Years ago, at a Friends of the Library sale, I came across a thick book entitled, Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader’s Companion, by Dilys Winn. Of course, it became mine in a matter of seconds and I’ve spent fun times and magical moments with the book ever since.
Murder Ink is not really the kind of book to sit down and read cover to cover. To me, it’s more like a mystery date. Every so often, I’ll take it off the shelf for a rendezvous and flip to a random page, knowing I’ll find something fun or interesting. Dilys Winn, the woman who compiled the book, founded the famous New York City bookstore by the same name: Murder Ink. She filled the book with essays and tidbits from fans, editors, authors, and others, covering the gamut of everything mystery related.
A treasure trove of everything mystery related
In its pages, you can learn how to avoid being poisoned, how to choose a blunt instrument if you’re writing a mystery, and how to launder money. You can find tips for creating your own mystery game, cracking codes, or encrypting secret information in a microdot.
Last night, I opened the book to a two-page spread on “The Well-Dressed Cop,” circa 1890 in New York City. I got a kick out of it and thought I’d share some of it with my readers.
In those days, a NYC policeman’s uniform might have included a frock coat with a double row of brass buttons and a helmet covered with gray felt. Pretty standard stuff, but it’s the accessories that really caught my eye. For example, the shield he wore. The policeman’s badge was made of copper, and that’s why they’re called “cops.”
Many policemen of the day carried a flute, and I’m not talking about a musical instrument. A flute was a glass gun, a bottle in the shape of a pistol, that held the cop’s beverage of choice–usually rum. He tucked it in his waistband or nightstick holder…illegally.
Don’t leave home without it
Thumb cuffs were a standard piece of equipment. A small wooden board resembling the stocks you’d see in a medieval re-enactment on the village square. But smaller, to fit the culprit’s thumbs as they were screwed into place behind his back.
The real piece of cutting-edge equipment for the officer looking to get ahead was the “Legster,” a holster that fit around the calf and ankle to hold a backup gun in place. The classics never go out of style, do they?
The cop had three options when choosing his service weapon–a Smith and Wesson, Colt, or Dan Wesson revolver with 4-inch barrel. He also carried a rosewood baton and pair of nippers, a restraining device which wrapped around the suspect’s wrists and rendered him unable to move his hands.
Who knows–I may find a use for this information some day in a story. Or maybe not. Either way, it was an interesting mystery date!
How about you? Do you have your own copy of Murder Ink? Do you have any esoteric knowledge of police uniforms? Tell us about it in the comments.