Archive for April, 2011

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Scientific Baseball Has Changed The Old Game

From April 30, 1911

SCIENTIFIC BASEBALL HAS CHANGED THE OLD GAME

SCIENTIFIC BASEBALL HAS CHANGED THE OLD GAME: Quick Thinking, Clever Guessing, Faultless Team Work and Intelligent Signaling Necessary for a Pennant Winner To-day — Teams Made Up of Specialists. (PDF)

Fans of baseball with enjoy this look at how the game was changing 100 years ago.

Scientific baseball of to-day — “inside ball” they call it — consists in making the opposing team think you are going to make a play one way, then shift suddenly and do it another.

The modern game has developed quick thinkers and resourceful players such as the pioneers of the game never dreamed of. There are few of what were known as “good all-around” players nowadays. The inside game has developed teams made up of baseball specialists. They excel in one position, are trained with that object in view, and are never called on to play in any other position.

The article goes on to discuss signaling, curve balls, and other strategies we take for granted today.

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Written by David

April 28th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Recreation,Sports

Classics Of Literature Censored By A Sing Sing Convict

From April 30, 1911

CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT

CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT: Discovery of a Unique Document, in Modern Slang, Intended to “Steer” Patrons of Prison Library. (PDF)

These reviews of classic literature by a Sing Sing convict are great.

One of the most unique documents ever written by a convict in Sing Sing has just come to light. It was intended for the yes of convicts only — for the readers of prison books — and is penned in a slang that every convict knows perhaps better than the more erudite language of the average author.

The document is a review of prison literature, a guide book which tells the convicts what to shun and what to seek in Sing Sing’s library; a criticism brief but to the point, and showing in a remarkable way the literary point of view of a criminal who has spent many years in the seclusion of his cell, absorbing the stories of fact and fancy which the prison library affords.

Here, for example, is his review of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas:

Alec was no jollier; when he got to pushing the pen across the paper he got down to cases right away. This one breaks the bank. On your life, don’t scratch this entry. The d’Artagnan guy in this is there with the knockout.

And The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne gets this review:

This one is there with the gray matter. There’s a sky-pilot in this that was a welcher. He’ll make you feel like putting him on the bum. The main dame is game to the core and the whole outfit of phoney knockers can’t feaze her.

And Les Miserables by Victor Hugo:

Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. This is the richest thing that ever came down the pike. It’s a lalapaloosa. You want to read it three times. The first time you won’t catch on to all the fine points; you skip the descriptions to follow Jean Valjean. The second time you’ll fall for a little of the descriptive dope, and about the third time you’ll read the swellest line on the Battle of Waterloo that was ever handed out. That line on the sewers of Paris is some class, too. The main guy in this is a con that makes a smooth getaway, but he’s up against it for fair. The bull that is after him must be a little flighty in the bean. They don’t have bulls like that now-a-days.

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Written by David

April 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Fighting To Beautify Fifth Avenue With Trees

From April 30, 1911

FIGHTING TO BEAUTIFY FIFTH AVENUE WITH TREES

FIGHTING TO BEAUTIFY FIFTH AVENUE WITH TREES: Widening of the Avenue Above Forty-Seventh Street Gives Fresh Impetus to the Movement of the Tree Planting Association (PDF)

This article discusses a proposal to turn Fifth Avenue in to a tree-lined street with a tree-lined median, like Park Avenue has today.

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Written by David

April 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Burns, A Detective From Whom Lecoq Might Learn

From April 30, 1911

BURNS, A DETECTIVE FROM WHOM LECOQ MIGHT LEARN

BURNS, A DETECTIVE FROM WHOM LECOQ MIGHT LEARN: Astonishing Record of a Great Sleuth Who Has Been Employed on All of Uncle Sam’s Big Cases for a Generation, and Who Now Claims to Have Caught the Los Angeles Dynamiters. (PDF)

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” says Sherlock Holmes.

And, since it’s not elementary, but rather occult and exoteric, the reader is apt to feel annoyed and to think the expression pure ostentation on Sherlock’s part. However, it isn’t. Detectives all talk that way. Doyle is realistic, after all. Even William J. Burns, who has less in common with Sherlock Holmes than any detective ever born or invented since Lecocq and Dupin, looks surprised when you ask him how he did it, and says — well, he doesn’t say “elementary,” but he says:

“Just common sense.”

