The Victorians loved to use descriptive, poetic language. Many of them who had the money for a really nice house even named their homes. They also named photographs, and the first picture here was taken by B.W. Kilburn.
He called it “The Surging Sea of Humanity“. This is a stereoscope, which is a really neat invention that was peculiar to the Victorian era. You need a stereoscope viewer to combine the two photos and get the full 3D effect.
The picture is an oddity for many reasons. Most photographs from this era are posed, formal, and serious.
This is part 2 of the very unusual McNeil Island mugshots from the 1890s-1906.
As you’ve seen, McNeil Island Penitentiary tended to photograph men in pairs, wearing their striped prisoner clothing, and with their name and prison number scribbled on the back.
But there were a few mugshots that did not fit this profile. Or they fit but there is something else that is unusual about them.
Of all the mugshots, only two were of women. Neither was photographed in stripes, and I wondered if they were really prisoners and not a spouse or an employee, but they had numbers so they must’ve been. And Maggie Snyder, featured here, does look like nothing but trouble:
Then, there are these two. Quite possibly the coolest looking but practically useless mugshots in the world.
The only line-up photo
These were definitely convicted men, but probably photographed before they were given clothing to wear. Ray Hon, on the right, has a truly frightened look on his face. The other man, on the left, should be trusted with nothing, ever.
This was the only photo that listed the date on the back, and the prisoner did not have a number. Something about him makes him seem more like a patient than an inmate.
Photographed alone, without stripes, but he did have a number.
A cruel face…
Another cruel face, and a frightened one.
The last post mentioned the Legion to Indian term as well. I’m not sure what it means. By the way, the text beneath each picture is an exact transcription of what was written on the back of the photo. Stannestones was the other one-name-only prisoner, along with Mamick.
The guy on the left is really good looking.
This fellow looks like he’s been in a fight or something
If I’m able to look around some more, I would be interested to know what this guy did for a living. Hopefully he was a poet. He looks just like a character in a book.
This photo can only be described as creepy.
I think William Moore might actually be wearing a pocket watch! I guess you can’t hide style.
Mugshot March continues with a special double-header! Most people who follow this blog know of my great interest in mug shots, but these are special.
Near Steilacoom, Washington, on McNeil Island in the Puget Sound, a prison was opened in 1875. This was the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, with space for 853 prisoners.
McNeil was initially a territorial correctional facility, and it was run by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons from 1904-1981. Washington State Department of Corrections took over then and managed the prison until it was permanently closed in 2011. Today, the island is home to the Special Commitment Center for “sexually violent predators.” As of 2017, there were 268 residents at the facility.
During its 136 years of operation as a prison, McNeil had a lot of “star inmates”, including Vincent Hallinan, a presidential candidate; Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, famed depression-era gangster; Mickey Cohen, the 1930s L.A. gang leader; Robert Franklin Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz”; and the infamous Charles Manson. During the second world war, 85 Americans of Japanese descent were confined there after they resisted the draft. They were later pardoned by President Truman in 1947.
Despite the colorful personalities, the prison was a desolate place.
The facility took a number of unusual mugshots during the late 1890s until 1906. They are some of the most unusual prison photographs taken in the United States.
The inmates were mostly photographed in pairs, but it’s not clear why. Possibly to be more economical with the film? Something about seeing two people in the picture makes them seem more real.
Often they were notably physically opposite but in most cases their prisoner numbers were very close so I imagine it was based on when they were brought in. A lot of the older guys looked like they had been born in prison. You just can’t imagine them anywhere else.
With a few exceptions, they wear the striped clothing that marks them out as prisoners, but as you’ll see there’s some variance between their appearance. Facial hair, especially mustaches, were far more common circa 1900 than in 2020. The prisoners are obviously posed–– I mean to say, these are not candid photographs.
Most photos had the names and inmate numbers of the persons in the photograph scrawled on the back. Often the writing is too sloppy to be fully legible, but I did my best! I believe the basic charge for each prisoner is available. Sometime I’ll go back and look but for now, the pictures can be appreciated for themselves.
Here are some of the great ones:
These two are an exception in that they are not radically different looking. In fact, they look a lot alike!
This fellow looks like an old blues song. And the poor shape the picture is in really gives it some atmosphere. Would be a good cover for a blues album.
The guy on the left reminded me a little of Eric Cantor, the former House Majority Leader. Could this be due to an underlying Freudian belief that most people in Congress should probably be doing time?
I have really wondered about the guy on the left. If you notice, most of these prisoners are a little unkempt. But he must have spent quite a bit of his time on his hair, right? That’s elaborate!
Have you ever seen a more impressive mustache? The guy on the right must have felt completely inadequate about his facial hair.
I recognize the fellow on the left, J.E. Mann has a turn of the century look, but it’s kind of also a Creedence Clearwater Revival kind of look, too. Or am I crazy? He looks more 1970s to me.
Jose Ciede (the guy on the left) has a frightening face.
I am very curious about the man on the left, who was one of only two prisoners identified by one name only: Mamick. Unless it is just the way the light caught his eye, Mamick appears to have a glass eye or one blue eye and one brown.
Several men had the phase “Legion to Indians” written beneath their photos. I wasn’t able to figure it out with a quick Google search, but if I find out later, I’ll update this to explain.