How Instantaneous Views changed photography and let us travel to a fixed point in time.
This is genuine time travel: You are looking at a sky in a southern clime taken on the early afternoon of 12 July, 1865. A handwritten paper glued to the reverse provides the exact date. When this fraction of a day was preserved, the Civil War was over but for a few months; this part of the sky was again above the United States, not the Confederacy.
There was a house amongst the trees—its triangular roof and chimney visible mid-left. The sky was bright blue and the clouds were gentle fluffs that, nonetheless, hinted rain. By them the great hot orb of the sun was obscured enough to safely see and photograph. The revolutionary iodized collodion process used by the photographer allowed images to be taken in as little as a few seconds, depending on the light, and this picture probably would have required the briefest of exposures.
According to an article by Colin Harding at the Science and Media Museum’s blog, “The earliest photographic processes normally required exposures of many seconds, or even minutes, rendering the photography of movement impossible. However, with the right combination of lighting, subject, lens and plate size, exposures of a fraction of a second, whilst still very difficult to achieve, were possible. The taking of such photographs became known as ‘instantaneous photography’. Whilst the term was in common usage during the 19th century, there was surprisingly little discussion or agreement as to precisely what it meant. In practice, it was applied to any photograph which contained an element of movement or which was taken with an exposure of less than one second.”
Because of the need for exposures of draconian length with the earliest forms of photography, objects in motion had never been successfully captured, and this made Instantaneous Views wildly popular. As the British Journal of Photography enthused in October 1862, “Omnibuses, carts, cabs, wagons, and foot-passengers in shoals in active movement, are all ‘arrested’… In the immediate foreground is a man, without his coat, wheeling a barrow, his left leg poised in mid-air, in the act of stepping…. One individual in a black suit, with his hands in his pockets, and looking on excellent terms with himself, is sauntering towards the spectator. The whole scene is full of life, and the photography leaves nothing to be desired.”
What was true of crowded city streets was also true of nature. Stereo images such as the one below allowed the world to be recorded in its majesty, both in 2-D and arrested motion. To viewers who had never seen an actual ocean—and there were many of them—an image like this one would have been awe-inspiring. Ω
All images from the Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
I’m also pleased to announce that I will be bringing you photographs from the Jesse Cress Collection—many of which are daguerreotypes elderly men and women who were born in the mid- to late 1700s. Here is one to whet your appetites.
The wedding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren was so popular that children in wedding attire began to reenact the marriage ceremony.
By Beverly Wilgus
The highlight of the 1863 New York City social season was the February 10 “Fairy Wedding” at Grace Episcopal Church of two of P. T. Barnum’s “little people,” Charles Sherwood Stratton and Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump. In the theatrical world, they were known as General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren—he stood 2’10”; she, 2’6″. There were 2,000 invited guests and Barnum also sold tickets to the reception after the wedding for $75 each. Although 15,000 ticket requests came in, only 5,000 were available. One newspaper, the Cleveland Daily Leader, noted that after the particulars were announced by Barnum, “then followed such a universal toadyism…all for the sake of begging, buying, or stealing invitations to the wedding.”
In spite of the event’s commercial nature, Tom and Lavinia’s marriage was a true love match. (Barnum, however, thought Lavinia was too tall for Tom and that her smaller sister Minnie would have been a better choice of a bride.) Lavinia had also been romantically pursued by Thumb’s rival performer, George Washington Morrison Nutt, whose stage name was Commodore Nutt, but Lavinia’s heart belonged to the Little General from the start. After their marriage, the couple lived in domestic harmony for twenty years until Tom’s death on July 15, 1883.
The Leader, which was only one of scores of newspapers around the world that covered Tom and Lavinia’s nuptials, explained to its readers, “Tom Thumb was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1838. He weighed nine pounds and a-half when born, but stopped growing at eighteen months old. Barnum took him in at ten years old and he has been a public character ever since. Miss Lavinia Bump was born in Middleboro, Mass., in 1842. She grew until one year old and then stopped… She and the General met a few months ago at Boston and a ‘mutual understanding’ developed.”
