Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Charles Moore, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, 1958 (2011.24.4)

Charles Moore, [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrested in Montgomery, Alabama], 1958 (2011.24.5)

Charles Moore, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested for loitering outside a courtroom where his friend and associate Ralph Abernathy is appearing for a trial, 1958 (139.1991)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dan Weiner, [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.], 1956 (1984.13)

Dan Weiner, [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama], 1956 (1984.2)

Dan Weiner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (142.1992)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born today, January 15, 1929.

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“Actual Photo of Ruth’s Execution”

New York Daily News, January 13, p. 1 (Pink Edition, Final Edition, Final Edition)


Ruth Brown Snyder
Henry Judd Gray

STATE AVENGES ALBERT SNYDER’S DEATH! – Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray last night walked to a sitting death in the tall, yellow chair in which justice exacts payment from those found guilty of first degree murder. The state squared accounts for the strangling and bludgeoning to death of the woman’s husband, Albert Snyder, by taking two lives made glamourous by illicit love and murder. The late corset salesman, resigned to his fate, waited calmly for the end, while the woman he had called “Momsie” moaned and twitched when told that her last hope had been lost.
New York Daily News, January 13, p. 1 (Final Edition)

New York Daily News, January 13, p. 1 (Extra Edition)

This is perhaps the most remarkable exclusive picture in the history of criminology. It shows the actual scene in the Sing Sing death house as the lethal current surged through Ruth Snyder’s body at 11:06 last night. Her helmeted head is stiffened in death, her face masked and an electrode strapped to her bare right leg. The autopsy table on which her body was removed is beside her. Judd Gray, mumbling a prayer, followed her down the narrow corridor at 11:14. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing?” were Ruth’s last words. The picture is the first Sing Sing execution picture and the first of a woman’s electrocution.
New York Daily News, January 13, p. 1 (Extra Edition)

New York Daily News, January 13, p. 3 (Extra Edition)

Actual Photo of Ruth’s Execution
Just a second after the picture on Page 1 was taken. Ruth, her body stiffened by the powerful current, is shown as she met death in the electric chair at Sing Sing at 11:06 last night. On the extreme right is the Rev. John P. McCaffery, prison chaplain. The feet of a matron and of a prison attendant show in right center. Note the table, on the right of the death chair, on which Ruth’s body was wheeled to the autopsy room after the execution.
New York Daily News, January 13, p. 3 (Extra Edition)

Thomas Howard (1894-1961), Ruth Snyder in “Chair”, January 12, 1928 (2011.22.1) (actual size)

The actual photo of Ruth’s execution by electrocution is surprisingly small. The image is 1 3/8 by 2 1/8 inches (3.5 x 5.4 cm). The actual photo above is mounted to board that is 1 5/8 by 2 1/8 inches (4.1 x 5.4 cm). The diminutive size is because it’s a contact print from a negative made in a camera that was strapped to the photographer’s lower leg. The “modified miniature plate camera,” made by the Leica company, is one of the 1.8 million objects in The National Museum of American History, in Washington, DC.

Cameras were not allowed in the Sing Sing execution chamber. Thomas Howard (1894-1961), photographer for the Chicago Tribune, was recruited by the Daily News to photograph Ruth’s death. Howard practiced for a month in his New York hotel room. (si.edu.) On the night of the execution he was not recognized by the Sing Sing prison officials and he used the credentials of a journalist to enter the death chamber. He made the photo by lifting a pant leg and pressing the shutter release cable, that ran up his leg and into the pocket of his pants, of the camera strapped to his ankle. It “was the only picture ever taken of the electrocution of a woman in New York, or elsewhere in the country.” (The New York Times, October 9, 1961.)

There were a number of editions of the Daily News on Friday, January 13, 1928 that did not feature Tom Howard’s photo. Apparently the Extra Edition sold out very quickly. The Extra Edition featured a much less cropped version of the photo on page 3. (The caption: “Just a second after the picture on Page 1 was taken.” suggests that two photos were made.) In a grand guignol victory lap the News published the photo again on Saturday, January 14th, without the giant “DEAD!” headline.