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Written by David

April 25th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in True Crime

Babies Sacrificed To The Ignorance Of Mothers

From April 23, 1911

BABIES SACRIFICED TO THE IGNORANCE OF MOTHERS

BABIES SACRIFICED TO THE IGNORANCE OF MOTHERS: Mrs. Frederic Scholl, President of the Mothers’ Congress, Laments the Lack of Preparation for Parenthood, and Says Infant Mortality Can Only Be Checked. (PDF)

Is good parenting a natural instinct, or something that is learned? It’s probably a bit of both, and in 1911 the Mothers Congress sought to train mothers in good parenting practices. They wanted to cut rates of infant mortality, and reduce the number of kids who grow up to be criminals.

I had a talk with Mrs. Frederic Schoff, who… is perhaps, best qualified to speak [about parenting] for she is President of the Mothers Congress, a body of industriously thinking women who have turned their industry of thought especially upon this subject of the possibilities of motherhood carried to their utmost.

“Child welfare,” said Mrs. Schoff enthusiastically. “It is man and woman welfare; it is nation welfare, really. Let me tell you what trained motherhood can do.”

“I thought motherhood,” I interrupted, “was instinctive. I thought it alone, of all things, needed no training. I supposed it came quite naturally to the woman, as it comes to animals. Mother love! That certainly does not need training, and the mother who loves her children will take care of them, won’t she?”

“You are like the vast majority of men,” she answered. “You yourselves known nothing thoroughly through instinct. You expect far more of us than of ourselves. You wouldn’t trust your fancy dogs to untrained care, no matter how devotedly your groom loved dogs, et you would trust your children, and have the world intrust its children, to unskilled hands because their touch was loving, to ignorant brains because they were affectionate. That this, since time began, has been the way, is one of the great handicaps beneath which humanity has staggered. That things are bettering now is scarcely to your credit — they should have bettered long ago.

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Education,Life

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911

SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS

SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am

More Horse Thievery In New York Than The Far West

From April 23, 1911

MORE HORSE THIEVERY IN NEW YORK THAN THE FAR WEST

MORE HORSE THIEVERY IN NEW YORK THAN THE FAR WEST: So Easy to Do and Hard to Detect That Detectives Are Puzzled What to Do — Looks Like an Organized Industry. (PDF)

Few people need to worry about their horses being stolen anymore, since we’re more likely to drive a car and have an alarm installed. But in 1911, the most you could do is get horse thievery insurance. And once your horse is stolen, it’s unlikely you’ll see it again because it quickly goes to a chop shop and you wouldn’t recognize it if you saw it. I don’t mean it gets chopped up. Just altered a bit. Here’s how Norman Moray of the Great Easter Casualty insurance company describes it:

“No man’s horse is safe. The horse of the big department store is as likely to disappear as the horse and wagon of the small grocer or butcher. Detectives say that the theft is easily covered up. Within six hours after the horse and wagon disappears, a transformation is made, which is so complete that few owners can identify their property. The horse is shorn of his mane and tail, white legs are dyed a color corresponding with the body of the horses, and cases have been known where a stolen horse was described as having a bobbed tail, where the horse when finally recovered was found to have had a very beautiful tail, attached to the former stub.”

Here’s how horse thievery worked. This is useful to know if you plan on making a period version of Gone in 60 Seconds:

Zito’s method was to work with two assistants. He would usually locate a likely looking horse and wagon, and then after watching the route and habits of the driver would find a quiet cross street. He would then have one of his men in the middle of the block, or at the place where the horse usually stopped, and a man at each avenue corner. When the driver left the wagon to deliver his goods the man in the middle of the block would get a signal from the man stationed at the corner that the coast was clear, jump on the wagon, drive it to the corner, where he would be relieved by the man there who would drive the horse rapidly away. The idea of making this change was that in case of an arrest the man found in possession of the rig would have the excuse that he had been hired to take the horse to some certain point if it so happened that the man who had actually stolen the horse from where the driver had left it had been seen by any one, the person who witnessed the theft being unable to identify the man in whose possession the rig was found.

A stolen horse was worth an average of $300 each. But you don’t need to worry about this kind of crime anymore. Unless you drive a Mustang.

