This is His Orphan: What it Shows and What it Doesn’t

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Widow and Orphan, Albumen Carte de Visite, Circa 1868. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This English carte de visite (CDV) is one of the most popular in my collection, if Flickr views and Pinterest re-pins equate to evidence, that is. It shows a young British widow—identifiable as such by the white ruching on her black bonnet—squatting in the background, having just propelled her black-clad daughter toward the photographer. The widow stares forward forlornly, her hand over her mouth, indicating without words her shock and concern for their future. It is a candid, painfully honest pose, and one rarely seen in types of images. She is no “Hidden Mother,” but a vital element of a tableau meant to convey the message, “This is his orphan.”

The reverse stamp on the CDV reads “T. Bennett, Photographer, 46 Foregate Street and Church Street, Malvern.” According to research conducted by the creator of Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840-1940, Thomas Bennett “opened his first studio in Worcester in 1856. At different times, he operated at five studios in Worcester and three in Malvern under his own name and the business continued under the name of Bennett & Son and Bennett & Sons until at least 1916.”

“The 1861 census records the [Bennett] family living at his shop at 46 Foregate, Worcester, where he is described as a Lay Clerk (of the church) and photographer. His firm Thomas Bennett and Son is thought to have been established about 1856. His branch in Great Malvern was possibly the second photographic studio” in that town—this information gleaned from the Malvern Records Office. Bennett threw open the doors of his Malvern studio in 1868 and the CDV of mother and daughter could not have been taken long afterward.

Helpful Flickr historians pellethepoet and EastMarple1 spotted one of Thomas Bennett’s studios in the foreground the CDV below. The building at bottom righthand corner, with the word “photos” just visible above the door, was almost certainly where this Worcestershire widow brought her daughter to mark their terrible loss in a fixed image that could never be denied.

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CDV of Malvern, Worcestershire, Circa 1870. Courtesy Collection of pellethepoet.

My CDV appears on many Pinterest pages, and in particular, one where in the comments it is suggested that this little girl is dead, held up by props, or suspended with wires.

This is not a deceased child. In the photo, her eyes were caught while tracking the photographer, and she supported herself to a degree through her hand, wrist, and arm. One of her feet was slightly lifted as she prepared to take a step.

Bodies were not embalmed at the time this image was taken. That preservation process came into practice during the American Civil War as a way of returning bodies of dead Union soldiers to their families. It was not widely used in the United States or Great Britain for another 40 to 50 years.

Dead bodies that are not embalmed do not stand on their own, even during rigor mortis, without some sort of brace or rigging. There is no evidence in the historic record that these types of devices were used during regular postmortem photography. Sometimes unidentified bodies or murder victims such as Katherine Eddows, a victim of Jack the Ripper, were propped up to be forensically photographed.

Further, it should be asked why a mother would chose to allow the corpse of her dead daughter to be held up by wires or clamped in some sort of brace when she herself could have cradled the body—as is seen in so many other postmortem images?

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A mother from Philadelphia dressed in full mourning, which differs from a widow’s full mourning, cradling her dead infant. Albumen CDV, Circa 1870. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The props that photographers did use were to keep people still, not to hold them up, as is clearly seen in the photograph below. Ω

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A young boy is photographed while held still by a posing stand. Circa 1890. Unknown provenance.

Dashing Through the Snow

Even the fake kind, or the missing altogether….

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Tintype, circa 1870.

Oh my. After this debacle, let’s hope there was snow outside to sled on.

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Austrian unused real photo postcard, circa 1905, stamped “Fotographie L. Strempel, Klosternburg, Stadplaz.”

Okay. Well, at least there is fake snow. And a fake dog.

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Phyllis and Barbara Nute on Christmas Day, Winthrop, Maine, circa 1927. Paper print.

This is more like it: Real snow outside and the girls are rocking those gifts from Santa.

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Edward Miller on his sled, paper print, circa 1915.

A happy boy on his sled the back garden of what seems to be a row house. A woman stands at the end of the wooden-plank walkway, probably his mother. I hope Edward’s father took him to a local park where there were many high hills to fly down.

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Unmarked albumen print on cardboard, circa 1915.

A wistful girl sleds on a snowy day near the family farm. Everything about this image charms me—from the baggy pants, the bottle curls, and mad hat to the upturned, pointed noise of the sled and the low mountain beyond. I wish I knew more about her, but sadly there is no photographer’s impression or inscription. Ω


All images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

I’ve Almost Got You

These people are identified by inscriptions, yet their stories remain stubbornly untold—at least for now.

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Mother and child, possibly Elise Briggs and her daughter Elise Von Rodenstein, albumen carte de visite, circa 1865, by the studio of Thomas Rodger, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This beautiful carte de visite (CDV) is identified on the reverse as “Elise Von Rodenstein.” When I purchased it, I had great hopes of uncovering a full biography, but this has not yet happened. The first problem I encountered was not knowing whether the snood-wearing, polka dot-dressed mother or the equally polka-dotted child was Elise. If the infant, she may have been the Elise Von Rodenstein born in 1865 or 1866 in Fort Washington, New York, United States, to German immigrant Charles Von Rodenstein and his American wife, Elise Briggs. I am skeptical of this, however, as I can find no connection to Scotland.

