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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Captain of the Guards: 1905

Captain of the Guards: 1905

New York circa 1905. "Capt. Riley and lifeguards, Coney Island." No horseplay or swooning allowed. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Reilly Really Riley. Really.

Thanks Dave, my oops. Indeed, he was Thomas J. Riley, as correctly reported in the NY Times article of 1898, and in the LOC photo file. However, he was also misidentified in other Times articles as Reilly, for example in the 1902 story about missing men who may have drowned. I managed to get confused about which spelling was really correct, and chose the wrong one. Here's a clipping from one of those "Reilly" articles. As for the $300, the type was rather broken, and I misread it. My oops again. Even $300 was a huge wage in 1898.
By going back to look again, I found a half-page biographical feature on Capt. Tom Riley, with artwork and a photo, published July 16, 1905.

[These are all quite fascinating. A big Shorpy round of applause. Clapclapclap! - Dave]

One day son

Note the young lad to the left looking a bit peeved due to the fact that those guys have ALL the girls around them. Ah, to live the life of Riley.

If I Had a Boat

Is Lyle Lovett's family from New York?

Come now!

The fat fellow is perfectly fine and looks ready willing and able to float out and save a life. The rest of them are fine too. People were very frank in a way back then.


I looks like the good Captain has remained true to his heritage. A slow pour, please!

Baywatch, 1904

Need I say more?

Don't smoke and swim!

I love the cigarette in "The Captain's" left hand! Coney lifeguards were still taking group photos into the early 1960s. This one is inspiring!

Sink or swim!

Imagine that -- an obese lifeguard who's smoking! No thanks. Just throw me the life preserver.

Zat' you George?

Could that be George C. Tilyou smiling there in the middle?

Life Guard Large and In Charge

Thus proving American obesity is not necessarily a recent development (nor, for that matter, is form-fitting swimwear, at least for the men). I would, however, love to have a swimming outfit, complete with black stockings, such as that worn by the woman at the right edge of the picture.

Skip ... per!

That fellow in the captain's hat sure is a wee bit portly, eh?

Guinness is good for you!

Looks like some of my relatives are mixed in there. However, I think most of the Quinns, Gormleys and Burkes were already established at the "Irish Riviera" -- Rockaway Beach, several miles east of these folks.

Put out that smoke before you jump in!

Like the portly lifeguard with the cigarette!

OMG will you look at the size of that guy's


Comments we won't see.

Such as: not one person in this photo is overweight.

At least two of these guys could serve as flotation devises!

Professional Perils of Lifesaving

Capt. Thomas J. Reilly, captain of the life-savers at Coney Island's Balmer's Pavilion, was a former champion swimmer whose career as a life-saver earned him several notices in the New York Times. He was credited with saving the life of a man who nearly drowned in 1901. More sensationally, Reilly was fired and later regained his job in 1898, when he was blamed for laxity that was thought by his employers to have resulted in the supposed drowning of Miss Louise King, a wealthy young woman whose distraught personal maid reported her disappearance on Sunday, September 11, 1898. The maid, Alma Lindstrom, was described in a story dated September 28 as "an ignorant but honest Dane."

It turned out that Miss King had fooled her maid and had faked her disappearance in order to elope with her fiance, and she turned up a few days later as Mrs. S. Lloyd Chamberlain of Philadelphia. Capt. Reilly, still in disgrace, eventually sued her for damages in November 1898, having lost his $800-per-month position as a result of her little ruse. He did at least get his job back.

In August 1902, Capt. Reilly and his team were mentioned again in the news during another questionable set of drowning disappearances of two men on the same day, only one of whom may have actually drowned, while the other was thought by police detectives to have faked his death for undisclosed reasons. That article named two of Capt. Reilly's assistants, John Carroll and John Vogelstein, whose post was a rowboat near two anchored rafts in 14 feet of water.

[A great story, but I think the name is Riley, and he made $300 a month, not $800, according to the New York Times. - Dave]

Photographer's note to self.

Too many shots of fit, attractive people; get group shot of the Homely ones before leaving.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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