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Great-Great-Grandparents' Sins (Sleuthing in the Archive)

Spending most of my time reorganizing the library and our governing association's records rarely leads to noteworthy moments that compel me to write a post here. However, today I found something entirely strange.

It started innocuously enough with a ledger book in the building superintendent's records. It's an unremarkable and mostly anonymous book with no obvious label. You have to flip through and look for context to get your clues. The first thing I do in this kind of situation is to at least get a date range, since it's the easiest. This one starts in 1904 and the back pages are 1925. Okay, nothing to pique anyone's interest.

The lion's share of the book appears to be a daybook for building expenses. This is entirely not a surprise given where it was found. It has moderate historical value overall, and significant value if people wanted to know how much it cost to run a building in downtown Boston in the early 20th century.

However, a closer look shows the first 50 pages have a slightly different format than the back. The handwriting is also remarkably different. Instead of cramped and crabbed, it's a classic and beautiful example of clerical script. Then the column headings "Crime" and "Fine" jumped off the page at me. Crime?! What exactly was going on in this building that would cause the building superintendent to keep a book of them and have the capacity to levy money for them? This was worth a trip down to Claudette's office to try to make some sense out of it together.

The total list of headings for this section are:
Number, Date, Reservation, Name, Residence, Crime, Disposition, Fine, Remarks.

"Reservation"? The entries in that column are beaches, parks, and parkways. Huh. So, it looks like this ledger started off as a park ranger infraction ledger. The most popular infractions are drunkenness and "auto rule". Some of our favorites, however, are: Drunkenness and mutual assault; playing cards on the lords day; larceny; profanity; and the ever-intriguing "indecent act", which may or may not have been the same as out-and-out fornication, which was only listed once in comparison to the several "acts".

Fines were anything from 2 or 3 dollars (the equivalent of approximately $25 today) to a staggering $30 ($677 after inflation). Some of the fines for the same infraction varied. I was quite puzzled to see that a lady was fined $12 when caught in an indecent act, but her male companion was charged $15.

In the end we determined the book was likely held by an officer/ranger working for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). There's a ten year gap between the first and second sections. We surmised that it was a case of recycling. Why waste 250 pages of perfectly useful ledger? It seems unlikely we'll fully solve the mystery of how the book landed here, but it did make for some entertaining speculation and commentary on our culture 100+ years ago.

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A sample page featuring crimes such as "Playing cards
on the Lord's Day" and "Making a fire."