New look, old legacy for Pinkertons

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Nov 15, 2013

In the latest chapter of “interesting people and information find you after you publish a book,” I received an e-mail a little while back from today’s Pinkerton agency. This was actually my first contact with the firm; in researching my book there seemed little need to bother them given that 1) aside from a few brief notes about subsequent decades, my examination of the Pinkertons leaves off with William Pinkerton’s death 90 years ago, and 2) most of their surviving early archives have been donated to the Library of Congress.

Still, it’s always fun to receive feedback on my work, and the nice woman who contacted me was very generous in offering to answer questions I might have.

Perhaps the most interesting information I received from this exchange, though, was an indirect tip-off that Pinkerton has updated its web presence. For what my opinion as a designer and amateur historian is worth, the revised site appears highly polished and professional, as well as a more compelling portrait than the government-services-led version online when I was writing my book.

The new history page is an especially thoughtful addition, offering a quick scroll through significant events from Pinkerton’s century and a half story, as well as a selection of interesting photos. A number of these are familiar though a few were not; alas, one particular image of a woman with a highly tantalizing file name is not a genuine contemporary image of the elusive Kate Warne. The image does come with an interesting story, all the same, as it is most likely a sketch created (possibly by this gentleman?) some years ago as part of a television program pitch. Neat, eh?

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Further Research Needed

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 22, 2013

I end Brilliant Deduction with a select bibliography of suggested “further reading,” which I hope some people will actually explore. But I also kind of hope the book may inspire some further research and further writing, as well. Most of my subjects have at least one full-length biography, but a few are still waiting on one; some of the others are also still worth further attention, in my opinion. If I were to draw up a List of Priorities for great-detective biographies, it would probably be the following:

  1. “Paddington” Pollaky. As I note in the book, in all modesty Brilliant Deduction is the closest thing to a full biography this extraordinary but elusive man has, to date. My single chapter is certainly not a complete biography but I hope it is, at least, a convincing argument for why one is worth attempting. During my research I encountered a hint that someone is, or at least was, working on just such a project; unfortunately, this single dozen-year-old post on a genealogy forum is the only evidence I’ve encountered. (Though for those interested in the man, it’s still a fascinating, flickering glimpse of the Pollaky family’s later history.) I can only hope that the unnamed Maryland author’s project has been delayed, rather than abandoned. Update 8/6/15: Cross this one off the list! Bryan Kesselman has written a Pollaky biography, reviewed here. (Among other things, he reveals that the “Maryland author” was probably Baltimore journalist Barney D. Emmart, who died in 1989 with the work never completed.)
  2. Read more…

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Great detectives in comics: Pinkerton

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Feb 8, 2013

In my chapter on Allan Pinkerton, I make some observations about Allan Pinkerton’s relatively durable fame compared with most of his peers, and about some of the unusual forms that fame has taken:

The Pinkertons were effectively the nation’s law force during the Civil War and the Wild West era. Allan himself planned strategy with Abraham Lincoln, hunted fraud for the great railroad magnates, and waged war against the Renos and the James Gang. With such famous company, Pinkerton and his agency never vanish for very long before some new retelling or re-imagining, from a children’s book, to a television documentary, to the fictionalized historic background of a Batman graphic novel.

I happen to own the last item referred to, though I didn’t realize that it had any tie-in with great detectives when I purchased it. Or at least, great detectives other than the Dark Knight Detective himself, whose reputation as a detective is (IMO) more of a tradition based on his first appearance in Detective Comics issue #27 than on the modern character being particularly more of a detective than any other costumed crimefighter. The 2003 graphic novel Detective No. 27 by Michael Uslan and Peter Snejbjerg, however, is an “imaginary story” which takes Bruce Wayne out of costume to unravel a mysterious conspiracy alongside a number of other famed detectives, some fictional and some historical.

The latter includes Allan Pinkerton, along with a couple of his own best detectives. Appearing only in flashback to the conspiracy’s beginnings, none of the Pinkertons meet “Detective Number 27,” i.e. Bruce Wayne., but they get considerably more ink than the cameos for which Nick & Nora, Nero Wolfe, et al. have to settle. They also get lively action scenes with a bit of a Wild Wild West flavor, such as these panels in which Allan, disguised as Charles Darwin, is exposed by one of the bad guys:

Allan Pinkerton in 'Detective No. 27'

Art by Snejbjerg, dialogue by Uslan

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