The Detective Museum

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 10, 2013

There is a P.I. Museum in San Diego, and a Spy and Private Eye Museum in Austin, Texas. I’ve never been to either, though both have interesting online collections.

But, I’ve started to wonder what a museum or museum exhibit about the great detectives profiled in Brilliant Deduction might include. It’s basically just a play-pretend exercise, but it’s interesting enough; what one or two items might I want to display for each of the investigators I’ve described?

Vidocq made more use of disguise than any of his notable peers, and perhaps more than any detective real or imagined other than Sherlock Holmes. If some of his costumes or other paraphernalia had been preserved, it would be a must-see display. I might also want to include examples of his file-card record system, which represented a major advance in durable, systematized approaches to criminal investigation.

For Jonathan Whicher, I can’t help thinking of the “relics” from the Road child murder investigation that he apparently held on to after the case and his entire career imploded, only for them (and Whicher) to get a second hearing of sorts, years later.

Allan Pinkerton’s detective career began with counterfeiting investigations, and that crime played an important role throughout detective history, so a few samples would make ideal displays. Perhaps even one of the counterfeit dimes from his very first foray into detective work. Any kind of records would also be appropriate, as Pinkerton was ultimately as or more important as an administrator and entrepreneur than as a field man.

The ideal “Paddington” Pollaky exhibit object would probably be a photograph of the man, given how elusive he has become. A display of travel documents such as tickets, train schedules, foreign currencies or a passport could also make a fitting tribute to his many journeys across Europe in pursuit of wanted fugitives.

Actual exhibits for prosecution cases might be the best exhibit for Isaiah Lees, the career public justice system man who proved meticulous and effective in the business of assembling solid, persuasive evidence time and time again. Items from his repeated courtroom demonstrations against the Brothertons, for example, or perhaps the notorious poisoned chocolates from his last great case.

How best to represent the second-generation Pinkertons is a tough call. Robert spent years dealing with the great Northampton bank heist, and anything connected with it would be worth displaying; perhaps the whole heap of cash and securities lifted in the record-shattering robbery would be an effective indication of the scale of villainy they battled. As for William, it may be sentimental as well as fantasy, but he might just approve of displaying Gainsborough’s Duchess, stolen by master criminal Adam Worth and finally recovered via Pinkerton’s agency, though not through entirely conventional means.

William Burns was also repeatedly involved with counterfeiting cases, and any number of artifacts from the epic Monroe-note investigation could take pride of place in a Burns display. As a number of my choices seem to be highlighting detectives’ opponents as much as the detectives, themselves, perhaps I could honor Burns with some of the tools he used to thwart crime rather than tools captured from those engaged in it; the series of keys he cut from blanks in order to open a locker containing the crucial evidence in that investigation, e.g. Burns was also a showman, and photographs or even better, film, of the energetic performer would be a priceless acquisition.

Finally, Ellis Parker. With Parker, too, there are plenty of choices from his varied and memorable cases. But the display I picture might, instead, highlight some evidence of Parker’s impressive reputation—a national magazine article for example—juxtaposed with artifacts of his folksy, homespun identity. His pipe, the spittoon from his office, perhaps some memento from his cherished Elk’s Lodge membership and, above all else, the fiddle and bow from his days performing at country barn dances with the “Brindle Town Orchestra.”

Someone call Mike and Frank and get them to work on this list.

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