Baby Needs A New Pair of Pants

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Location: 230 South Olive Avenue
Date: September 3, 1913

Even hardened cops grew misty as they heard the woes of poor Mabel Tracy, the downtown waitress whose every coin earned went into the kitty meant to buy her infirm child Leonard a new suit of clothes.

In the months since Mabel came out from Chicago, leaving behind her deadbeat husband and wee Leo in the charity hospital, she’d made a little home for the tyke in rooms on Bunker Hill. Then she sent for her child, and warned him never to leave the safety of his aerie while she toiled away downtown.

The child didn’t know his weak heart could give out if he ever dared take the steps down by Angels Flight, only that his mother had begged him not to exert himself. And so the child waited, crawling along Olive Street to peep out over the Third Street hill to the teeming town below. His little knees grew raw beneath his shabby trousers, and each night mama put a little more money in her purse, including the penny she saved by walking up the steps, to eventually replace Leonard’s costume.

And then, the unthinkable: Mabel’s boss told her that her own uniform was unsuitable and must be replaced. Of course she could sew the uniform herself, but the cost of the fabric would exhaust Leonard’s clothing fund. And so Mabel did what mothers have always done when the bills exceeded the cash on hand: she went into a department store, milled around cagily, and snatched up the yardage needed to craft her new attire.

But Mabel was no criminal, and her furtive movements attracted the attention of a Nick Harris detective, who delivered the lady to the police department. There, Mabel spilled her sorrows, and the cops and independent detectives all gathered around to marvel at the pretty lady who would rather steal than whore herself—for in her place, any one of them would have taken that easier road. Then they arranged to have the charges dropped, then passed the hat and rewarded their little criminal with $15, a sum sufficient to buy a new uniform.

And then Mabel went back to her little son, and their grim life on Bunker Hill.


 

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Author: Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including The Real Black Dahlia. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons and forensic science seminars of LAVA- The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.

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