Elise von Rodenstein’s potential mother, Elise Briggs, was enumerated on the 1881 Census of Kingston City, Ontario, Canada, with her six Von Rodenstein children. (Interestingly, half of the children were Catholics and the other half adherents of the Church of England.) The census said that Elise Briggs was born about 1833 in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. In 1890, Elise and her children’s enumeration escaped the conflagration that destroyed most of the decade’s U.S. Census.  In that year, Elise Briggs lived in Washington, D.C., with one of her other daughters. She was also likely the same woman who died in Manhattan, New York City, 28 October, 1920, aged 88.

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Thomas Rodger in the mid-1860s.

Elise Von Rodenstein became a nun. In 1910, she was at the Sacred Heart Convent and Loretta Sisters Schools in St. Charles, Missouri, working as a teacher, By 1915, she taught at the Academy of the Sacred Heart at University Avenue and 174th Street, New York City. Between 1920 and 1930, Elise was a nun at the Convent and Academy of the Sacred Heart in Rochester, New York. She eventually became Mother Superior of a Philadelphia convent and died there of acute coronary occlusion on 9 March, 1961.

The photographer of this CDV is quite well known. Thomas Rodger (1832-1883) studied at St. Andrews University, learned to produce the silver iodide-coated paper calotypes introduced in 1841, and became an assistant at Lord Kinnaird’s studio in Rossie Priory.

During the 1850s, Rodger won multiple awards for his photographic achievements, and in 1877 he was given the International Photographic Exhibition Medal.

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The Brown family, 1/4th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1852. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Written inside the case of this delightful daguerreotype is “W. K. Brown, 45 yrs old; Wife, 41 years old; Minnie, 2 years old.”

Every time I look at baby Minnie’s grumpy face I can imagine her thoughts: “I hate my dress! I hate my boots! I hate my spit curls! And you behind that big box on sticks—I. Hate. You. Too!”

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No doubt but that her parents had the patience of saints.

I’ve looked to no avail for a Minnie Brown born between about 1848 and 1855. There are a few W. K. Browns and hundreds of W. Browns—William Browns, Wilhelm Browns, Walter Browns, Wilfred Browns, Wesley Browns—but none with a daughter named Minnie. If Mrs. Brown’s first name had been part of the inscription, I might have been able to suss out the family’s traces. Doing so may still be possible as more records come online. Until then, at least I can smile at eternally cranky Miss Minnie.

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Unmarked carte de visite of a woman in deep mourning, circa 1863. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

“Wife of Hugh Holmes” is written on reverse of this melancholy CDV. Assuming the heartbroken subject wore mourning for her spouse, I have looked into records of a number of men. The most promising was Hugh P. Holmes of Maine, who was born in 1833 and who died of Typhoid in August 1861, one month into his service with the 7th Regiment, Maine Volunteer Infantry. However, I can find no record of a marriage for this man. Hugh Holmes’s father filed a pension claim on his son many years later, but no widow is listed in the paperwork.

Another possibility is that Mrs. Holmes was not in mourning for her spouse, but for another close family member. This may indeed be more likely because Mrs. Holmes’s bonnet does not include white inner ruching signifying a widow. However, this practice was less common in the United States than in Great Britain. If this Mrs. Holmes did not mourn a spouse, it will be nearly impossible to identify her. Ω


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A happy New Year, Gentle Readers. May 2017 be kind to all your clan!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

—1788 poem by Robert Burns set to the tune of a traditional folk song.

We Were Happy Here

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Unknown American hamlet, Real Photo Postcard, circa 1910. Written on the reverse is “To keep.”

“We were happy here
Even in the cold spells
Even with the roads
Like a frozen river
We would keep each other warm
And we were happy here
With the soup on the fire
And the wind in the chimney
And the floors too cold for bare feet…”

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Unknown town, real photo postcard, circa 1905.

“And we were happy here
When the Spring broke the ice
And there were limbs to be cleared
And the melting snow
Let the pines spring back up
Toward the sky…”

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Unknown Maryland town, real photo postcard, circa 1905.

“But we were happy here
With our simple life
It was our whole life
And we were happy here
Before the news came
That the world was small
And the roar was loud
And not quite so distant after all…”

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Middletown, Maryland, postcard, circa 1940.

“But we were happy here
When the cries of our babies
Were the only cries
And our bad moods
The only bad moods
Which we coaxed and stroked
Just like our own private fires.”

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My mother, Sally Garnand (right), on the farm of her Aunt Edna Newton, King George County, Virginia, circa 1936.

“But we were happy here
Before….” Ω


Words: “Private Fires” by Andreas Vollenweider. Images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection. 

