Drop-Dead Gorgeous

“Got Caught — Stealing Hearts”

There’s something startling about historical people who are drop-dead gorgeous.  Two of them make their appearance in this post, one already popular, one more obscure.

The current gorgeous bad boy is the preternaturally handsome Daniel Tohill, whose photo has been flying around the internet.  Tohill was a New Zealand petty criminal whose mug shot was taken in 1908, when he was charged with stealing a fur necklet and a bicycle.  He was acquitted of stealing the bicycle, and as one modern commenter noted, he would have looked quite fetching in the fur necklet.

The dapper, Errol Flynn-esque criminal Daniel Tohill (his name misspelled on the photo), New Zealand, 1908. From the New Zealand Police Museum.

His photo first appeared in an online exhibit, “Suspicious Looking,” on the website of the New Zealand Police Museum in Paremata, New Zealand.   “Suspicious Looking” features a whole array of fascinating mug shots from 1886 through 1908.  Daniel Tohill’s mug shot stands out for his ridiculously interesting good looks, so ridiculously interesting that he made it to Tumblr and from there was featured on the website of the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things. Since then Daniel’s been all over the internet, often accompanied by the notation “Got caught — stealing hearts,” and inspiring a bounty of besotted comments.

Chelsea Nichols, the curator of the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things and a PhD student at Oxford, did some research and discovered that Tohill already had a criminal record at the time of the ridiculously interesting mug shot, having stolen some items from a railway shed in 1907 and some ferrets — ! — in 1906.   Tohill was born in 1881 and so was twenty-seven years old when the 1908 mug shot was taken.  Nichols discovered that he was the third of eighteen children, and that he married one Frances O’Kane in Otago in 1903.  For the theft of the necklet he served four months’ hard labor. A little more sleuthing on my part reveals that he was a private in the seventh division of the Otago Infantry Battalion in the first World War. He died in Auckland in 1950 at the age of 68.  So far no other photos have turned up.

The second man has not yet flown around the internet, but he is no less ridiculously gorgeous.  As you can see, here we have a photo of two Plains Cree men from the Round Lake Reserve in Saskatchewan.

Two Plains Cree men from Saskatchewan. c. 1900? From the collection of the Museum of the American Indian.

You can tell from the clothes and leggings that these men were used to a chilly clime.  The man on the left is holding a rather interesting feather dance bustle.  The man on the right — whoa Nelly!  What is a male model doing in this picture?  Of course he’s not a male model; he’s a Cree man with lovely long hair and a fascinating headdress.  And he happens to look like a movie star.  The cheekbones.  The jaw.  The set of his mouth.  Good golly.  Doesn’t he just jump out of the picture and make you wonder about him?  What was his name?  What is he thinking?  Is he free for dinner?

What is it about gorgeousness that makes us so fascinated?  As I recall, Aristotle replied, “That is a blind man’s question.”  It’s a paradox that gorgeous looks make historical people seem strangely modern, almost timeless.

I have a photo of a gorgeous frontier woman too, in front of a tumbledown shack in the middle of the wilderness.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, for a different set of gorgeous historical men, see My Daguerreotype Boyfriend.


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