Most of the New Castle mug shots that were saved from the trash and later found their way into index card boxes in my house were taken in the middle years of the 20th century. But a few date from a little later, like the one above, of a guy called Earl (second name withheld; he’s still alive) who was arrested in 1973 for breaking into Castle Distributing and stealing five cases of beer, and the one below, of Ralph, fined $325 in 1970 for crashing his car into a parked car while drunk:
The faces in these later mug shots are completely different from the ones in the mid-century photographs that I usually write about. It might just be a trick of the haircuts and clothes, but I don’t think so.
(This one’s Carl McClearn, arrested in 1969 for being AWOL from the army. He died a year later, when his car collided with a car that was being driven by his brother, up near Lake Erie. )
The people who were arrested in New Castle in the 40s and 50s were mostly European immigrants or their children. Their faces were shaped by the hard times that cause a family to uproot themselves from their old country and travel by boat and train to a smoky, grimy industrial city in a foreign land, and by the further hard times that followed as they struggled to establish themselves there during the turmoil of the depression and the subsequent years of war.
But the people in these later mug shots are third or fourth-generation Americans who were born at the peak of the baby boom, and they look it. I don’t know if faces like these existed in the 40s.
(Ronald, 1969 — siphoning two-thirds of a gallon of gasoline from a car on Lincoln avenue.)
(Peter, 1971 — involuntary manslaughter of his wife and two other passengers when his car ran off Highland avenue and hit a tree; later acquitted.)
A guy called Greg comes the closest to having what I might call a depression-era face. In 1970, his last year of high school, the New Castle News published a photograph of him and some other students who had decided to set a good example to their juniors by quitting smoking. He’s in the middle here:
Later that year, after he left school, he was arrested for loitering. The following year, he was arrested for possession of an LSD tab. This mug shot was taken in 1973, after he was arrested for visiting a disorderly house.
It’s a mistake to read too much into a mug shot, which, after all, captures only a single moment on one of the worst days of the subject’s life, but Greg seems to have a pinched, underfed look that the others don’t share. Hard times of his own, no doubt.
New Castle’s long decline from being the world center of steel and tin production to a town abandoned by well over half of its population had already begun by the time these young men came of age, but the fact that the years of prosperity had gone forever hadn’t become apparent by the time they had their photographs taken. They might well have expected their lives to be at least as prosperous as their parents’. But they were probably wrong.
Once again, please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. Spread the word, too — I can’t do it without you!
Peter is my cousin. You should know that he was acquitted, though to be honest, by today’s standards he probably wouldn’t be. It was a terrible event in our family. His wife Ann was beloved by everyone.
Thanks for writing, Jim. I can only imagine how devastating it would have been, and you (and Peter) have my sympathies. I don’t think they’d been married long, either. Just awful. (I’ll point out in the post that he was acquitted.)
Annie was the best person ever!!! You’re right, though, by today’s standards he would have never have been aquitted. That was a horrible tragedy & I’m sure Pete never stopped paying for it. Pete was a great guy!
Interesting post, with a good point about the faces. But these guys were born around 1950, which puts them right at the peak of the Baby Boom bubble, which erupted the year after GIs began returning home en mass in 1946.
Keep up the good work, Lee
Good point, Lee — thanks. I’ll amend the post.
I reckon the development of modern dentistry is the main reason the faces changed. Bad teeth/no teeth/receding gums is what gave many of the early 20th century people that pinched, sunken-cheek look.
Googling this idea led me to a book called ‘Making the American Mouth’, which has such excellent chapter headings as ‘Chapter 1: American Dental Hygiene – “Small Flags Attached to Toothbrushes May Be Waved”‘
A friend on Twitter wrote that faces like these definitely existed in the 40s, but I’d probably have to go to Harvard yearbooks to see them. Ivy League dentistry, I suppose…