Historic Photo: Dead woman in an office (and a mystery), 1920.

dead woman on floor with chair and spittoon by harry m rhoads 1920 pd

I know virtually nothing about this photo, but it caught my eye as it went by on Wikimedia Commons (where I do a lot of searching for both the Historic Photo and Historic Painting series) and I knew I had to feature it. Obviously this woman is dead. We have no idea how she died, though I suspect this is a crime scene photo. We can’t see the colors but she’s dressed pretty flashily. Perhaps she’s a prostitute; maybe not. The setting is an office. Notice the telephone silhouetted against the window which is on a stretchable frame. Also note the view out the window, indicating this is an urban high-rise. The roll-top desk and the rug are both pretty high-end, suggesting this is the workplace of some white-collar person. The huge spittoon is an incongruous detail. The overturned chair with its torn seat tells us that a struggle or some kind of violence took place here. It’s a haunting picture precisely because we don’t know its story.

This photo was taken by Harry M. Rhoads about 1920. Somehow it wound up in the Library of Congress. Whatever the rest of the story is–who this woman was and what happened to her–has apparently been lost to history.

This picture is in the public domain.
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