The crowdfunding campaign for the Small Town Noir book continues! If you haven’t been to the book’s page on the publisher’s website yet, please have a look. Also, please consider sharing the page with anyone who might be interested in making the book a reality (and owning a copy themselves, of course). The more people know about it, the more likely it is to happen! Here’s the link again: https://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir
While the campaign is on, I’ll be posting some less typical pieces that hopefully shed an interesting light on the way the site has come to be, and what the mug shots mean to me.
Mug shots are tiny, ephemeral objects but they have an awful lot to say, as I suppose I’ve spent the past few years proving to myself.
Mostly, they speak to you through the gaze of the subject—the eyes that stare right into yours across the decades from one particular and very bad day in that person’s life. Some are ashamed, some miserable. You see expressions of regret, defiance, aggression, resignation—even laughter, from time to time.
And, of course, there are other fascinating details, some immediately apparent; others less so.
Jack Robertson doesn’t appear in the Small Town Noir book—there appears to be no information about his life—but I’ve always loved his mug shot, mostly because of his charming taste in knitwear.
When I first saw the picture, I didn’t know what to make of it. Was that a reindeer? The arrest (drunk and disorderly) was in December, 1948. Was he wearing an early version of the now traditional hideous Christmas sweater? With no other information to go on (his arrest wasn’t reported in the papers), I assumed he was just someone who really enjoyed the festive period—enough to dress up for the season and, on this occasion, get himself arrested.
Later, however, as I learned more about New Castle and the world that the people in the mug shots lived in, I realised that he’d been arrested right in the middle of Pennsylvania’s hunting season. Was that, therefore, a deer-hunting sweater? Perhaps Jack had been celebrating bagging a 300-pound buck when the police picked him up.
Later still, though—because research never ends—one of my periodic Google searches for “1940s deer sweater” brought up a vintage-clothing website that featured a photograph of the exact design he was wearing that night in 1948:
It turns out that these sweaters were fairly exclusive items back then, worn by only the most fashionable young people. They were probably never touched by actual deer hunters, apart from unusually stylish ones. The company that made them was Catalina Sportswear, which sponsored the Miss America contest and was advertised by Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford and Ronald Reagan.
Just like kids today wearing Lakers jackets and Yankees caps in any number of small towns across the world, Jack was simply associating himself sartorially with a glamorous lifestyle far removed from his everyday surroundings. He was dressed up for a good time. He hadn’t expected to be arrested. And it would never have occurred to him that strangers in the 21st century would be looking at his mug shot, trying to figure out what it might say about him.
But if it had, I’m sure he would have wanted us to appreciate that he was wearing such a stylish outfit.