Friday, September 18, 2009

Perspectives from the Donor of the William Benson Collection

This post was written by a friend of the Museum, Officer Eric Stolzman, (Retired #490), Yale Department of Police Services.  Officer Stolzman served in New Haven, Conn. and donated his collection to the Museum in 2006.

Collecting has always been a passion of mine, instilled in me by my father when I was only nine or 10 years old. After he passed when I was 15, I felt the full influence of my father having belonged to the “Greatest Generation,” a generation defined by beliefs in honor, duty, and patriotism. Stories about my father and other contemporary family members abounded. I had one uncle in particular who served in the submarine service during World War II. Later, he worked for the CIA and shared his stories about traveling through Europe during the Cold War. I also vividly recall the individuals from national and international police agencies that were often at his home. My uncle was a collector of police memorabilia, and I would eventually strive to follow in his professional and collecting endeavors.

Photograph, Benson and his two daughters, Collection of the NLEM 2006.488.139

One of the most important groups of items I have ever collected reflects my desire to honor the memory of past officers, as well as explore the social mores of the past and how the lives and experiences of officers from several generations ago are still relevant to today’s officer. I discovered an officer named William Benson who started his career in 1888 with the Brooklyn Police Department in New York, which eventually merged with other boroughs to become the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Through contact with his family, I was able to obtain his Brooklyn uniformed photograph, appointment certificate, valor medals from two separate occasions, numerous NYPD police items , and a number of personal items, including his death certificate and a letter written about him by one of his daughters. With further investigation, I learned things about this man that even his relatives knew nothing about. You can imagine my pride as I shared this additional information with his family generations later. Benson retired in 1912 and died in 1935, but the memory of his service lives on because of the Museum’s vision to create a venue for displaying the history of men like him.

When I learned about plans to erect a museum representing the history of law enforcement, I contacted the National Law Enforcement Museum. Being informed that some 300,000 to 400,000 visitors per year are expected to visit the museum, I am honored by the inclusion of my collection and its contribution to our profession. The lives of officers, like Officer William Benson, can live on and teach others what I believe are the principles of our nation’s finest.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September Artifact Detective: "We Chirp for the Cleveland Press" Button

By Jeni Ashton, Associate Curator

The National Law Enforcement Museum has collected more than 8,000 artifacts to-date, so we can’t always devote as much time to researching individual objects as we would like. Please help us uncover some of the stories behind our objects. Leave a comment with anything you may know about the featured item. We welcome all information, and we’d appreciate sources and citations when possible. Thanks!

Button, c 1896,Collection of the NLEM 2008.34.1
What we know:
Produced circa 1896
“We Chirp for the Cleveland Press”
Made by The Whitehead & Hoag Company, Newark, NJ
Patented April 14 & July 21, 1896
Cleveland Press was an afternoon newspaper published in Cleveland, OH, from 1878-1982
We checked in with the Cleveland Press Collection at the Cleveland State University. They felt sure that this had something to do with the Cleveland Press but could not find a reference to any promotion like this button. The Special Collections Librarian there suggested that “maybe it was for some sort of early community watch? Or for kids as part of a news reporting feature from the juvenile crowd? The button has SOMETHING to do with reporting news to the Cleveland Press.”
According to the Cleveland Press Collection’s Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant by Charles Godfrey Leland (Ballantyne Press, 1889), the word “chirp” means “to inform or snitch.”
What we want to know:
Why were these buttons produced?
Who wore them?
What is the cause that the officer is chirping for?
Do any other pins like these exist?
We are also looking for information about the use of law enforcement images in the American media or law enforcement involvement with American newspapers. Please leave a comment if you have anything to share.