The painting of a policeman guiding and protecting a small girl has graced the walls of the Cleveland Police Department, and now the Cleveland Police Museum, for many years. Many officers have passed the painting on their way to work. Spouses and children remember the painting fondly. But many have wondered how and why it came to the police department. For the answer, we need to go back over 100 years, to 1894.
Edward Marks and Joseph Stern published song the “The Little Lost Child” in 1894. The song tells the story of a lost girl found by a passing policeman. The policeman then finds the girl’s mother, who turns out to be his estranged wife. The family is happily reunited.
Looking for a novel way to promote the new song, they developed a new concept, the “illustrated song.” During the performance, a series of hand-colored slides depicting scenes of the song were projected onto the wall using a stereopticon device. “The Lost Little Child,” or as it was sometimes titled, “The Passing Policeman,” quickly spread across the country, with more than two million copies of the sheet music sold in 1894 alone. The illustrated song concept endured well into the 1930s.
Performer Allen May brought “The Little Lost Girl” to Cleveland in January, 1895. The Plain Dealer stated that “many members of the Cleveland police department witnessed and appreciated the performance during the week and several of the Central Station patrolmen met Mr. May personally.” The song and performance proved quite popular among Clevelanders for many years, especially those who supported the police. In December of 1899, a mysterious donor gifted the department with a life-sized painting of the sheet music artwork. With the picture was an unsigned note which “begged the Cleveland police force to accept the picture as a Christmas present.”
The donor remained a mystery until 1902, when it was revealed to be “that the giver was a prominent character of the “Red Light District.” His name is famous throughout that region. He operates a resort in the midst of the quarter. In his place perhaps more than any other of its character has vice run rampant. The painter of the picture was a woman, an habituete of the demimonde. This woman though endowed with more than ordinary talent preferred to live a life of shame than the honored career of a painter of ability.”
Despite the unsavory origins of the painting, it hung in the halls of the police headquarters for many years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story of its origins was quickly forgotten. In 1907, the Plain Dealer reported that “Everyone who has ever visited the central police station, and it is surprising how many people get there every week, even if not arrested themselves, has noticed the life size oil painting of a stalward policeman shown in the act of finding a little girl lost in the park…On quiet days about the station, the officers spend their time giving their theories as to the history of the picture and its meaning.”
When the department moved into its new Central Station on Payne Avenue, the painting almost didn’t make it. It had been left behind in the former headquarters building. Luckily, Lloyd Trunk #56 and Paul Lindsey #27 placed the it in the boiler room for safekeeping. It may have stayed there, except for an article in the Plain Dealer lamenting that “The Passing Policeman,” admired and wondered about for more than thirty years while it hung from a wall in the old police station in Champlain Avenue S.W. is passing into oblivion. The picture is ending its career tied to a boiler in the basement of the new Central Station, where, unseen and unsung, it was relegated by Chief Jacob Graul, ‘because it is out of harmony with the bright shiny surroundings of the new building.” The painting moved to the Bertillion Room and eventually hung in the 4th floor office of Sergeant Louis J. Machovec, #282, head of the Communications Service at Central Station.
In 1983, the “Passing Policeman” was donated to the newly-formed Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum. It is one of only two artifacts from the old Central Station on Champlain Street that still exists. Museum trustees hired Peter Paul Dubaniewicz to clean and restore the painting. Working with his daughter Paula, Dubaniewicz uncovered the wreath of the policeman, which bears the number 52. Until 2017, the painting hung in the first floor lobby of headquarters, outside the entrance to the police museum.
In 2017, McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory donated their services to professionally conserve and store the painting while the first floor of the Justice Center underwent renovations and the museum moved locations. Museum trustees rehung the painting in the museum in 2019, where it serves as a reminder of the history of our department and the dedication of our police officers.
You can hear a recording of “The Little Lost Child” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTCBtMPvuKQ
A passing policeman found a little child.
She walked beside him, dried her tears, and smiled.
Said he to her kindly, “Now you must not cry.
I will find your mama for you by and by.”
At the station when he asked her for her name
And she answered “Jennie,” it made him exclaim:
“At last of your mother I have now a trace!
Your little features bring back her sweet face.”
“Do not fear, my little darling, and I will take you right home.
Come and sit down close beside me. No more from me you shall roam.
For you were a babe in arms when your mother left me one day,
Left me at home, deserted, alone, and took you, my child, away.”