Charlie Chan at the Museum! Not the movie; Cleveland and Honolulu Police Museums.

I have a confession…I’m a philatelist. There I said it! Yes, I collect stamps. More specific, for a while I was hell bent on making my own cachet envelopes (that’s an envelope with a picture that’s stamped, printed, or embossed below the return address). I made them to have first day postmarks cancelled on them for new stamp issues. Especially, pictorial postmarks! Now that it’s out in the open, I will further admit that once upon a time I had a grand idea! I designed some cachet envelopes to commemorate the release of the “Celebrate” Stamp (March 2011, Cleveland, Ohio), and the release of the “Aloha Shirt” Stamp (January 2012, Honolulu, Hawaii.) Then I furthered their design to commemorate Charlie Chan creator, author Earl Derr Biggers, and Honolulu Detective Chang Apana, the real-life inspiration for Biggers’ fictional Detective Charlie Chan. Finally, for a grandiose finale I sent sets to both the Honolulu and Cleveland Police Museums, where they are now on display for all mankind to behold (Ha, the world is my oyster!) OK, maybe I’m sensationalizing a bit, but it was fun to do. Just my tiny contribution to help keep the torch burning for one of America’s first and greatest detectives in literature, and his creator.

The Cleveland Police Museum, Cleveland Ohio: It’s well documented that after graduating Harvard University in 1907, Author Earl Derr Biggers spent a brief time on this fair city’s newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer. At the time, Cleveland was the 7th largest city in America and Biggers worked the night shift…covering crime. I suspect it did not suit him though. After only two weeks he immediately moved on for a half-year stint with Bobbs-Merrill Publishers, Indiana, as a manuscript reader. (Earl, if you could only see the crime in CLE today, you might have stayed on!) In addition to housing three of my sensational envelopes, this museum hosts eleven separate collections; not least, one covering the famous “Torso Murders” (1935-1938), a gruesome crime spree of twelve victims, which then CLE Safety Director Elliott Ness was never able to successfully solve! Sheesh, let’s just go ahead and move that Ness guy to Chi-town!

The Honolulu Police Department Museum, Honolulu Hawaii: It is often debated whether Detective Chan Apana of the Honolulu Police Dept. served as Biggers’ muse for his fictional detective. Perhaps originally not, at least physically speaking. However, Biggers did pronounce he got the idea for a Chinese detective, while reading an article in a Honolulu newspaper at the New York Library on the exploits of Detectives Chang Apana and Lee Fook. Later, Biggers conceded to the public’s outcry that “it was so”. He said if his literary hero was to have a real-life counterpart, then no one was more befitting than Detective Chang Apana. And they became acquainted and formed a warm bond. Biggers even sent Officer Apana signed copies of his novels and Apana attended filming on at least one Hawaiian movie set for the Chan films. The HNL Police Museum doesn’t just concentrate on this literary relationship of Detective Apana though. He left his own mark on the history ledgers of the police force. The first public officer assigned to the Hawaii Humane Society (under the police department), he was later transferred to the regular police, Chinatown division, and was the only officer ever authorized to carry a bullwhip instead of a gun. There are many sensational arrests attributed to him inside the museum. The museum also hosts a great display of sensation crimes on the islands before induction into statehood, covering the rule of law under the ancient Hawaiian Kapu (religious law), kings and queens, through today’s modern police force. They even have an exhibit featuring those dastardly cockfighting busts—awesome!

OK, get your motor running and head out on the highway! We’re lookin’ for adventure at the Cleveland Police museum, then due west to the Honolulu Police Dept museum. Leave the car in L.A. or S.F. though (the bridge is out and the tunnel is closed for repair).

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