Harriet, Jeff, Aunty, and Anna

“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”

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A mourning stationery envelope addressed to Anna M. Ramsey. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey
Richborough P.D.
Bucks County
Pennsylvania
C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey
Please forward

High Point
April 27th ‘84

Dear Cousin Anna,

Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.

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Page one of the black-edged letter written on mourning stationery to Anna Ramsey.

I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.

Continue reading “Harriet, Jeff, Aunty, and Anna”

The McGrawville Experiment

In about 1849, a mother and child were photographed in a New York town where visionaries struggled to change the world.

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1/6th-plate daguerreotype from the Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

A long inscription is penciled inside the case of this daguerreotype: “The picture of Flora and her mother, taken when she was three years old at McGrawville, Cortland Co., NY.

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The penciled inscription inside the daguerreotype case.

“I’ll think of thee at eventide/ When shines the star of love/ When Earth is garnished like a bride/ and all is joy a-bove/ and when the moon’s pale genial face/ is shed or [sic] land & sea/ and throughs [sic] around her soft light/ t’is then I think of thee. EM

“Flora & I are in the parlor as I write this, talking of the war, etc. etc. Henry …?… is buried Thursday Oct. 30th, ’62.”

The sentimental verse is likely based on “Better Moments,” by poet Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), printed in 7 July, 1827’s New-York Mirror and Ladies Literary Gazette, Volume IV, as well as and in the New Mirror’s Poems of Passion in 1843. Willis’s poem includes the lines: “I have been out at eventide/ Beneath a moonlit sky of spring/ When Earth was garnished like a bride/ And night had on her silver wing.” It is uncertain whether variants of Willis’s poem existed that included the stanza scriven in the case, or whether the writer “borrowed” a few lines of it for his or her own poetic creation.

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On This Day for Mothers

“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman

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From left, my grandmother, Lillian Marie Fox; my great-grandmother, Rebecca Murdock Fox; and my great aunt, Rebecca Fox, posed for this tintype in about 1901. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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This tintype’s sitters were a beautiful turn-of-the-century mother and daughter who appear to be African-American. Courtesy Jack and Beverley Wilgus Collection.
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An American mother sat outside with her children for this ambrotype taken on a clear day in about 1880. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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An adoring, late-Victorian mother and delighted child were the subjects of this albumen print on cardboard. Photo Courtesy Price and Zimmer Collection.
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An unknown lady tenderly holds her baby in this circa-1875 carte de visite by Hills & Saunders, Oxford, England. Courtesy James Morley Collection.

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I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.

Alice Isn’t Dead: A Cautionary Tale, a Family History

Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.

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Mary Jane Stayman Culley holding eight-week-old Alice Maud Culley in August 1879. Albumen carte de visite. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as a cautionary tale, not unlike the one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”

The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”

Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.

Continue reading “Alice Isn’t Dead: A Cautionary Tale, a Family History”

A Mother’s Mortality, A Woman’s Glory

The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.

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Photo courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”

It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.

The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually, it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.

Continue reading “A Mother’s Mortality, A Woman’s Glory”

Photo-Multigraphs: The Mirror and the Camera

“It was the purpose of the author to describe a number of novel and curious effects that can be obtained by the aid of the camera, together with some instructive and interesting photographic experiments.”—F. R. Fraprie, 1922

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A photo-multigraph cabinet card by A. M. Lease of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, circa 1895.

By Beverly Wilgus

In 1893, H. P. Ranger was granted Patent No. 505,127 for a “Mirror For Use In Photography.” This was a device comprised of two adjustable mirrors set at an angle. When a subject was placed in front of it, his or her image was reflected in each mirror and that reflection was again reflected, resulting in five or more figures—the number of figures determined by the angle of the mirrors.

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The above schema is from an article published in Scientific American in the 1890s that was included in the 1896 book Photographic Amusements by Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury. My husband and I own a copy of the 1931 edition that still contains the original illustrations.

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Also from the book is the illustration above: “Diagram Showing The Method Of Production Of Five Views of One Subject By Multiphotography.”

Continue reading “Photo-Multigraphs: The Mirror and the Camera”

Mommy and Me

“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe

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A proud mother and her adorable daughter pose in this 1/6-plate daguerreotype, circa 1850. The mother wears a fashionable “Jennie Lind” collar, made popular by the soprano Jennie Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale,” who toured North America from 1850 to 1852 under the relentless promotion of showman P. T. Barnum. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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This mid-1870s tintype from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection includes a shy “hidden mother” who is revealed with the removal of the decorative paper mat.
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A nicely dressed English mother and son photographed in about 1862. Her smoothed and center-parted hair, pagoda sleeves, full hoop, and applied decorative trim was at the height of fashion. Her boy’s checkered, belted, one-piece dress was perhaps in shades of red and tan, similar to the fabric used in this earlier example. This albumen carte de visite is from the Caroline Leech Collection, originally photographed by G. J. Tear, Clapham Road, London.
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A mother, son, and baby in a pram enjoying a sunny day in England during the late 1920s. Scanned film negative from the James Morley Collection.
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An American mother and two daughters pose for an adorable 1/6th-plate Gaudin daguerreotype, circa 1852. The plate is marked “Double, A. Gaudin, 40,” the hallmark of Antoine Gaudin & Bro., 9 Rue de la Perle, Paris, a French company whose products were widely used by daguerreians throughout America. The older daughter is wearing a “protective” coral necklace. Coral was thought to have special efficacious properties to safeguard children. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.