Earlier this month, the Digital Services Department of the Boston Public Library released several groups of images depicting historic local police scenes from the earlier part of the 20th century. These photographs were all taken by Leslie Jones, a Boston Herald-Traveler staff photographer who worked for most of the first half of that century. His personal photographic archive is currently stored at Central Library in Copley Square. The entire collection was digitized from the original glass and film negatives and the images will gradually appear on the BPL’s Flickr account over the next few years. Digitization included archival processing of the negatives into individual acid-free sleeves, transcription of the photographer’s original captions onto the new sleeves and into an Excel spreadsheet, and electronic conversion of the images using a 22 megapixel digital camera set up over a daylight-balanced, flicker-free light table.
Most of the collection’s 36,516 images stored in the BPL’s Print Department vault are arranged into photographer-assigned subject categories. Alphabetically, the collection gets off to a rough start with “Accidents: Miscellaneous” and ends no more peacefully with “Weather: Storms and Flooding.” The schadenfreude really kicks in as the sequence gets even more tragic with the recently released “Crime/Police” series, followed by “Fires,” “Military,” “Maritime Accidents,” and “War Days.” One would expect that some degree of levity could be found in the “Animals: Miscellaneous” series, but upon closer inspection this pendulous pachyderm appears to be only one poorly tied knot away from joining the “Maritime Accidents” bunch. And, these tricycle-riding monkeys are only slightly more festive than this group of police officers responding to a fatal manhole explosion on Summer Street.
Joyous or otherwise, be sure to check out our most recently published images of your law enforcement predecessors during Prohibition and the Millen-Faber murder case – and be thankful you didn’t get this assignment.