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. 5

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 1, 2013

Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Lincoln. How much more do you even need to say?

Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln and John McClernand

Photo by Alexander Gardner; Smithsonian Collection

…I suppose an alternate caption might have Lincoln saying something like “guys, really, the whole ‘posing with one hand jammed into your coat’ thing was never that cool to begin with; it’s 1862 now, neither of you is Napoleon, and you just look silly…”

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Baltimore 1861: Lincoln, Pinkerton, and Burns?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 29, 2013

One of my favorite fictional detective works is the 1990s NBC series, Homicide. Though in fact it was originally based on a nonfiction work of the same name by David Simon, also about Baltimore homicide detectives (and also excellent).

More than 130 years before Pembleton, G, Crosetti, et al., Baltimore also played host to a couple of notable events in the history of their real-life predecessors. Events that are all the more interesting for their strange juxtaposition in that particular place and time…

In January and February of 1861, the founder of the legendary Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was deep in the midst of what history records as The Baltimore Plot. In Allan Pinkerton’s mind, at least, this was a clear, present and very real danger to the life of president-elect Abraham Lincoln; per subsequent criticism it was an imaginary bogeyman threat born of empty rumor and Pinkerton’s overcautiousness (and/or self-promotional hyperbole). I recorded my own assessment in the book, but regardless of what The Baltimore Plot was not, it was a significant and memorable episode in the history of one of the most accomplished detectives in history, tied to the city of Baltimore in early 1861.

Which represents a fascinating coincidence given the other event in Baltimore, in early 1861, of enormous significance in the history of a celebrated American detective.

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