On the day of the wedding, the bride wore “plain white satin, the skirt en traine, being decorated with a flounce of costly point lace, headed by tulle puffings; the berthe to match. Her…hair, slightly waved, was rolled a la Eugenie…. Natural orange blossoms breathed their perfume above her brow and mingled their fragrance with soft sighs of her gentle bosom,” all-but moaned the Leader. Thumb was resplendent in a black dress coat and a vest of white silk, “his appearance that of a little old man in whom the juices of life were yet rich and whose jolly days were not done.”
After the wedding, the couple greeted reception guests from atop a piano amidst a mountain of gifts. At the end of the evening, Thumb ardently and grandiloquently thanked their guests and he and his wife withdrew, shortly thereafter to begin a European honeymoon. From start to finish, stated the Irish Meath People and Cavan and Westmeath Chronicle, Barnum had arranged the Fairy Wedding “with a true eye to business.”
Following the wild popularity of the wedding, a rather strange practice developed and has continued until today. Plays based on the event became popular, with children in wedding attire reenacting the marriage ceremony. My husband and I collect photographs of the original couple but also have a collection of photographs of children engaged in this activity from the 19th Century through 1950. The weddings were indeed so popular during the century after the actual event that there were professional Fairy Wedding planners who advised on the faux nuptials and rented out costumes.
Many Fairy Weddings were staged as fundraisers by churches and schools. For example, Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Telegraph of November 30, 1888, noted that a Tom Thumb Wedding was held on Thanksgiving evening at Wesley Union Church. It included the mock bride and groom, maids of honor and groomsmen, and the bride and groom’s family. “The couples were appropriately and beautifully attired and of such costly material, fitting splendidly the little bodies and producing much excitement even among the men and women,” the newspaper stated. The children performed with “great propriety and dignity, and won high praise.”
In 1893, the Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, Daily News, reported a Tom Thumb Wedding held at the G. A. R. Opera House on May 12. “The youthful participants enacted their parts well and the quaint costumes created no end of amusement for the audience.” And the North Carolina Wilmington Messenger of February 28, 1894, published that “all the little boys and girls who took part in the ‘Tom Thumb Wedding’ at the Grace Church entertainment last night are requested to meet at city hall this afternoon [in their costumes] to be photographed.”
We possess a clipping from 1950 of my husband, Jack, acting as best man in a Tom Thumb Wedding at his family’s church. And if the term “Tom Thumb Wedding” is entered into Google, one will find many posts about churches, schools, and private birthday parties performing these weddings as late as just a few years ago. Ω
“You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.”
On 26 March, 1900, the Alfred Sun of Allegheny County, New York, included this obituary: “Abial Thomas, son of Rowland and Prudence Thomas, was born Sept. 22, 1825, and died Mar. 2, 1900, aged 74 years, 5 months, and 10 days. He was married Sept. 25, 1845, to Mary Crandall, being one of three brothers who married three sisters. In 1848, his wife and infant child died. Mr. Thomas was married again Dec. 1, 1840, to [Ascenath] Jane Stillman. Seven children resulted from this union. Prudence, now Mrs. McHenry, who resides at Alfred Station; Rowland of Hornellsville; Mary, Mrs. Congdon of Hornellsville; Nancy, deceased; Frank of Hornellsville; Lucy, deceased; and Charlotte, Mrs. Melville Green of Hornellsville. Two brothers and one sister also survive, viz., Rowland Thomas of Alfred; Silas Thomas of Milton, Wis.; and Mrs. Alma Green of Silver Lake. Mr. Thomas was taken a little over a week before his death with acute pneumonia, and little hope of his recovery was entertained from the first. The funeral services were held at the 2nd Alfred Church, conducted by the pastor. Text, Acts 26:8. The funeral was well attended, a good many old neighbors and relatives of the deceased being present.”
