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Great Moments in Court Room Sketching

January 19, 2015

"Gentleman of the jury"—Judge Maddox turned to the twelve men—"you will be conducted to this house [where the murder was committed]."

With that, he sent them to fetch their hats and overcoats. Captain Methven and the rest of their police escort cut a path through the crowd as the jurors filed out into the cold air of the courthouse steps and down to the streetcar stop. While a private trolley was requisitioned for the jurors, reporters jockeyed to hire their own. An Evening Journal artist stood nearby and hurriedly sketched the scene in pen and ink.

It won't fit, a collegue informed him. One bird can't carry a sheet that size. The chagrined artist, realizing his mistake, promptly sliced the drawing down the middle. The two halves were sent across the river by different pigeons.

From: The Murder of The Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins; Broadway Books, 2011.

Isn't it marvelous that if you wanted to get your courtroom sketch from the Long Island courtroom to the newspaper offices in New York City you went high tech and used homing pigeons to beat the competition?

In 1897 Martin Thorn was convicted of shooting and dismembering the lover of his lover. The manner in which body parts showed up over the summer (the head was never found) became an instant sensation. Children went out en masse to look for the severed head as if it were an Easter egg hunt. The details of the case fueled the "yellow journalism" war between Hearst and Pulitzer, and changed the face of newspaper publishing (I'll have more to say newspapers in Friday's movie "double feature" post).

But I just can't get past those pigeons!

You can read about the case in Paul Collins' book listed above.

While this isn't the sketch in question, if you want to see a sketch of Martin Thorn, here is one that appeared in a Salt Lake Herald—the murder was national news throughout the trial.

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