Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Connections with the NLEM Collection

Museums often collect individual objects because they are important in and of themselves. Sometimes, however, we are able to make connections among various items and are able to tell a broader story. That has happened with a number of items acquired by the National Law Enforcement Museum over the last four years.

In 2006, the Museum acquired six letters written in 1896 by the President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, Theodore Roosevelt.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Yale Univ. Foot Ball Association We were interested in these letters because Roosevelt wrote, “If there is anything that I love more than foot ball [sic] it is civil service reform.” (Pictured at right: Letter, Oct. 30, 1896. 2006.282.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.) Most people know about Roosevelt because of his Rough Riders during the Spanish American War, and of course, because he was the 26th president of the United States (1901-1909). But these letters also talk about Roosevelt’s interest in reform while heading up one of the most important police departments in the country, as well as the professionalization of law enforcement in the late 19th century.

Also in 2006, we acquired an 1884 cartoon drawn by one of the most important political cartoonists in the 19th century, Thomas Nast. We acquired it because it depicted a law enforcement officer.

Thomas Nast cartoon of a policeman sending Tammany Hall and Irving Hall away from a government building while Theodore Roosevelt watches from a window Political cartoon, Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1884. 2006.406.36. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

On receiving the print, we discovered that it was not really a policeman, but a cartoon using a policeman to illustrate Theodore Roosevelt working to improve the governance of New York City by attempting to rid it of its Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall. Read more about Roosevelt’s reform efforts in NYC.

This cartoon, published in May 1884, shows Governor Grover Cleveland sitting in the window, as Roosevelt attempts to throw out the two political “machines” of the Democratic Party in New York, Tammany Hall and Irving Hall. We need to conduct more research to identify the men labeled as Tammany Hall and Irving Hall.

Roosevelt’s reform work was the beginning of a career in political reform efforts starting in the 1880s, continuing under his tenure on the Board of Police Commissioners in the 1890s, and completed as President of the United States.

What other materials have we acquired that relate to Roosevelt? Try accessing our online catalog and search for “Theodore Roosevelt” and “police” and see what you find!

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