Abial Thomas was a lifetime native of Alfred—an unusual locality in that there is a Village of Alfred within the borders of the eponymous town that is the site of Alfred State College, Alfred University, and the New York State College of Ceramics. Abial spent his days as a farmer and later a carpenter, never appearing in the newspapers and leaving few records; he registered for the Civil War draft, for example, but already in his late 30s, Abial did not serve.
The above detail of the cabinet card allows us to see Abial as he was late in life, as well as his coffin plaque. According to Ancestors at Rest, “In North America…the popularity of the practice of removing the plates from the coffin before burial increased. Often the coffin plates were never attached to the coffin but displayed on a stand or table next to it…. This practice started in the early 1840s and was particularly popular in the North Eastern United States, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island…. This practice peaked in the late 19th century (1880-1899) and by the 1920s this practice had all but stopped.”
After the funeral, the coffin plaques might become parts of hanging wall shrines to the deceased, which were often replete with wax-dipped linen flowers, skeletonized leaves, dyed and shaped feathers, shells, locks of hair, photographs, and other sentimental items.
The wheat sheaf amongst Abial’s funeral flowers is also worthy of note. Unseen at modern funerals, during the 19th Century the wheat sheaf was a recognized symbol of the biblical verse Job 5:26: “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.” This is beautifully illustrated in the cabinet card above, which includes both elements of the verse from Job. The wheat sheaf was regularly given in tribute to the elderly.
“Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character.”
The Sabbath Recorder of 17 April, 1890, provides us a concise biography of Abial’s second wife, Ascenath Jane, who had died a decade before him. She was “born in Newport, Herkimer Co., N.Y., Oct. 10, 1818, and died at her home in Alfred, after an illness of about five weeks of heart disease, March 29, 1890, in the 72nd year of her age. Mrs. Thomas was a daughter of Ezra Stillman, long known and well remembered. Four sons and one daughter only are now left of his family. Under the ministry of Elder John Green she was baptized and united with the Seventh-Day Baptist Church of Newport, of which she remained a member until it disbanded, and she never removed her membership. Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character. In 1849, she was married to Abial Thomas, by whom she had seven children. She was held in honorable esteem by all who knew her, and casting all her cares on Jesus, she died, as she had lived, a Christian.”
Although there had been settlers in the area since the 1830s, the Lillibridges were part of an immense rush of newcomers to the Iowa territory during the 1850s.
Today, the prairies of Iowa are all but gone—their restoration the scheme of environmentalists and concerned volunteers. But when these great grass seas last existed, it was the grandparents of the baby above, Clair Miles Lillibridge, who arrived to radically reshape them.
Clair’s father Leverett Lillibridge, born 25 June, 1851, was the son of John Lillibridge (b. 1816) and Mary Rexford (b. 1815), who married in Lebanon, Madison County, New York, 25 May, 1836, and had seven children, of which Leverett was the fourth. The family went west to what became the town of Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa, almost a decade before Leverett’s birth in 1851. The namesake of John and Mary’s son was his maternal grandfather, early settler Leverett Rexford, who in 1841, according to The History of Delware County, Iowa and Its People, “built a log cabin near the Bailey home, which was later inhabited by John Lillibridge.”
Although there had been settlers in the area since the 1830s, the Lillibridges were part of an immense rush of newcomers to the territory during the 1850s. “Families camped at the Mississippi, waiting their turn for ferryboats to the other side. In only a few years these settlers would turn the forests and prairies into plowed fields,” notes Iowa Public Television. “Farmers arriving from the many different regions of the United States brought their special agriculture with them. Those from New England and New York carried the seeds for plum, apple and pear trees. Kentuckians brought their knowledge of improved seed and livestock breeding. From Pennsylvania and Ohio fine flocks of sheep came to graze in the dry pastures of southern Iowa.”
