Joy Riding, Check Forgery, Grand Larceny

Guest post by Cairie Riney, a digitization/online access intern at the Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC). For the past few months, Cairie has been working with MOPA to digitize some of the Museum’s special collections.  

Photography collector and long-time MOPA supporter Tom Jacobson donated five books of mug shots to MOPA.  These books, with mug shots taken from 1912 - 1924, have an average of 170 double-sided pages per book and three mug shots per page.  MOPA is currently working with BPOC to digitize these relics. Most of the books are bound and I have seen only one that has been taken apart.  These books are very large, dusty, and filled with yellow crinkled pages. There are two books from Stockton Police Department, two from Los Angeles Police Department, one from Washington State Penitentiary, and one from Washington State Reformatory (at least that's what we think WSR stands for).  Common crimes include "joy riding," "check forgery," and the modernly familiar "grand larceny."  So far only two of the books have been digitized but the third is halfway done. After combing through and staring at these long-forgotten faces, I've decided it would be a pity not to share them.

I'm the one digitizing. I'm interning with BPOC while working on my Masters in Library and Information Science and have embraced this haunting, fascinating, and thought-provoking task. 

The mug shots contain information like eye color, complexion, hair color, weight, height, as well as given name and any aliases. Sometimes a person has one name and possibly a nickname; other times there are too many aliases to fit on the two or three lines provided. (I'll post some of those later). Depending on the institution, sometimes the crime is explained in detail as well as any defining scars, disabilities, random comments from the bookers, and tattoos. These mug shots are gold mines of information concerning the social, political, and economic landscape of the early 1900s. 

Now, we must discuss how these photos might affect our viewing public. These documents contain some controversial, explicit, and racially sensitive content. Let's remember, these are mug shots of people arrested for crimes, sometimes heinous. These were taken before the Civil Rights Movement, during the Women’s Suffrage Movement and during the formation of labor unions. If I missed any movements during or after 1912 - 1924, please mentally include them. The mug shots are posted for educational insight and historical remembrance, not to offend or discredit any relations to those pictured.

On to the photos! 

Here are the first two of many to come. Future blog posts will discuss anti-German sentiment and the First World War, Prohibition, labor unions with a focus on the IWW, women of the mug shots, and more.