New York Daily News, January 14, p. 1 (Final Edition)

CROWDS Follow Ruth and Judd to GRAVE

WHEN RUTH PAID HER DEBT TO THE STATE! The only unofficial photo ever taken within the death chamber, this most remarkable, exclusive picture shows closeup of Ruth Synder in death chair at Sing Sing as lethal current surged through her body at 11:06 Thursday night. Its first publication in yesterday’s EXTRA edition of THE NEWS was the most talked-of feat in history of journalism. Ruth’s body is seen straightened within its confining gyves, her helmeted head, face masked, hands clutching, and electrode strapped to her right leg with stocking down. Autopsy table on which body was removed is beside chair.
New York Daily News, January 14, p. 1 (Final Edition)

The lovers Ruth Snyder (1895-1928) and Henry Judd Gray (1892-1928), corset salesman, murdered Ruth’s husband, forty-four year old Albert Snyder (1883-1927), an art editor for Motor Boating magazine, on March 20, 1927. He was beaten with a “sash weight,” killed for the more-than $95,000 insurance policy on his life, in Queens Village, New York. ($95,000 had the same buying power in March 1927 as $1,412,413.87 in November 2019.)

Their last meal, chosen by Judd, was “chicken broth, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, celery, stuffed olives, and ice cream. Judd also asked for cigars and ‘good coffee.'” (New York Daily News, January 13, 1928, p.6.) Judd complained about the quality of coffee in Sing Sing a number of times. Ruth wore a dark green gingham dress and washed her blonde hair shortly before entering the death chamber.

When Ruth was killed by the executioner there were “twenty-four official witnesses” and fifteen uniformed guards in the execution chamber. Outside the prison there were over 400 people, “curiosity seekers,” men, women, and children, and a few flappers, who turned the late-night execution into a “gala occasion,” and into a frenzy, filled with “ribald shouts.” (New York Evening Post, January 13, 1928, p.2.)

The Post featured drawings, not photos, portraits of Ruth and Judd in their coverage of the execution, on Friday, January 13th. Robert Elliott, resident of Queens, was the executioner. Although he was an experienced executioner, killing a woman gave him “an attack of ‘nerves’ so severe that it demanded the presence of his personal physician.” (New York Evening Post, January 13, 1928, p.1.) The Post wrote that electrocution is a gruesome thing.

Sing Sing’s warden for over twenty years (1920-1941), Lewis E. Lawes (1883-1947), who supervised the deaths of over 300 people, was against the death penalty. Lawes didn’t watch executions. He was in the death chamber, looking at the floor, when Ruth was killed. Lawes, on the morning after the late-night execution, slept late, with his bags packed, before a vacation in Palm Beach, was quoted in the New York Evening Post, January 13, 1928:

“Of course, now that I can speak freely I want to express again my disapproval of capital punishment in general.”

“Electrocution is the most merciful way to inflict death, but after years of study here in this prison I believe the death penalty should be abolished.”

Thomas Howard (1894-1961), Ruth Snyder in “Chair”, January 12, 1928 (2011.22.1)

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“…accused as murderess…”

Weegee, [Anna Sheehan at police headquarters, New York], January, 1937 (14036.1993)

Anna and Joseph Sheehan lived in Hells Kitchen. The Sheehans had been married for nine years. They had three children, all boys, at the dawn of 1937 their ages were seven, three, and nineteen months. They lived with Anna’s sister and mother. Anna’s sister, Alice, said “they were the happiest couple I’ve ever known.”

Anna was 27 years old and had worked as a sales woman. Joseph was 30 and worked as an elevator starter (or operator) in the Astor Building, 330 Fifth Avenue (just south of the Empire State Building), his salary was $30 a week.

To celebrate New Year’s Eve, the end of 1936, they went to a party at a friend’s apartment in Flushing, Queens. (Anna didn’t want to attend, but was persuaded; they took the subway and bus.) Joseph wanted to spend $2 to celebrate and Anna thought that was too much. Money was tight; they had a young family and $300 of debt. During the boozy party, between dancing and drinking, Anna and Joseph had a number of arguments about money. Joseph became violent during some of these arguments. Joseph spent more than the budgeted $2 on booze and Anna was worried that they wouldn’t have enough money to feed their family.

We interrupt this narrative for a brief note about inflation and money:
$1 had the same buying power in 1937 as $18.49 in November, 2019.
The $2 that was budgeted for booze had the same buying power as $36.48 in November, 2019.
The $4 that Anna wanted for food for her family of five (or seven) people is worth about $72.97 today.
Joseph’s $30 weekly income has the same buying power as $547.25 today.
The $300 debt for household items that the Sheehan’s had is about $5,472 now.
We now return to the festivities:

When the party ran out of spirits they all went to a tavern on the ground floor for more drinking. Anna did not want to waste any more money on liquor. Anna and Joseph were arguing too much for the partygoers, so they were asked to leave; they returned to the friend’s apartment. They were in what became a hellish kitchen. Joseph picked up a broken beer glass and threatened cut Anna’s throat. Anna was terrified and picked up a knife that was nearby. She hoped that holding a knife would keep him away. Instead he lunged at her. The knife plunged into his heart. He was dead.

