhibition, and to view Henderson videos, please visit the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. All 6,000+ of Henderson’s negatives as available as public reference photographs through the MdHS Library. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (Jennifer A. Ferretti)
Jennifer A. Ferretti is a MLIS candidate at Pratt Institute in New York City. She is the former Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator at MdHS and curated the Paul Henderson exhibition which is ongoing. She continues to volunteer for MdHS and maintains the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. Follow her on Twitter @jennydigiSILS.
*There have been discrepancies with the dates provided by the original repository of the collection (Baltimore City Life Museum). Read more about how MdHS came to house the collection on the Henderson Photographs blog.
Ever wonder about Hoes Heights? The hidden and oft-overlooked north Baltimore neighborhood of Hoes Heights bears the name of Grandison Hoe, a freed slave in Antebellum Baltimore who once owned and operated a farm on the location. Nestled between its more renowned neighbors—Hampden to the south and Roland Park to the north— this neighborhood remained entirely African-American until the last few decades. Hoes Heights, bound by Cold Spring Lane to the north, 41st Street to the south, Falls Road to the west and Evans Chapel Road to the east, became part of Baltimore City under the 1918 Annexation Act. It is an architecturally diverse community consisting of 19th century stick style houses, turn of the century single-family homes, and brick rowhouses. Many are probably familiar with this neighborhood’s most prominent feature—the 148 foot tall water tower located on Roland Avenue near the intersection of University Parkway.
The earliest reference to the Hoe property is found in an 1857 map of Hampden and its surrounding regions by J. Morris Wampler (seen to the left). The property’s boundaries terminated to the north at what is now Roland Heights Avenue and to the west along the crest of the hill that descends to Falls Road. In the 1860 census of Baltimore County, Grandison is listed as being 40 years of age with property worth $3,600 and an estate worth $200—a modest house on valuable land. Also listed as residents of the farm are his 38-year-old wife Lucy, their five children, and a man named Augustus Green. All are identified as farmers.
The history of Hoes Heights prior to 1857 is somewhat murky. Who deeded Grandison Hoe, a freed slave, this coveted piece of land? Eliza Hoe, who may have been a sister or close relative of Grandison, shows up in the 1870 census as a housekeeper for a branch of the Fendall family in Bolton Hill. This same family also owned property adjacent to Hoes Heights, which was once part of Charles Ridgley’s massive North Baltimore estate. This Hoe-Fendall connection could possibly explain how Grandison ended up with the land.
Hiram Woods (1826-1901), a local sugar refining magnate who owned land north of Cold Spring Lane, so desired Hoe’s Hill (as it was then known) that he offered several times to buy the land and resettle the Hoes in Cross Keys, a small African-American village just to the north. Woods even offered to relocate the family burial ground. The Hoes rejected the offer. (Woods’s parcel later became part of Roland Park.)
As the Hoe family grew older the need for more living quarters arose. Grandison’s two sons, William and Richard, built their own houses adjacent to their father’s. Relatives, possibly from Charles County, moved to the Hoe farm and built homes. As the 20th century approached, the occupants of Hoes Heights began shifting from farm to domestic work, earning their livings in Roland Park and other exclusive neighborhoods. The harsh circumstances of the Great Depression forced the Hoes to sell portions of their land in order to pay delinquent tax bills. As a result, several blocks of small brick rowhouses were built on 43rd Street, 42nd Street, Evans Chapel and Providence Road during the 1930s and 1940s. Around 70 houses were built with most sold to African-American veterans returning from World War II.
