Allan Pinkerton’s Civil War reputation

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 10, 2013

Front cover of The Hour of PerilI recently finished reading Daniel Stashower’s recent work The Hour of Peril, about Allan Pinkerton and the “Baltimore Plot” against Lincoln. I quite enjoyed his examination of the murder of Mary Rogers in The Beautiful Cigar Girl, and was naturally intrigued by this new title; I’m happy to report that The Hour of Peril exceeded my expectations. Having gone over much of the same territory in my own research, I wasn’t certain how much I would be able to get out of the book but Stashower included an impressive amount of new detail, and not only on the Baltimore Plot. I was surprised and fascinated at how much was new to me about Pinkerton’s early life and first cases; admittedly it’s been a couple of years since I read them, but I made notes on the major studies of Allan Pinkerton and I’m certain that a number of points in The Hour of Peril were absent from all three. On that basis, alone, I can heartily recommend this new volume to anyone interested in learning more about the Pinkertons’ founder.

It’s also, as advertised, a tightly paced but very detailed examination of “The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War,” i.e. the Baltimore Plot.

The general outline of events in The Hour of Peril does, I found with some relief, essentially match up with the very condensed version in Brilliant Deduction. But this expanded account was well worth reading (and not only for Stashower’s effort at restoring a little bit of life to the figure of Kate Warne, commendable as that was). It provides much food for thought about how to interpret the much-debated questions of both the Plot, itself, and Allan Pinkerton’s service to his adopted country in the Civil War.

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Further reading in fiction

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 8, 2013

I probably should have done this a while ago. But, better late than never; the other day it occurred to me to post suggested “further reading” about Brilliant Deduction‘s protagonists in fiction. Nearly all of them have inspired some sort of fictional tales, after all, either of themselves or of close analogues.

Vidocq probably leads the list, in every way. His own influential Memoirs are, most likely, at least semi-fictionalized. According to one rumor, in fact, they were mostly the work of his friend Honoré de Balzac, who definitely wrote other fictionalized works inspired by Vidocq. Father Goriot, Lost illusions, and Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life are all available for free in English translation at Project Gutenberg. The same is true of multiple stories of Emile Gaboriau’s detective Lecoq: The Lerouge Case, The Mystery of Orcival, File No. 113, and Monsieur Lecoq. (Et aussi Les Esclaves des Paris, si vous connaissez le français). And, while it may stretch things a bit, it might be worth mentioning Les Miserables if only because Vidocq may have contributed inspiration to both of its main characters…

The Road child murder case investigated by Jonathan Whicher has inspired more than one work of fiction, though to my knowledge Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone is the only one to include any significant analogue to Whicher himself (as Sergeant Cuff). Inspector Bucket of Bleak House, whose author Charles Dickens knew Whicher personally, may actually bear more resemblance to Whicher, though. (Even if JW’s colleague Frederick Field was the “official” model for the character.)

I suspect that most of the Pinkerton dynasty’s outings in fiction have taken inspiration from Allan, rather than his children; the only exception I know of is the graphic novel Detective 27, which gives a little space to William though Allan still gets most of the best scenes. Brief searching, meanwhile, also turns up Pinkerton’s Secret: A Novel and Nevermore – a novel of Edgar Allan Poe and Allan Pinkerton.

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What is a book for?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 5, 2013

I’m approaching “the end of major combat operations” on this blog, and a bit of a valedictory post about this whole project is on the way… as a bit of a lead-in to that, though, I feel like jotting down a few thoughts about why one writes a book and what purposes it serves.

This was largely prompted by a recent e-mail, informing me of the publication of yet another book in what one might call the “jeremiad” category, i.e. a documentation and lamentation of some or other “wicked problem.” And it occurred to me to wonder, not for the first time, just what the point of these books could be. They generally look like miserable reading, as a result of exploring really depressing situations and, moreover, situations which provide benefit to a small, concentrated and powerful group while spreading costs among much larger but diffuse groups. i.e., situations all the more depressing for the unlikelihood of their being changed, certainly by books that I can’t help suspecting mostly just preach to the already converted. I mean, I certainly don’t shy away from reading about problems of the world, but generally a magazine-length article is about all I want to swallow in one go.

Thinking about it this most recent occasion, though, I had the idea that maybe the point of the book is, in some sense, simply a pretext for getting magazines and talk shows and online news to produce those kinds of briefer stories on the author and his or her cause.