Timely tabloids:

New York Post, January 2, 1937, p. 5

Mrs. Anna Sheehan, widow, left Police Headquarters, her eyes wet from a night of weeping, after being charged with the fatal stabbing of her husband, Joseph, aftermath of a New Year’s Party.


Weeping Woman Tells How
New Year’s Spending
Led to Stabbing

Mrs. Anna Sheehan was in the police lineup at police headquarters today charged with homicide.

Her three children are with relatives. They have been told that their father died in an auto accident. They don’t know that their mother killed him…
New York Post, January 2, 1937, p. 5

Held in New Year Husband-Slaying
The first tragic figure of 1937, Mrs. Anna Sheehan, mother of three children, is charged with stabbing her husband to death…
Daily Mirror, January 2, 1937

Daily Mirror, Mrs. Anna Sheehan… accused as murderess…, January 3, 1937

TRAGIC NEW YEAR party that ended on death for her husband caused the arrest of Mrs. Anna Sheehan. She is shown entering court to be arraigned on charge of stabbing her husband, Joseph, to death.

New York Daily News, January 3, 1937

Faints Facing Court As Husband’s Slayer
Still clad in the red party dress she wore to a fatal New Year’s celebration, Mrs. Anna Sheehan, 26-year-old mother of three sons, fainted yesterday at her arraignment in Ridgewood, Queens, Magistrates’ Court on a charge of murdering her husband.

The youthful-looking self-made widow was wracked with sobs as she was led into the courtroom… Her head was bowed and her knees seemed unable to support her.[…]

“You are charged,” he said, “with the crime of homicide; with the killing of a human being.”

Mrs. Sheehan’s mouth opened but no words came out. Then she collapsed.[…]
New York Daily News, January 3, 1937

New York Daily News, January 3, 1937 (Unidentified photographer)

STABS MATE AT PARTY – New Year’s Eve party in Flushing, Queens, ended in tragedy when Mrs. Anna Sheehan, 27 (above), fatally stabbed her husband.

The aftermath:

Anna was arrested and brought to the Flushing precinct house. She was facing a charge of first degree manslaughter. A hearing was scheduled for January 8th in Queens Felony Court. Anna was held without bail. She was held in jail until her trial.

On March 9th the jury was selected in only 90 minutes.

Mrs. Sheehan, who has been in jail since her arrest, was highly nervous when she came into court.

Tall, pale and wearing no cosmetics, she fumbled with her gloves and cheap glass beads as Assistant District Attorney J. Irwin Shapiro demanded, in the opening statement to prospective jurors, that they try the case on its merits and not be influenced by the fact that a women is the defendant. Long Island Daily Press, March 9, 1937.

The trial was on March 10th. The testimony was completed in about five hours (10:30-3:00 PM), the fastest ever in Queens.

Anna’s own words delivered at the trial:

“I reminded him that we had to have money to eat on until the next pay day and he came toward me to hit me with the glass he had in his hand,” Mrs. Sheehan continued. “He held it over his head. I turned around and saw the knife on the stove. I picked it up with my left hand. I thought it would scare him away, but he kept coming. He ran into the knife.” New York Times, March 11, 1937, p. 3.

Anna’s three children were in the courtroom. During a recess the children saw their mother for the first time since she was arrested.

The next day, at 6:20 PM, Anna’s fate, she was facing a maximum sentence of ten to twenty years in prison, was given to the jury. They recessed immediately for dinner. The jury started deliberation at 7:30 PM. At one point the jury asked the judge to define self defense. The judge read the law: “an act is justifiable when done in self defense, if nothing more is done than is necessary to avoid injury.”

The jury returned its verdict after deliberating for more than five hours – five hours during which in another room she held her youngest child in her arms and with the other two clinging to her gown she prayed that she would not have to serve another day in jail.

Verdict Reached

At 12:20 A.M. the jury announced that it had reached a verdict and the pale, frail figure, supported by a matron entered to face her peers. Her dark hair was disheveled from tiny hands that had clung to her a moment before, her eyes rid-rimmed. Long Island Daily Press, March 11, 1937.

Anna was acquitted by the jury of first degree manslaughter.