Adorable Moppets

The first of a occasional series.

Tartan and Striped Socks

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Tintype, circa 1880. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection. His hard-soled, lace-up boots are pretty darned adorbs, too.

Big Brother, Little Sister

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1/6th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1849. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection. The image is shown here in its open case. Nearly all of the earliest forms of photography were presented in wooden cases.

Worried Will

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British 1/9th-plate relievo ambrotype, circa 1858. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection. In this version of an ambrotype, created in 1854 by a Scottish photographer named Urie, the background surrounding the sitter is scraped away and replaced with one of a number of options, including a solid color, a vignette mat, or a false background. When I purchased this ambrotype there was nothing behind the boy’s image, so I had to create a backdrop.

Daddy’s Darling

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1/9th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection. This beautiful little girl, who is literally falling out of her dress, wears a coral necklace (thought to protect children from diseases) but the object in her hand remains a mystery.

Ω

In Memory of Ernest

It provides a glimpse of both history and sentiment that is both breathtaking and soul-shattering.

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Pinchbeck and black enamel mourning brooch. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

I purchased this mourning brooch from an eBay seller in 2008—I was the only interested party. Granted, it is not a particularly attractive brooch and has seen rough handling. However, it provides a glimpse of both history and sentiment that is both breathtaking and soul-shattering.

The key to its power is the reverse inscription, which reads: “In memory of Ernest. Died 4.30 AM, 11 January 1862. Latitude 31° degrees 30′ South, Longitude 14° degrees 40′ East. Aged 2 Years and 11 Months.” Whilst holding the brooch in my hand, I plugged the coordinates into Google Earth, which took me not to a point on land, but the inky dark sea. This confluence of coordinates placed the baby Ernest off the African coast, about 500 miles west of modern Bitterfontein, South Africa. Ernest had died aboard a ship.

Did the boy die soon after leaving or just miss the end of a long voyage? This brooch was located in England until I purchased it, so was more likely that the ship sailed toward Europe, rather than Australia or Cape Town, then a part of the rapidly expanding British Cape Colony.

I’m burningly curious why this baby has no inscribed last name, yet someone loved him so much that they noted the exact time and longitude and latitude of his death. Why not just inscribe “died at sea”? I want to know whether Ernest’s mother was there with him. Did he pass away in her arms? Was she a passenger or a convict? (The last transport to Australia wasn’t until 1868.) Was she a ship’s cook or perhaps a missionary’s wife?

To slip into death at half-past four a.m. surely indicates it was disease that took Ernest, as it often does, deep in the darkness. I can imagine the dim light of a lantern, a weeping but resigned mother pressing a cool cloth to the child’s forehead, the gentle creak of the ship’s timbers, and the waves rocking him to sleep.

Ernest was likely buried at sea; if so, his small bones are long dissolved on the ocean floor. All that is left of his little life is a lock of fair hair curled into a plume that was fixed by gum arabic to a piece of milk glass, decorated with a few sprigs of gold wire, and encased in black enamel over pinchbeck.

If Ernest’s family had recorded his last name on the brooch, I might be able to find him in public records to flesh out the story of his short existence. As it is, the only hope of knowing more about Ernest is to find a record of the ship he died on by narrowing down vessels in the area at the time—a mammoth task, albeit one that might be possible online someday. Challenges like this are more conquerable now than it ever before, and with each passing year, newly digitized historic data comes online to the joy of historians and genealogists everywhere. Ω

Say “Cheese”

The photographer may have told the children to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.

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Siblings, 6th-plate ambrotype, circa 1855. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This ambrotype is not only endearing, but raises several points of interest: First, both children were stood atop chairs and with that placement came the possibility that either could topple—especially the younger child who looks about age two or three. The belts around the siblings’ waists were not part of their costumes—it is likely they were both strapped to metal stands that photographers used to provide stability for their subjects, as well as to keep young sitters like these from wandering out of the frame. (That this was sometimes necessary is illustrated the adorable image below. How refreshing it is to see a mother cracking up at the antics of her toddler whilst Daddy or a studio assistant tries to keep the child from escaping.) The photographer may also have told the siblings to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.

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Smiling mother and fleeing toddler, albumen cart de visite, circa 1860. Photograph by Whipple, 96 Washington Street, Boston, Massachussetts. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Both children may also have been head clamped, as can be seen in the Victorian cartoon below. Contrary to what duplicitous eBay sellers and 14-year-old goth bloggers might propose, these metal stands were not used to hold up dead bodies. The cartoon below clearly shows how posing stands worked to help keep sitters still.

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Secondly, it is unclear whether the child on the right of the ambrotype is a boy or a girl. The center-parted hair argues female, but the rest of the outfit says boy despite the floral top and long cotton bloomers under a buoyant checked skirt.

Also tantalizing are the partial words visible at the edges of the image. At one point, the sticky back of the ambrotype was covered by newspaper. If still intact, this may have yielded a clue about this image’s precise date and location of origin. Ω