One harrowing story of the early years of Manchester took place when Leverett Lillibridge was two. “Jane and Eliza Scott, whose home was near Delhi…in the spring of 1853, attempted to ford Spring Branch, a mile above Bailey’s, but the water was so high that their horse and wagon were swept [away] and the horse was drowned. The current carried one of the girls safely to shore, but the other was drawn into the eddy but was finally rescued by her sister, who succeeded in reaching her with a pole and drawing her to shore. One of the girls reached Bailey’s cabin, but was so exhausted she could not for some time explain the situation. As soon as she made herself understood, Mrs. Bailey left her and hastened to the locality where the other girl was expected to be found. On her way she met John Lillibridge and they together carried the insensible girl from where they found her to Mr. Lillibridge’s horse and placing the limp body on the animal’s back, she was conveyed to the Bailey home, where both the unfortunate girls were given every attention.”
Leverett married Adeline Arnelia Young on 23 May, 1869, in Manchester. Adeline was born 11 March, 1853, in Youngstown, Trumbull County, Ohio, to Frederick Young and Harriet Pretzman. The young couple lived with Leverett’s parents at the time of the 1870 census, with Adeline heavily pregnant. Their daughter, Ollie, arrived 3 June, but perished 13 August and was buried on Sands Farm, in what is now known as the Lillibridge Cemetery. Little Ollie’s maternal grandfather, Frederick Young, would join him there 17 March, 1885; his paternal grandfather, the intrepid John, on 1 November, 1892; and his paternal grandmother Mary on 18 February, 1893. After Ollie’s loss, four surviving children followed: Jay L., born in July 1871; May F., born in March 1873; Clair (also frequently spelled Clare), born 5 September, 1875; and finally Charles Bradley born in October 1881.
The 1880 census pinpointed the family farming in Milo, about 185 miles southwest of Manchester in Warren County. We don’t know whether this small railroad-nurtured town was the scene of a little, much, or most of Clair’s childhood and adolescence because the 1890 U.S. census was destroyed by fire, leaving his life a blank slate from the age of four until early 1900, when he was approaching 25 and already a husband and father. We can describe Clair’s adult appearance generally, thanks to his later World War I registration card: He was of medium build and height, with blue eyes and dark hair.
In 1900, Clair’s parents were enumerated in the town of Delaware, Delaware County, while Clair was domiciled about 35 miles away, in Adams Township, working as a grocer, having taken the decision not adopt agriculture as a career. Two years earlier, Clair married Bertha F. Theel, born in 1876 in Berlin, Germany. Bertha arrived in the United States in 1882 after sailing with her mother and siblings from Hamburg on the ship Bohemia, arriving in New York 11 September, 1882.
Clair and Bertha had a son, Leverett J., born in September 1899. Percy R. followed in 1901, then a daughter, Axie Lorraine, in 1905, and a son, Harry Bradley, in 1908. Whilst his family expanded in Iowa, his parents and two of his brothers succumbed to wanderlust and migrated to the tiny enclave of Columbia, South Dakota. Leverett died there in late 1913—his body returned to Clair in Manchester for burial.
The town paper, the Democrat-Radio, opened a few little spy holes on the Lillibridges’ lives: On 18 February, 1914, the Charity Circle met at the Lillibridge house with Bertha as hostess; 10 March, 1915, Clair “went to Mason City Tuesday afternoon to attend the convention of creamery men”—Clair worked for Bourne & Farrand, a New York-based egg, milk, and cheese wholesaler; 28 November, 1917, Clair and Bertha and the children were the guests of their cousin Mrs. C. M. Grommon.
Clair and Bertha’s eldest, Leverett, served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. According to the 15 January, 1919, Democrat-Radio, “Leverett Lillibridge, who enlisted in the Navy last summer, has been spending a few days with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clair Lillibridge. The young sailor enlisted…for a term of four years and likes the life of a seaman very much.” His military records show he entered service 10 January, 1918, and was released 3 September, 1920.
In early October 1919, Clair and his surviving siblings traveled to Columbia, South Dakota, to attend his brother Jay’s funeral after he passed away at home on 29 September. “Mr. Lillibridge had not been in the best of health for some time, but his condition was not considered serious until about two weeks before his death, when complications developed that took his strength,” the 8 October Democrat-Radio noted. “Mr. Lillibridge’s death brings a particular sadness to the family. He was an industrious man in the best of years, and had only a short time ago completed a fine country home his farm of 440 acres. He was a kind and devoted husband [to wife Cora Given whom he married in 1898] and father and in his passing his family suffers and irreparable loss.”
