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New York City Photo Database: Department Of Records Releases 870,000 Images Online (PHOTOS)

AP/The Huffington Post  |  Posted: 04/24/2012 8:39 am Updated: 04/25/2012 11:15 am

By Randy Herschaft and Cristian Salazar, AP

NEW YORK: The two men were discovered dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft in a 12-story Manhattan building, as if dumped there, one man sprawled on top of the other.

The rare crime scene photograph from Nov. 24, 1915, is one of 870,000 images of New York City and its municipal operations now available to the public on the Internet for the first time.

The city Department of Records officially announced the debut of the photo database Tuesday. A previously unpublicized link to the images has been live for about two weeks.

Culled from the Municipal Archives collection of more than 2.2 million images going back to the mid-1800s, the photographs feature all manner of city oversight - from stately ports and bridges to grisly gangland killings.

The project was four years in the making, part of the department's mission to make city records accessible to everyone, said department assistant commissioner Kenneth Cobb.

"We all knew that we had fantastic photograph collections that no one would even guess that we had," Cobb said.

Taken mostly by anonymous municipal workers, some of the images have appeared in publications but most were accessible only by visiting the archive offices in lower Manhattan over the past few years.

Researchers, history buffs, filmmakers, genealogists and preservationists in particular will find the digitized collection helpful. But anyone can search the images, share them through social media or purchase them as prints.

The gallery includes images from the largest collection of criminal justice evidence in the English-speaking world, a repository that holds glass-plate photographs taken by the New York City Police Department.

It also features more than 800,000 color photographs taken with 35mm cameras of every city building in the mid-1980s to update the municipal records, and includes more than 1,300 rarely seen images taken by local photographers of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.

Because of technological and financial constraints, the digitized gallery does not include the city's prized collection of 720,000 photographs of every city building from 1939 to 1941. But the database is still growing, and the department plans to add more images.

Among the known contributors to the collection was Eugene de Salignac, the official photographer for the Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures from 1906 to 1934. An iconic Salignac photograph, taken Oct. 7, 1914, and now online, shows more than a half-dozen painters lounging on wires on the Brooklyn Bridge.

"A lot of other photographers who worked for the city were pretty talented but did not produce such a large body of work or a distinct body of work," said Michael Lorenzini, curator of photography at the Municipal Archives and author of "New York Rises" that showcases Salignac images.

Maira Liriano, manager of the New York Public Library's local history and genealogy division, said the tax photo collections are of particular interest to researchers.

For example, she said, homeowners seeking to restore their historic houses often go to the Municipal Archives to get images of what the buildings looked like in the 1940s or 1980s.

The same collection is also used by people doing research for film productions, family historians hoping to see what their ancestors' homes looked like, and scholars trying to measure the transformation of the metropolis over time.

One popular cache includes photos shot mostly by NYPD detectives, nearly each one a crime mystery just begging to be solved. The black-and-white, top-down image of the two men in the elevator shaft is a representative example.

Although it did not carry a crime scene photo, the New York Tribune reported Nov. 25, 1915, under the headline "Finding of two bodies tells tale of theft," that the bodies of a black elevator operator and a white engineer of a Manhattan building were found "battered, as though from a long fall."

The news report said the two men tried to rob a company on the fifth floor of expensive silks, but died in their attempt. The elevator was found with $500 worth of silk inside, stuck between the 10th and 11th floors.

Luc Sante, an author and a professor of writing and photography at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, used images from the police collection for his 1992 book "Evidence."

"They're remarkable. They're brutal. But they are also very beautiful," he said.

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  • This circa 1983-1988 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives shows 172 Norfolk Street, which is now the Angel Orensanz Foundation, in New York. Over 800,000 color photographs were taken with 35-mm cameras for tax purposes. Every New York City building in the mid-1980s can be viewed in this collection. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives)

  • In this September 30, 1936, Works Progress Administration, Federal Writer's Project, photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, a man hands a program to baseball legend Babe Ruth, center, as he is joined by his second wife Clare, center left, and singer Kate Smith, front left, in the grandstand during Game 1 of the 1936 World Series at the Polo Grounds in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents New York City life. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, WPA Federal Writers' Project) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • In this circa 1890 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, a pair of girls walk east along 42nd Street in New York. Acker, Merrall and Condit wine shop delivery wagons are on the right and the C.C. Shayne Furrier sign can be seen on the roof overhead. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, DeGregario Collection (New York Camera Club))

  • In this 1918 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, police work a homicide after children found the body of Gaspare Candella stuffed in a burlap covered drum out in the middle of a Brooklyn, N.Y. field. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life and sometimes death in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, NYPD Evidence Collection, Detective Charles A. Carlstrom)

  • In this Nov 24, 1915 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, the bodies of elevator operator Robert Green, left and Jacob Jagendorf, a building engineer, lie at the bottom of an elevator shaft in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life and sometimes death in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, NYPD Evidence Collection)

  • In this May 18, 1940 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, a man reads a newspaper on New York's 6th Ave. and 40th St, with the headline: "Nazi Army Now 75 Miles From Paris." Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of this rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Borough President Manhattan)

  • In this April 18, 1936 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, the police booking photo of Charles "Lucky" Luciano is shown in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, DA Case Files)

  • In this Oct. 7, 1914 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, painters are suspended from wires on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures, Eugene de Salignac)

  • In this July 29, 1908 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, workers dig in the street along the sidewalk on the north side of Delancey Street in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of this rich collection that documents New York City life. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures, Eugene de Salignac)

  • In this June 5, 1908 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, the superstructure from the Manhattan Bridge rises above Washington Street in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of a rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures, Eugene de Salignac)

  • In this Oct. 2, 1930 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, workers assemble bricks to build the roadway on 28th Street in New York. Over 870,000 photos from an archive that exceeds 2.2 million images have been scanned and made available online, for the first time giving a global audience a view of this rich collection that documents life in New York City. (AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Borough President Manhattan)

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