By 1876, Grandison Hoe was most likely deceased—the 1877 Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, Vol. 1 by G. M. Hopkins shows the name Lucy Hoe on the parcel. The map also depicts a P. Solvine as the property owner of a small piece of land above Roland Heights Avenue terminating at Cold Spring Lane. The Solvine parcel (now part of Hoes Heights) eventually came to be known as Heathbrook. A mid-1970s census report states that Heathbrook was 100 percent white, while Hoes Heights was 100 percent African-American. Historically the two communities have maintained close ties—the Heathbrook Community Organization has worked closely with the Hoes Heights Improvement Association, but the two have remained separate entities.*
Today, Hoes Heights continues to feel more like a rural village than a city neighborhood. The amicable neighbors and tranquil setting gives the impression of simpler times and a real connection between past and present is evident. (Bryson Dudley)
Hoes Heights: A Neighborhood Plan (Hampden Pratt library vertical file)
1860 BaltimoreCounty census (Towsontown courthouse)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Baltimore Evening Sun May 8, 1934
Baltimore‘s Two Cross Keys villages by Jim Holechek
Baltimore Deco by S. Cucchiella
Last week we reached out for help understanding a photograph, and wow, did we get it. Our photo from the Hughes Company collection traveled far and wide. The image, known then as “Detective room, Police Department,” was not only a headscratcher, but also a Rorschach Test of sorts. Different eyes saw different things happening. Speculations, observations, and facts, sent via e-mail and comments, ranged from thinking it was initiation ritual to a theatrical production still. The majority who weighed in felt that what’s depictied is a police line-up. Within less than two day’s time enough evidence mounted to reasonably argue that it is a police line-up. Whether or not it was staged or the real thing is one of the few questions left unanswered.
We now know to call this photo “‘The White Masks’ Inspecting a Prisoner at Detectives Headquarters.” The first info to arrive came from Bill Zorzi, a former Baltimore Sun editor and writer/producer/actor of The Wire. In an early afternoon e-mail to this writer he wrote:
“At first I thought it looked as if it might be a courtroom—which they used to have in the old police station houses—given the paneling and the brass bar. Then I counted the masked men, which totaled 15—too big for a jury (even with alternates) and too small for a grand jury. Then I thought, hmmm, I bet this is the forerunner of the ol’ police lineup… before 2-way mirrors…”
Zorzi followed his e-mail with another containing ten articles from The Sun. But before his second transmission arrived, commenter Bill Lefurgy, archivist/digital preservationist at the Library of Congress, quoted a Sun entry titled “Sleuths Have Mask System: First Prisoner Subject to Ordeal Turns Pale,” from July 29, 1908:
“…the Baltimore Detective Department initiated a ‘mask system’ that ‘enables detectives to examine crooks without being recognized.’ The description is of masks ‘of the ordinary white dominoes with white muslin covering the lower part of the face,’ worn by 20 detectives; the detective captain is described as unmasked….”
The article details how a young pickpocket, Hymen Movitz (18 years old) faced 20 masked detectives, turned pale, and clutched at the brass rail in our photo. Now we know when the practice was first implemented in Baltimore. Our photograph was taken after July 1908.
Several articles in the historic Baltimore Sun (accessible for free via ProQuest if you have a Pratt Library account) detail the story behind our photo. The paper has since posted some images of these articles on their DarkRoom blog. Sherlock Swann, whose collected papers are available at the MdHS Special Collections Department, was appointed president of the Police Board in 1908. Well known and highly regarded for his tenure as the Burnt District Commissioner after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Swann is apparently the first head of police to actually put serious effort into the job.
In March 1908, Swann traveled to New York City to school himself on the operations of a big city police department. One of the many practices he brought back with him was a ritual known as the “facing of the masks.” This practice was developed by Inspector Byrnes of New York in the mid-1880s. It was presumably a preventative measure. Masks were employed on the speculation that some career-minded criminals might have themselves arrested simply to learn the faces of detectives, thus adding to their skills and value.
In what seems a rather intimidating practice, police would parade detainees about to be released due to lack of evidence before detectives wearing the white masks seen above. It was all part of the daily morning routine. In New York the practice was done on a much larger scale involving up to 100 detectives. Officially, the line-up was held so that detectives could learn the features and mannerisms of individuals who would surely be passing through their doors again and again. However, one can’t help but speculate this was as much as a shaming/intimidating ritual as a useful law enforcement practice, especially considering that a photography department existed even at Baltimore’s small Bertillon Bureau. Each arrestee had already had his picture taken for the “Rogue’s Gallery.”
By 1911, the NYPD had abandoned the masked line-up for being time consuming and wasteful of the detectives’ time.* These factors didn’t stop the Baltimore police from using it for many years.
