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Who were these people?

What did they do? Why did they break the law—or did they? What were their lives like? Did they have family? Friends? Where did they come from? Did they go to jail? Did they escape? Were they committed to an insane asylum? Did they continue to live by petty theft and prostitution? Did they “reform”?

These mug-shots are, literally, snapshots in time. For most of these unknown New Orleanians we will never know how they lived their lives before or after their encounters with the city government, the police, and, possibly, the city jail. Their faces offer tantalizing clues to a myriad of different lives, but no answers. Though we may imagine their lives and envision their contribution to the multi-layered social fabric of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, these people still remain, for the most part, hidden from history.

At the same time, though as individuals they remain unknown, their stories, their faces, their presence in the City Archives, contribute immeasurably to our understanding of the history we can trace, the stories we can research, and the picture we can draw of life in New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century. These unknown New Orleanians therefore help us to know New Orleans.

Click on the small images to see a larger version of each

[New Orleans Police Department. Photograph Collection]

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