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Reminder: Larchmere Fest this Saturday

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 1, 2013

Just a reminder, this Saturday is Author Alley, where I will be appearing along with dozens of other authors in Shaker Heights from noon-4 p.m. Full details of the event, including a complete list of attending authors and our works, are available here.

You can also enjoy art, music, antiques, food, etc., etc., during the larger Larchmere Festival beginning at 10.

I’ll be there rain or (hopefully) sun; come visit me! Bring friends!

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Pollaky, Tumblety and Jack the Ripper

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 1, 2013

My quiet adviser on Ignatius “Paddington” Pollaky has provided another curious little footnote to his history, and that of London’s most notorious unsolved crimes, i.e. the Whitechapel murders.

Research has apparently placed Pollaky at 10 Devonshire Place in 1861 (some years before he relocated to the Paddington Green address thereafter associated so closely with him). One of his next-door neighbors at 8 Devonshire Place was a very young Henry Carr

And this is where I had to do some research, myself, because my informant pointed out that Carr was later an associate of Francis Tumblety… which name I may have come across before, but apparently forgot. Perhaps not entirely unreasonably, though, given the enormous number of names associated with the mystery of Jack the Ripper… <dramatic piano chords>

Still, it seems that the grounds for suspicion of Mr. Tumblety are actually rather interesting, and probably more solid than is the case for a number of other suspects. The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion: An Illustrated Encyclopedia notes that Tumblety was actually subject of considerable police interest in 1888, which, considering the numberless leads offered Scotland Yard, may say something.

Tumblety, also named as “Kumblety” or “Twomblety” in various newspaper reports, was apparently an American “quack” doctor. He was also apparently markedly misogynistic, even for the 1880s, and accused more than once of other forms of “sexual deviancy” (including homosexual relationships, of which Victorian society could of course be less than tolerant).

Allegedly, though (according to the head of Special Branch during the 1880s in fact), Scotland Yard assembled “a large dossier” on Tumblety. Certainly, they expended considerable effort pursuing him. Read more…

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Detection and The City

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 26, 2013

The professional detective is primarily an urban figure. I touch on this association a few times in Brilliant Deduction, as well as how the rise of the detective profession to its greatest prominence coincided with the rise of the expanding industrial cities of 19th century Europe and America; the combination of very large concentrations of people (mostly unfamiliar to one another and constantly being joined by immigrants from the countryside or overseas), with evolutions in commerce (e.g. the spread of banking services) and transportation (e.g. the railroad’s enabling rapid access to distant points on the map) found old-fashioned law enforcement measures sorely wanting.

I was pleased to see some of the same ideas, recently, examined in a work looking at the other side of the phenomenon, i.e. cities. In City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, P.D. Smith considers seemingly more aspects of life than not, in fact, appropriately enough given his thesis that the tendency toward urban life is an essential part of what defines the human race. At any rate, a great deal of human experience since the beginning of recorded history has been part of the urban experience, certainly, crime and crimefighting being no exceptions.

Smith notes that “Crime fiction emerges at the same time as the rise of the great industrial cities of Europe and America,” including detective fiction, the prototype of which was Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

When “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published, the word “detective” did not even exist in the English language. The first detective department [in the Anglophone world] appeared the year after, in 1842. Even in 1840, New York… had no full-time, professional police force. Indeed, there was little serious crime. But over the coming decades the situation changed as the city grew rapidly. In 1859, the New York Herald complained: “Our record of crime to-day is truly appalling. Scarcely is the excitement attending one murder allayed when a fresh tragedy equally horrible takes place.” … Within thirty years, policing became New York City’s single largest expenditure and there was a growing fear of organised crime.”

Pretty much, yeah. Poe, of course, was partly inspired to write the first detective story by the exploits of the first detective, Vidocq… the word “detective” was introduced to the English language by Charles Dickens, in articles about Jonathan Whicher and other members of the detective force established to address London’s “appalling” crime problems… in the years ahead, the rapid growth of not only New York but newer American cities on the western frontier, such as Chicago and San Francisco, created opportunities for remarkable figures in both private detection (such as Allan Pinkerton) and public forces (such as Isaiah Lees). Even the one exception to Brilliant Deduction‘s otherwise urban-dwelling cast, Ellis Parker, may have lived and worked in a rural small-town setting but was at the same time firmly within the super-urbanized region that first spawned the term “megalopolis.”

