Here we present a reader case study, an occasional feature which allows us to showcase some of the discoveries made by NEHGS members and subscribers
Picturing Uncle Tommy
by Gerard E. Sullivan, University Place, Washington
Until two years ago my Great Uncle Tommy was just a name to me. Thomas Francis Mulrey was born in 1876 and died in 1946, two years before I was born. He never married, so as I researched my family tree he was not of great interest to me — he was a branch in the tree, with no twigs.
As a small child I knew his sisters, Molly and Nellie, and his brothers, Johnny and Jimmy. His older brother Joe was my grandfather, but he, too, died before I was born. I do not recall hearing much about Tommy. I only knew a few things about him: that he lived his entire life on Canterbury Street in Roslindale, in the house where he grew up and that he was a Boston Police Department captain.
Author Dennis Lehane got me interested in knowing more about Tommy. His 2008 book The Given Day brought 1919 Boston and service on its police force to life for me. It left me wanting to know more about Tommy’s experience. I reasoned that if he became a captain in that era, he had to have been an outstanding cop or else very well connected. Not suspecting any notable family connections, I thought superior performance must have been the reason for his success, and that my best resource would be to see if I could obtain information regarding any promotions and citations from his personnel file at the Boston Police Department.
After some online searching I contacted Margaret R. Sullivan, Records Manager and Archivist for the Boston Police Department. I explained my interest in former BPD Captain Thomas Mulrey, and was pleased to discover that his files still existed. I faxed her a formal request for copies, and within a week I had a hefty envelope containing the details of Captain Mulrey's career. Although I found no obvious reasons for his rise to captain, I had gained a good deal of information.
Ms. Sullivan had asked whether I’d requested information from the Boston Public Library, and specifically mentioned the Leslie Jones Collection — almost 40,000 photos documenting the history of Boston in the twentieth century. She suggested that I contact the Boston Public Library to see if they could do a name search. I did, and learned that there were several pictures of Inspector Thomas Mulrey, one of which was quite remarkable. Within a few days I received the images by email.
The remarkable photo, taken in 1927, pictured three people: Inspector Mulrey on the left, Inspector John Mitchell on the right, and, between them, Carlo (a.k.a. Charles) Ponzi. Yes, that Charles Ponzi. The caption for a similar photo reads: "Charles Ponzi after his arrest in Texas after trying to jump to Italy. He is being escorted back to Boston for stay in state prison." I believe Inspectors Mulrey and Mitchell were not involved in Ponzi’s arrest, just his transport.
Who'd have thought an episode as intriguing as this would not have survived as a family legend? Fortunately, the resources of the Boston Police Department and the Boston Public Library have made the story into a new family legend.