Prison Break!

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.  

Prison escapees are the theme of this week. As you can see by the first two photos, these guys are actually smiling. They’re probably thinking "You think you can hold me here? You just WAIT." There's not much smiling going on in the majority of the mug shots so when you see a happy face, it's something to consider about a person's character. What was he feeling when he did this? Was he trying to make the officers mad by not being upset about getting caught? Did he care at all? Does he have a plan up his sleeve?           

 The first guy, middle mug shot of first photo, Mr. Eddie Blanch fits into the cartoon stereotype of escaping from prison. He was arrested in Stockton, CA. Stockton gives more description of the crime than any other city so far. Here's how Blanch tried to escape "4-29-21 attempted to break jail by sawing bars. also took keys from jail trusty." You think he used a file to saw through the bars then used the file to lift the keys off the guard’s belt while he was sleeping? Too bad he was caught, looks like he was sent to San Quentin for 1 - life.

The second smiling escapee, top of second photo, was arrested and brought to Washington State Reformatory for Burglary and attempting to escape from prison by force. Looks like William Braden got 1/2 - 10 yrs. I think after trying to escape by force this guy has just given up. I imagine him thinking “Hey I get to have my picture taken…. smile!”

The third guy, bottom of third photo, well he's not smiling but his description is great. In case it's a little hard to read, his name is Frank Deardorf, 24 years old from Iowa. The note to the left of his photo says "ESCAPE, WANTED. $50 REWARD. Washington State Reformatory. Escaped en route to this institution at Seattle Oct. 14th 1925" It goes on to explain Mr. Deardorf's physical characteristics then states "This man is an Actor, will be found around cheap Vaudeville Houses. Also a tramp printer." Tramp printers were men who worked with handset type, the printing press, and linotype. These men, and sometimes women, would travel from print shop to print shop utilizing their skills. They were often envied or looked down upon because of their independent lifestyles. Oh Frank Deardorf, I hope you found a cheap vaudeville house to take refuge in. 

Another interesting side note, Radiolab (WNYC Radio, did a great episode on the concept and act of escape. They interview a man named Christopher Daniel Gray who "has broken out of jail more times than anyone else alive." His two most famous escapes were fleeing from prison then stealing a tractor to get to his mother's funeral and stealing Crystal Gayle's tour bus (famous country singer for those who aren't acquainted). Find the full story on Christopher Daniel Gray here:

Make sure to check out the other fellas in the mug shots, there are a lot of aliases. Like…Reginald Hanscombe? Grover Cleveland?! What's up with John Canton, you'd think he'd be more careful with that track record.