Friday Finds: Mortar and Pistol

Friday, January 18, 2013
Officer experimenting with a mortar
Officer experimenting with a mortar and a rolling barricade.
Uncataloged box labeled “Various photographs,” shows an officer firing a rifle.

The first permanent foreign outpost of the Okhrana, the Russian empire’s secret police, was established on Paris’s Left Bank in 1883. Located in the Russian embassy at 79 Rue de Grenelle, the Okhrana’s Paris office tracked thousands of émigrés and “provocateurs” across Europe and the United States. A complex web of agents and informers reported on the activities of Lenin, Trotsky, and a cast of targets with code names like “Never,” “Corpulent,” and “Tulip.”

The Paris Okhrana office kept extensive files of their intelligence work, totaling millions of documents by the time the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. The last imperial ambassador to France, Vasilii Maklakov, ensured that the files would not fall into Bolshevik hands by shipping them to the Hoover Institution in 1926. (For those interested, their strange journey from Paris to Palo Alto was described by Ben Fischer in this CIA report.)

Since the Okhrana records were opened to the public in the 1960s, hundreds of researchers have consulted their contents. A recent inventory of the collection, however, has yielded new mysteries. This series of photographs, found in an uncataloged box labeled “Various photographs,” shows an officer experimenting with a mortar and a rolling barricade. The dates and subject of these photographs are unknown. Perhaps you recognize this fin-de-siècle weapon technology? Or the dapper man in the suit? If so, feel free to contact us on Twitter @Hooverarchives or by email at jegolden [at] stanford [dot] edu.