The most definitive piece of evidence we received was sent in by Jeff Korman of the Maryland Department at the Enoch Pratt Library. He identified the photo from a book in the Pratt’s collection, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe. The photo, Korman said, appeared on page xvii. This came as quite a surprise to me, as the MdHS library has an earlier edition of the book without the photo. (HBPD 1774-1907)
The following day I went to the Pratt and met with Korman. He showed me the five different editions from their holdings, earlier ones like ours without the photo and later editions with the detectives faces obscured by a gilt stamp to protect their identities. We are now able to identify two of the three unmasked men. The moustached man on the far left is Detective Joseph E. Coughlan. Two spaces down and slightly turned to his left is Sergeant, Detective Harry P. Schanberger. They’re probably not wearing masks because they were the brass of the department and did not have to do undercover work.
All the information above dates our picture between 1908-09. It’s the only photo of its kind in our Hughes Collection. We may never know the identity of the African-American man on the riser. We may never know if he was arrested or if this was a staged demonstration for a photographer. But we have heard from enough voices who agree that this image is at once disturbing, perplexing, and stunning. It speaks volumes about our recent past.
MdHS would like to thank everyone who shared the photo, sent comments, clues, and criticisms, and enjoyed helping. (Joe Tropea)
*A New York Times piece from Feb. 9, 1914, “Police Line-up Is Resumed Today” details the discontinuation of the practice before it was reinstated in a modified form—less detectives—some three years later.
Sources and further reading:
The Baltimore Sun
“Colonel Swann ‘At School,'” Mar. 14, 1908: 14; “Col. Swann Returns,” Mar. 16, 1908: 7; “Must ‘Face the Masks,'” May 6, 1908: 12; “Sleuths Have Mask System,” July 29, 1908: 12; “Police Use Spotlight,” July 31, 1908: 12; “His Record on Police Board,” Apr. 21, 1910: 14; “Line-up of Crooks Stopped,” Aug. 13, 1911: 2; “Alleged Thief Silent,” Dec. 7, 1913: 7.
McCabe, Clinton, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 available at MdHS and the Enoch Pratt libraries.
While rummaging through our Valentine’s Day card collection in a search for long forgotten declarations of love and fidelity, an interesting style of valentine came to light. Among the lacy, pastel-toned confections, we discovered a group of amusing but mean-spirited notes, known as vinegar valentines.
Jokesters during the Victorian era sent these less-than-loving valentines to those they felt needed a reminder of their faults. The nasty notes lampooned every sin from drunkenness and sloth to gossip-mongering and husband hunting. They were generally sent anonymously and caused quite an uproar because of their foul content. The New York Times called purchasers of these valentines “hydra-headed monster[s] who gloat over distorted effigies of human nature and cruel cutting things in rhyme.” Postmasters were known to toss the offensive cards. One postal worker mirthfully recounted several fights that took place in his post office after unsuspecting patrons opened their mail on Valentine’s Day only to discover an unkind note. He described one such scuffle between two women in which the ladies “abandon themselves to an embrace which results in a terrible disarrangement of bonnets, eye-glasses, and other feminine toggery, to say nothing of the utter destruction of the three comic Valentines, two chignons, one blue cotton umbrella, and various other articles now not remembered….”
Incidents like this only added to their condemnation. Moralists railed against the uneducated, unwashed masses who purchased such disgusting valentines, when in truth they had pervaded all levels of society. People of all social classes reported both sending and receiving them. It was also widely believed a vinegar valentine caused New Yorker Margaret Craig to take a fatal dose of laudanum after receiving one from a supposed admirer. The veracity of this tragic story was never proven, but it spawned similar rumors and further outraged the anti-vinegar valentine coalition.
Despite the backlash (or maybe because of it), they were quite popular. As one detractor, a “Colonel” Eidolon, so eloquently put it, “comic, indecent, and caricaturing Valentines fly like hail from a wintry sky.” They made up about half the valentine market during their heyday. Their cheap cost and standardized postage allowed upper and lower class pranksters alike to ruin someone’s day.