As enumerated in the 1920 Census, the family lived at 445 South Brewer Street, which still exists today—small house in a large yard on a quiet, open road. Clair worked as solicitor for a produce company. Leverett was safely home from the sea and the war, but without employ; Percy had a position as a bank bookkeeper. The next year, in March 1921, Clair ran without opposition for Manchester councilman-at-large. This was the high-water mark of his life.
Between the censuses, son Leverett married Rose Mary Seigel (1897–1983) on 5 May, 1924. The 1930 Census placed them in Clarion, Iowa, he was a manager for a produce firm. At that date the couple had three daughters: Marjory Ann (1925-2000); June Rose (b. 1929), and Doris Mae (b. 1930). A son, William Leverett (1936-2001), arrived before the next census, which placed the family in New Hampton, Iowa. Leverett died 4 November, 1980, and is buried in New Hampton’s Calvary Cemetery. His wife Rose joined him in 1983.
On 4 October, 1930, Percy married Elsie Bertha Minnie Wendt who had been born in nearby Dehli Township, in 1910. She was the daughter of Frederick Karl Wendt, Jr. (1885-1965), and Ida Bertha Wilhimene Stock (1883-1930). Elsie had a younger sister, Mildred Emma Marie Wendt (1913–1989), who wed Percy’s brother Bradley.
Bradley was an intelligent man. He’d been noted in October 1921 as a freshman with grades all above the 90th percentile at Manchester High School (as had his sister, Axie, then a junior). He had risen to the post of deputy treasurer, Delaware County, in 1940. When the second World War, he served in the U.S. Army from July 1943 to September 1945. For most of that he was stationed outside of the United States, working for the Army Finance Distribution Service.
The Carrol Daily Times Harold of 20 April, 1949, reported that an Earlville, Iowa, implement store had been destroyed by fire the previous day, causing $50,000 in damages. “The store, operated by Maynard Wendt and H. Bradley Lillibridge was housed in a two-story frame building. The cause of the fire was blamed on a welder’s spark.” Amongst the losses were “new refrigerators, deep freeze units and farm machinery.”
Bradley and his wife had no children and lived in Manchester all their lives. Harry died 16 January, 1986; Mildred 16 April, 1989. The are buried in Oakland Cemetery, Manchester.
Axie Lillibridge graduated from Manchester High school, where she played on the basketball team, then attended Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls. In 1930, Axie was enumerated as public school teacher in Madison, Iowa, where she rented a room at 106 Pine Street. By 1934, Axie had gone west, establishing herself in San Pedro as a bookkeeper. Our last census glimpse in 1940 was in Los Angeles at 352 West Tenth Street. She never married and died in that city 14 April, 1988.
Clair lived to age 93, dying in Manchester in February 1968. Bertha had passed away ten years earlier, in 1958. A short obituary for Clair appeared in the Waterloo Daily Currier on 12 February: “Clair M. Lillibridge died early Sunday Morning at a Manchester nursing home because of complications due to age.” He was buried beside his wife in Oakland Cemetery in the green turf that has long replaced the grassland. Ω
Tom Maxwell | Longreads | March 2017 | 9 minutes (2,170 words)
On March 18, 1845, the Hutchinson Family Singers were huddled in a Manhattan boarding house, afraid for their lives. As 19th Century rock stars, they didn’t fear the next night’s sellout crowd, but rather the threat of a mob. For the first time, the group had decided to include their most fierce anti-slavery song into a public program, and the response was swift. Local Democratic and Whig papers issued dire warnings and suggested possible violence. It was rumored that dozens of demonstrators had bought tickets and were coming armed with “brickbats and other missiles.”
“Even our most warm and enthusiastic friends among the abolitionists took alarm,” remembered Abby Hutchinson, and “begged that we might omit the song, as they did not wish to see us get killed.”
It wasn’t that most people didn’t know the Hutchinsons were…