Do You Know This Justice? Massachusetts High Court Wants You To Help ID Him

Feb 9, 2018
Originally published on February 9, 2018 3:22 pm

Who is that dour man?

Massachusetts' highest court owns his portrait — it hangs on a wall outside the chief justice's chambers — but the court's officials have no idea who he is.

They're hoping you might have an idea.

Benjamin Swasey, of member station WBUR, reports:

"Among what it calls its 'extensive collection of historic paintings and photographs,' the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has an oil painting of a justice who has remained unidentified, and it's launched a public campaign in the hopes that someone knows who he is.

In a statement, the court said the justice 'may have sat on the bench between 1780 and 1820.' "

Even the fact that he's a justice is essentially a guess, The Associated Press reports. Chief Justice Ralph Gants said officials have "essentially ruled out that the man was a chief justice but say he must have been an associate justice because they can't imagine why else his portrait [would] be in the court, which traces its roots to 1692," the AP writes.

Gants told the AP that he figured if the court has no idea who the man is, "why don't we set loose the public to see if they can put on their Sherlock Holmes hats and help us to track down who this elusive and mysterious justice is?"

So, put that hat on and get to work. Name. That. Justice.

Before you get too excited, there's not a massive reward on the line. Anyone who can help put a name to that face will get a tour of the courthouse and to watch Gants affix a name plaque beneath the portrait.

Plus, you'll get undying glory for having somehow known the name of an extremely obscure 18th century Massachusetts judge, of course. But that surely goes without saying.

If you're thinking of using Google's Arts & Culture app to look for other portraits of the man as a shortcut to finding a name, don't get too excited.

Swasey of WBUR already gave that a shot — to no avail.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit