Five Things to Know About… ‘Racket: The People v. Hines’
In August 1938, James Joseph “Jimmy” Hines, the Tammany Hall leader of the Eleventh Assembly District of Manhattan, became the subject of a media feeding frenzy. Hines was charged with being a paid protector of the illegal lottery ring operated by mobster Arthur (Dutch Schultz) Flegenheimer, and his trial drew crowds of reporters to chronicle the gripping details of life in the underworld.
Photographers were not allowed in the courtroom, so sketch artists helped bring the trial to life for newspaper readers. Many of the sketches that appeared on the front pages of New York’s Daily News are now on display through Jan. 14 in Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library in an exhibit titled: “Racket: The People v. Hines & the Courtroom as Spectacle.” The exhibit is open to the Yale community and by appointment with Kathryn James, Yale Law Library’s rare book librarian and curator of the exhibit.
This is the inaugural exhibit for a new display space in the reference room of the library’s central reading room. James created a lively display meant to catch the eyes of those entering the reading room by hanging high-resolution blowups of some of the most animated sketches — Jimmy on a cigarette break with his adult son outside the courtroom, a scrum of lawyers huddled around the judge’s bench — on the walls behind the glass exhibit cases.
Yale News recently toured the exhibit with James. Here are five takeaways.
The sketches are a recent acquisition for the library.
The library purchased the portfolio of drawings last April from Lawbook Exchange, a a law-centered rare book firm in New Jersey.
“Visually it was just so engaging and seemed so interesting in terms of its representation of the courtroom,” James said.
The portfolio adds to the library’s already-strong collection of trial documentation dating back as far as the 16th century. Among the collection’s other visual representations are 19th- and 20th-century popular periodicals with illustrations of notorious criminals and their victims.
Many of the sketches depict the judicial process in action.
While the sketches are often focused on the facial expressions of the prominent figures in the trial, the artists also placed their subjects within active scenarios. In one sketch, for example, all but the legs of the standing lawyers and judge are obscured behind a massive atlas as they hold it up for examination.
“It shows the material process of the courtroom and also the artists’ view of the physical comedy,” James said.
In another, the prosecutor and defense counsel are clearly in heated debate — in this case, about wiretapping. Law books and evidence are often included alongside the subjects. And the court reporters transcribing the official proceedings are depicted in several sketches, bowed over their work in their seats just below the judge’s bench.
The courtroom artists delivered drawings twice daily.
The two artists — Joe Kidd and S.J. Woolf — dashed off sketches in pencil, charcoal, and pastel. The drawings were rushed to the newsroom, where they were captioned and cropped for photo-reproduction, for two editions a day. One caption refers to the “flashing pencil of Staff Artist Kidd.” Another refers to his “camera eye.”
“You can imagine how quickly somebody would have to be working in order to do this,” James said. “There’s a tense balance between being visually compelling and also being accurate.”
Both men trained in New York at the Art Students League, and their illustrations had much in common with the then-emergent comic book style (think early Dick Tracy).
“A lot of the people they would have known in the New York art community would have been doing the same kind of illustration but for popular comics,” she said.
The prosecuting attorney was Thomas E. Dewey.
Yes, that Dewey, the one referenced in the infamously incorrect banner headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Of course, as it turned out, Democratic President Harry Truman rather soundly beat Dewey, a Republican, in that 1948 election.
Dewey had a strong record as a state prosecutor and later as Manhattan District Attorney, successfully prosecuting not only Hines but a number of gangsters, including Lucky Luciano, who was convicted for running a prostitution racket. Dewey’s crime-fighting record helped propel him into the New York governor’s office, where he remained for three terms, from 1942 to 1954.
The first trial — from which most of these sketches are drawn — did not result in a conviction.
After the judge called a mistrial in the first effort to prosecute Hines, he went on trial again in January 1939. This time, Dewey obtained a conviction. Hines was sentenced to four to eight years in the penitentiary for “contriving, proposing and drawing a lottery.” He was released on parole in September 1944.