One might indeed have subtitled my book The Story of Real-Life Great-City Detectives… except that it would have been thoroughly redundant.

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The trail of Pinkerton’s lost estate

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 21, 2013

Allan Pinkerton’s country estate, The Larches, was admittedly never truly lost. But it did disappear from the place of prominence it once occupied, rather like most of history’s notable real-life detectives other than Pinkerton, in fact. Like their stories, The Larches has still been there, just obscure.

And just as with Pollaky, Burns, and even the younger Pinkertons, present-day obscurity has not always been the case. Onarga, Illinois has never been a major destination, exactly, but once upon a time it was the regular retreat of a fairly famous man and played host to other powerful and connected figures.

That changed following the death of Allan Pinkerton in 1884. During research for my book, I read hints that The Larches had become “a ruin” by the 1960s, but some further investigation has recently turned up more details. A kind correspondent has replied to my inquiries with much fascinating information.

According to documents I’ve received, Pinkerton’s will expressed an ambition to preserve The Larches and keep it in use by his family in perpetuity, “But his sons William and Robert had other ideas.”

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Great photos of great detectives, no. 6

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 18, 2013

There isn’t a great deal to post about this one, but I like it and feel like sharing. Ellis Parker and one of his (many) grandchildren:

Ellis Parker and a grandson

Ellis the family man

There’s something adorable about this stocky, gruff-looking bald old cop gently taking the hand of this innocent little tot. Definitely a glimpse of the kind man whose reputation as such was, unfortunately, dinged up by failing judgement in late-life. Frankly, if there were ever a Parker statue, this wouldn’t be a half-bad image to use.

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Runners-up: Raymond Schindler

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 14, 2013

As I recall I was some ways into my research when I first took notice of Raymond Schindler. Most likely I first encountered reference to this man as a detective of note in researching William Burns; I believe one or other of Burns’s biographers note that the team he employed in the massive San Francisco corruption investigation included Schindler, who later established a legend of his own in detection history.

I may have found one or two other references to Schindler, also, but I certainly recall that he turned up in Eugene Block’s Famous Detectives, one of the few examples of anything similar to Brilliant Deduction which I was able to turn up. As I also recall, and as their web site confirms, this 55-year-old work has been relegated to the Cleveland Public Library’s off-site storage and had to be specially requested when I consulted it. Still, per the very premise of my book, dusty obscurity hardly disqualifies a detective for having been one of the field’s greats. And it’s quite possible that Mr. Schindler might be a worthy peer for the nine men featured in Brilliant Deduction. Not only did he make it into Block’s survey, but he has a book of his own, The complete detective: Being the life and strange and exciting cases of Raymond Schindler, master detective. That’s more than Pollaky can say. More than William Pinkerton or his brother Robert can say.

Even so, this even older (1950) tome does not seem to be among any of the local libraries’ many works attributed to a Hughes, Rupert. This being 2012, I certainly could have looked further afield to acquire a copy, very possibly without even leaving home; used copies appear to be available and inexpensive. Nonetheless, I have not done so, for what I feel is a reasonable excuse, at least in context.

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Great detectives in comics: Burns

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 11, 2013

My mother once related a novel little story of school fundraising and flash fashion trends from, I’m guessing, some time in the mid 1960s. (Bear with me, this is leading to the subject promised in the headline.) Traditionally, whatever grade she was in at the time conducted some or other type of fundraiser for a class trip. When the time came for her class to hustle money from friends, family and neighbors, for whatever reason they elected to sell beanies.

By which I mean cheap, round soft-cloth caps. Similar to the of caps worn by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Tenniel’s illustration, essentially. Which, given both this specific association and the broader association between beanies and dorkiness, might have suggested the 196X class trip was going to be on a very modest budget.

And well it might have been, except for the unfathomable potential for random things to become trends. In my lifetime, I recall brief periods when people would do almost anything for Tickle-Me-Elmo, or a Nintendo Wii; in Monticello, in that particular year, beanies became a craze. Whatever the reason, the beanies caught on, and everyone had to have one. Mom and classmates sold out the first order. They sold out a reorder, and possibly another after that, and might have sold more but for some adult with the wisdom to quit while they were ahead. As it happened, they had sold enough beanies to pay for the most lavish class trip in memory and set aside a nice head-start for future years that might not benefit from such a random windfall.

Most of half a century later, I recall the Great Beanie Craze for a nearly-as-odd connection with one of the subjects of my book, and comics.

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