Because a Mustang is a car made by Ford, and also a kind of horse.

Just a little joke there.

You can visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see what the most stolen vehicles are in your state.

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Written by David

April 21st, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in True Crime

How Gamblers Fleece Victims By Crooked Devices

From April 23, 1911

HOW GAMBLERS FLEECE VICTIMS BY CROOKED DEVICES

HOW GAMBLERS FLEECE VICTIMS BY CROOKED DEVICES: Clever Schemes to Prevent Big Winnings — Judge Rosalsky’s Parole Plan and Flynn’s Secret Methods Arouse Consternation in “the Fraternity.” (PDF)

As part of an effort to lesson gambling in the city, the Deputy Commissioner tried to educate the public on the fact that they are likely dealing with crooked dealers when they go gambling, and have even less of a chance to win than they realize.

Several kinds of devices are used to swindle the player at poker, but the marked cards are the simplest. These cards are marked, of course, so that the dealer can easily tell the king from the ace, or the deuce from the trey. Seldom, however, is the ce card marked. It is the one card on which even a greenhorn will look for a mark. The marks are made with needle pricks so fine that the ordinary fingers cannot feel them. The cheater, however, files the cuticle of his thumb to such a fine edge that he can feel the marks which others cannot.

I’m reminded of Damon Runyon, whose stories of New York City gamblers were turned into the musical Guys and Dolls. He had only been in New York for a year by this time, and his most famous stories wouldn’t be written for another twenty years, but this famous quote is what comes to mind:

One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.

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Written by David

April 20th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in True Crime

New York’s First Subway Built More Than Forty Years Ago

From April 23, 1911

NEW YORKS FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO

NEW YORK’S FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO: Curious History That Surrounds a Grating Opposite City Hall Marking a Forgotten Enterprise of “Certain Prominent Citizens.” (PDF)

New York City’s subway opened in 1904. So what is this article talking about? Well, there was a secret subway, built without permission from the city. It was only one block long because it was exposed by a reporter before much work could be done. And this subway didn’t run on electricity as our modern subway does. It ran in pneumatic tubes!

So why did it need to be built in secret? Why wouldn’t the city have wanted it? Well, when the subway was first proposed, people did not think it was a good idea. Even the Times was against it:

The Times of March 15, 1869, editorially exclaims: “It is said that the Legislature is quite likely to charter a project for building what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We can scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it — and so did everybody else.”

The public and The Times, though, were justified in their distrust of the scheme. Those prominent men wanted to build a subway with a vengeance. What they wanted to do was to dig down, the whole width and length of Broadway from the Battery away uptown, for seventeen feet. They proposed to restore the street by building a roof over the chasm.

This plan, as has been said, died a natural and unobtrusive death. The next move toward a subway was in the early part of 1869. It didn’t seem like a move at all. Legislative power was obtained to construct a pneumatic tube from Warren Street to Cedar Street for the purpose of blowing small and large parcels, indeed all kind of express business, between these two localities.

Then queer rumors began to fly around.

In the latter part of 1869 a young man dressed in working clothes, and looking rather mussed and dirty, went down in the middle of the night to the cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building. In this cellar he groped around until he found an opening he was looking for. He went through the opening and landed in an underground tunnel, dark except for flaring lights here and there. There was an air of excitement and feverish work in this tunnel. Whatever talking there was was done in whispers, although a shout wouldn’t have been heard on the street. The young man applied for work. He got it and spent that and the following night in very hard and earnest digging.

And then The Tribune came out with a full expose of the subway that was secretly being built.

The young man was a Tribune reporter.

The substance of the article was this: In the last week one block of subway tunnel had been dug and built by night. It extended from the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. So that nobody should see the earth that was dug away it had all been carted to the big cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building and dumped there. If The Tribune had not exposed what was going on a subway under the whole length of Broadway was to have been secretly built. A car was in the tunnel. Also a big machine that was going to blow the car from one end of the track to the other.

It seemed incredible. Who had ever heard of being blown through the earth to one’s destination?

New York wavered between perplexity and indignation.

When this article came out, the tunnel still existed. But it was most likely destroyed when an authorized subway system tunnel was built soon after. NYCsubway.org has a page with sketches of the pneumatic subway system, and more information about its demise.

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Written by David

April 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am