Digital History project review- Small Town Noir

There’s a lot to explore on the website of Small Town Noir. It details crimes committed in and around New Castle, Pennsylvania during the 1930s-50s, bringing life and giving stories to the mugshots taken during those years.

This site was created and maintained by Diarmid Mogg, and it does not look like it has been updated since 2018. It is an online archive of public history

The purpose of this project is to find and share the stories behind this collection of mugshots with locals, families, and any other interested parties. There are lots of them that do have stories, keep in mind these people aren’t famous, all the information is found from the local newspaper and any family that chooses to contribute to the stories of their relatives. This collection strikes me as very special in a unique way; these are not the stories of famous gangsters and big city crime syndicates, these are mostly about people who grew up in an industrial city, people who led their own quiet(ish) lives, but many are just as exciting and crazy and convoluted as any fictionalized tale. These are stories of normal people. It feels very personal to read through the gathered information.

Some of the stories are pretty concise, only detailing early life and what immediately led up to and followed the crime. Some get much more lengthy. My favorite so far is that of Frank Costal, who was originally charged with stealing a bicycle in 1945 and went on to have a very… unique life. He was an alleged occultist and satanist (who also decorated his house with Halloween decorations) and ended up being charged with two counts of first-degree murder of the wife and daughter of a man he was having an affair with, I believe? Very interesting and all over the place.

They are very thorough, given the sometimes-scant amount of information available. All the newspaper clippings from where information was found are listed at the bottom of each entry.

While a very cool collection of stories and information, my biggest quip is how this website is organized. Or, more lack of organization. Unless you know exactly who you’re looking for and when their crime was documented on the blog, good luck finding anything. It is a continuous scroll from the most recent post in late 2018 to its beginning in 2009. I’m not looking for anyone in particular, so it’s not the end of the world to just scroll through and read stories, but I don’t think this is the best way it could be organized.

I think having some sort of tagging system or other way of sorting these mugshots and their stories into categories would make navigation of this website much easier. Given the subject material, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to ask that this be organized chronologically or categorized by type of crime committed.

There is also an entire section dedicated to mugshots that have no stories, I believe the author said there were a couple hundred with no more information apart from name, date, and crime. In that section Diarmid asks viewers of the page to reach out if they have any information on one of the people listed.

All in all, I think this is a fascinating project. I love the stories and recovering escapades of everyday people from decades past, I love how personal it is, this is an aspect of history that really draws me in. I just with it was a bit better organized, since scrolling through nine years of material is not the most effective way to find something.






2 responses to “Digital History project review- Small Town Noir”

  1. Zara Avatar

    The information on this website is quite cool! I like that along with the stories there are mugshots so you can see the person being talked about. I agree that having a bit more organization would be nice, when the crime was committed or what the crime was.

  2. David Fleming Avatar
    David Fleming

    Anikka, I like the purple on your website. It is nice. Having your links being a different color is also a nice touch. I agree with you on the lack of organization as the website feels like it goes on and on. Good job.

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