Called the “Pallet Project,” it was one of the most satisfying experiences of my career at the Municipal Archives. The project originated about 30 years when the Archives was asked to take “old” records—mostly in the form of ledger books—that had been stored by City agencies in the basement of the Municipal Building. At the time, the Archives did not have the resources to go through all of the material to select which ledgers had historical value—they just piled everything on pallets and moved them into storage.
Finally, two years ago, the director of the Archives decided it was time to appraise these thousands of ledgers and accession those worth keeping. Every day was like a birthday—you never knew what would be found when opening the presents, or in this case, disassembling a pallet of records. One day, my present turned out to be a series of journals created by the District Attorney’s Homicide Bureau from 1918 through 1927. Each journal consisted of post-bound typed transcripts of telephone calls received by the Bureau from the Police Department reporting homicides, or alleged homicides. I will not say this was the most important of my discoveries, but it is certainly a unique record and will be of great use to historians. Each entry is titled with the date and time of the telephone call, precinct location and a succinct description the homicide, including the names of the police officer at the crime scene, the victim and assailant, if known, and witnesses. Here’s a typical entry:
Don’t you just want to know more? How did he get his nick name? Who found him and put him in the taxi to the hospital? This entry raises questions that could beguile a researcher into diving deeply into this 1920 murder mystery.