Los Angeles Examiner Negatives Collection in the the Regional History Collection
of USC Libraries
Dodgers and the Giants, opening day at the Coliseum.
William Dotson at USC's Doheny Library sent the Daily Mirror an
invitation to a reception for the "Mobsters, Molls and Mayhem" photo
exhibit and even though the event was several weeks ago, it's been on
our minds for several reasons because the gathering was one of those
troubling crossroads of fact, fiction and fantasy that seem to define
Los Angeles history.
Fiction was the first element the Daily Mirror encountered, as we saw
our old friend James Ellroy inspecting some of the photos culled from
the 80,000 images that were taken in 1958 and are available in the
Examiner collection. The "Demon Dog" of fiction was in a bright yellow
sweater that hardly seemed demonic. It was good to see the old boy;
it's been a while since the press event for "The Black Dahlia." We
chatted a bit. He's writing.
Fact, of course, is close to our hearts at the Daily Mirror so it was
gratifying to talk for a few moments with Tyson Gaskill, one of the
curators, about assembling the exhibit. We also chatted with USC
professor Greg Hise, who made some introductory remarks, and Catherine
Quinlan, dean of USC's libraries.
Tyson, who worked on the exhibit with Andrew Wulf and Jill Breznican,
said going through the old copies of the Examiner to select the images
was a revelation that shattered his preconceptions of the past. The
experience "forever changed my vision of the 1950s," he told the Daily
Mirror. "The 1950s were awful," he said. "It's hard to convey that. I
thought it was an era of tedium."
Greg, an associate professor of urban planning and history and
geography, took a broader view, noting the scope of the 1.8 million
images taken between 1920 and 1961 in USC's Examiner collection, along
with the photos in the "Dick" Whittington collection of commercial and
aerial photography. One of the best aspects of the photos, he said, is
that they portray issues like land use and immigration in a visual
manner rather than as abstractions. The Daily Mirror concurs: A woman
sitting on her front porch with a rifle (at left) to keep the state from taking
her home for a freeway speaks simply but powerfully about the issues of
transportation and housing.
Greg as well as Catherine touched on one troubling question that we're
sure keeps archivists awake at night: What will become of newspaper
images and corporate documents in the Digital Age? Both of them raised
the question of whether it would be possible to stage a similar exhibit
50 years from now using photos from the Los Angeles Times. In 2058,
will a 50-year-old CD still work and will jpeg still be a recognized
format? Let's cross our fingers.
While we were at it, we ran into the family of John B.T. Campbell, the
legendary--or notorious--editor of the Herald Express. Campbell was the
newsman who nicknamed many of Los Angeles' famous murders, according to
the late Aggie Underwood. The Daily Mirror didn't know, until meeting
his descendants, that he was nicknamed "The Tarantula."
We also said hello to Dace Taube of the Regional History Collection, to whom every researcher in Los Angeles owes an incredible debt of gratitude.
And finally, and this is what keeps the Daily Mirror awake at night,
comes fantasy. During the reception, we encountered an individual who
made elaborate claims of personal knowledge about one of the more
famous crimes in Los Angeles history. We listened politely, jotted down
a few notes and were saddened to discover that this person's tale, with
all its finely embroidered details, was utter rubbish. We suspect we
will never understand what makes people concoct such yarns. We just
wish they would stop.
"Mobsters, Molls and Mayhem" will be on display at Doheny Library through May 15. Tell them "Woof, Daddy-o."