Jelly Roll’s Birth Year on the Mexican Visa
Jelly Roll Morton’s Mexican Visa (dated 7th October 1921) was issued as one sheet of paper, measuring 6-inch x 5-inch, with the details typed and hand-written in English on the front, and with dates of validity of the Visa (7th October 1921 to 7th October 1922) typed and hand-written by a Mexican consulate official on the Spanish side. The photograph on the English side of the Visa was pasted over an area where Jelly Roll had written his year of birth.
Jelly Roll filled out the hand-written parts in English with a steel nib pen and black ink, which was the usual procedure in those days. The ink writing was generally visible from the other side of the paper, but in mirror reverse.
In an attempt to see what Jelly Roll wrote for the year he was born, Mike Meddings hit upon a brilliant method of forensic investigation. Phil Pastras had supplied him with full size photographs of both the front and the back of the Visa. Taking the full size of the back of the Visa (written in Spanish), he made a mirror image of it, and selected the area on the back where the birth year would be, underneath the photograph on the front of the Visa.
The image of this small area was then enlarged by a magnification of 2. The result clearly showed a year of “1890”.
A scan of the small section, where the date was written, was immediately sent to Prof. Lawrence Gushee in the United States and to Peter Hanley in Australia for their opinion.
Both agreed with Mike that what Jelly Roll wrote on the Visa as his birth year contained the following:
1 — a type-written “1” was on the original form
8 — an “8” in Jelly Roll’s handwriting
9 — a “9” again in Jelly Roll’s handwriting
0 — a “0” again in Jelly Roll’s handwriting.
It is now almost certain that Jelly Roll wrote “1890” as his birth year on the Mexican Visa and then pasted the larger than required photograph on the form, over the area where the year had been written. This is the first statement in Jelly Roll’s own handwriting so far discovered documenting that he believed he was born in 1890.
© May 2005 Peter Hanley and Prof. Lawrence Gushee