So, if you just got dumped, blown off, or just plain hate Valentine’s Day, check out these gems from the collection and maybe get a little inspiration for a vinegar valentine to send to a foe of your own. Click the image to enlarge. (Lara Westwood)
… to underbelly this Thursday. Guest-blogger Lara Westwood gets down with love in a look at the history of the Vinegar Valentine:
Last month we solved a longstanding photograph mystery that we never expected to solve, that is until we rolled up our sleeves and actually tried. Modern digitization technology, more precisely the ability to zoom deep into a photo or negative to see details previously unavailable to the naked eye, coupled with searchable newspaper databases make solving these puzzles much easier today. But this time out, we have a longstanding photo mystery that we can’t solve on our own. Having exhausted every resource we could muster, from searching historic newspaper databases to asking historians and journalists (we even tried asking federal archival investigators who visited us during the Landau theft case), we still can’t say with any degree of certainty what’s going on in the disturbing photo above. Yet its imagery evokes such strong feelings, conjuring up images of Jim Crow, the Klan, and lynching, we can’t give up trying to understand it—so we turn to crowd sourcing.
Immediately several questions come to mind: What is happening to this man? Why are the men wearing masks? Are they police officers? Are they a jury? Stare a little longer and other questions arise: What year would this be? Why are two of the men seen above not wearing masks? Why does the African-American man seem so calm?
Here’s what we do know
This photo is labeled “Detective room, Police Department.” However, in the archival world, you quickly learn not to take random descriptions as gospel. It’s part of the Hughes Collection*, one of our largest collections of photographs. James F. Hughes, whose first appearance as a commercial photographer in the City Directory was in 1877, founded the company. He owned the company until his widow sold it to an employee, James W. Scott, in 1903. The Hughes Company primarily did work for Baltimore area businesses, corporations, governmental agencies, and occasionally private individuals.
MdHS’s records indicate that this photo was taken sometime around 1910. Several pieces of evidence corroborate this date. From the lighting fixtures to the suits and hats the men are wearing, this appears to be the early twentieth century, pre-WWI. Additionally, the original medium for the image is an 8 x 10 inch glass plate negative. Glass negatives preceded film negatives. They first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, but went the way of the dinosaur in the early twentieth century as less fragile celluloid film was introduced. The one item that could answer the “when” question is just a bit too out of focus to help: a newspaper left on a table and opened to an advertisement page:
Given the approximate date of the photograph, we can safely assume that James Scott, or someone who worked for him after he took over the Hughes Company, took the picture. We know that the company commonly did work for the City of Baltimore. What we don’t know is why a Hughes photographer was at this location on this particular day. There’s also the matter that this room looks far more like a courtroom than a police detective room. Was the photographer there to take promotional pictures for the police department or court system? The shot seems somewhat staged, as if the men were assembled quickly for the shot. Note that three of them are not wearing masks, two on the left and one on the right in a doorway. Anonymity was not crucial for all of the men in the picture. There are fifteen men wearing the very distinctive masks. Could this be a jury with three alternates? Are they witnesses? A staged demonstration might also explain the calm look of the man on the riser. It’s also worth noting that he’s a fairly handsome man and zooming in closeup reveals no sweat on his brow. Additionally he appears to be wearing a wedding ring. What does any of this mean?
One final clue to point out: If this is a detective room or a court room, how do we explain the object behind the head of the man to the right of the man on the riser? What little we can read of it says, WM. J. C. DULANY CO. PUBLISHERS. Is it a calendar or broadside? The photo vexes us at every turn.
One prominent local historian** suggested that this image represents an initiation ritual for the first black detective of the Baltimore City police force. This seemed a reasonable guess, except that the date range of the collection is 1910-1926. Considering that glass negatives were not used much after the nineteen-teens and that we had never heard of an African-American detective in segregated Baltimore this early, we were left wondering.
The theory was quickly taken down by a veteran journalist who visits the library frequently. “There were no black officers on the force until 1937. Violet Hill Whyte was the first one,” said our source. “African-Americans weren’t even put into uniform until 1943,” he added. The first African-American men hired by the Baltimore Police arrived in 1938. They were Walter T. Eubanks Jr., Harry S. Scott, Milton Gardner, and J. Hiram Butler Jr. These men were not allowed to wear police uniforms for another five years. Even if this were a photo from as late as 1926, which is highly unlikely, it predates the arrival of African-Americans on the force by twelve years.
Left with more questions than answers, we turn to you, our readers. What do you think?
Please share this, leave comments, or send us an e-mail. (Joe Tropea)