The judge “thanked the jurors as Mrs. Sheehan was led out – still to weak too stand – by a matron and bailiff. Fifteen minutes later she was weeping her happiness, as she posed for photographs, then, still to the flashing of photographic bulbs, she was whisked away in an auto to start her life anew…” Long Island Daily Press, March 11, 1937.

Around midnight on Thursday, March 11, 1937, Anna Sheehan, the “self-made widow,” was very grateful as she was preparing “to devote her life to the support of her three children,” because she was free…

Weegee, [Anna Sheehan at police headquarters, New York], January, 1937 (14037.1993)

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John Baldessari (1931-2020)

David Seidner, John Baldessari, 1991 (2007.60.7) (Platinum print)

John Baldessari (in conversation with Douglas Huebler, moderated by Charles Stainback) at ICP on Setember 30, 1992; this talk accompanied the exhibition “Special Collections: The Photographic Order from Pop to Now.”

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Happy New Year!

New Year’s Celebration

VU, December 28, 1932 (2009.61.34)

Bonne Année!
Noël… Jour de l’an… la semaine des main tendues… des vœux… des étrennes… des cadeaux… Tous vous la souhaitent bonne et heuresuse.
Photo Universal


Weegee, [Shorty, the Bowery Cherub, New Year’s Eve at Sammy’s Bar, New York], January 1, 1943, (2017.1993)

Happy New Year, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, 1948

Weegee, New Year’s Eve, Times Square, New York, ca. 1945 (15654.1993)

Hauoli Maka Hiki Hou! (Happy New Year!), Genoa Keawe’s Polynesians and Johnny Almeida’s Hawaiians

Weegee, For a Happier 1945… To Her and to Millions… the New Year Brings Hope, January 1, 1945 (16279.1993)

Ringing In a Brand New Year, Billy Ward And His Dominoes, 1953

Dan Weiner, New Years Eve, Times Square, New York, 1951 (969.1974)

New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House, Raymond Scott Quintet, 1939

Tod Papageorge, New Year’s Eve at Studio 54, 1978 (885.2000)

New Year’s Noise

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Weegee Covers Christmas in New York…

PM, December 26, 1940

Weegee Covers Christmas in New York…

In Pictures and Words

by Weegee

Early Christmas Eve I received a phone call from Wesley Price, one of PM’s picture editors. Price told me he wanted a good holiday picture, something with plenty of OOMPH. Lots of Christmas spirit in it. in other words a masterpiece. Jokingly I replied you just couldn’t order a picture like that, like you would a box of cigars. It had to happen. However, I asked him if he had any suggestions. He suggested that I get the picture in for the first edition.

I left police headquarters in my car at 2:30 Christmas morning. I turned the two radios on. One the regular broadcast receiver, to get some holiday music to put me in the mood; and the other radio, a police short wave receiver to get the police signals so I would know what was going on.

Weegee, [All night mission, Bowery, New York], 1940 (1075.1993)

The first police call I picked up was for West and Bank Sts. When I got there I found a car with a Jersey license, turned on its side, with a cop on top of it. Nobody seemed to be hurt. Soon a towing wagon arrived to take the car away. I made a shot of it and was on my way.

Then I picked up six fire alarm signals. They were all false. I didn’t think Santa did that.

Then I stopped at the All Night Mission at No. 8 Bowery. Every night in the year about 100 hopelessly beaten and homeless men sit on benches and sleep as best they can.

Except for a Christmas tree in front, everything was the same. The same despair and hopelessness.

I tiptoed in at 4 in the morning, being careful not to disturb anyone. Everyone was asleep. The place was as usual playing to “Sitting up” only. The same electric sign was lit with the illuminated big letters, JESUS SEES, the only source of light in the place. I wondered if He approved…

Weegee, Christmas Morning at a Bowery Mission, December 25, 1940 (1073.1993)

On the way out, along a big stove near the door, I noticed a pair of stockings, turned inside out, hung to dry.

Next I picked up a police alarm for 102nd St. and Lexington Ave. When I got there I found a man had been stabbed to death and was lying on the corner. From the St. John’s Episcopal Church, on the opposite corner, came the sound of organ music and the singing of the Christmas worshipers. I made a shot of the scene and started back to police headquarters.

When I arrived at my home, in back of Police Headquarters, I found a package wrapped in fancy paper outside my door. It was a present from my Chinese laundry man, Willie Chu, of 95 Elizabeth St. It contained a pound of tea and a half pound of lichee nuts. I had been looking for the Christmas spirit all night long. And had found it, on my doorstep. Lichee NUTS to you, Santa Claus…

Weegee, [Dried lychee and tea], December 25, 1940 (14409.1993)

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