The latest entry in the Double Take series owes its existence to serendipity. Accidental discovery is alive and well in our online collections, and it’s easy to find one thing when looking for another. While working on a reference question about a building on 9th Street N.W. in Washington, D.C. and browsing through older photos of that street in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, one dramatic photo made me do a double take. What on Earth is going on at the top of this building?
I zoomed in on the high resolution scan to test what the caption and my eyes were telling me, and I was introduced to (the legs of!) daredevil J. Reynolds. Using the information in the caption, I searched elsewhere in the Harris & Ewing Collection of early 20th century images of Washington, D.C. and found several photos of Reynolds’ antics, both from the perspective of the passerby and of the rooftop spectator.My curiosity was officially piqued, so I searched for more about the mysterious J. Reynolds in another collection focused on the same time period in Washington, D.C.: the National Photo Company Collection (NPCC). I had the advantage of knowing that the descriptions for these negatives rely on the captions that came with them, which are used as the title. As with many of our very large digitized collections, we make the images and basic descriptions available as soon as they are ready, and return to them later for more systematic subject indexing. Because the original captions on historic photographs were informal and often recorded hastily, searching them requires patience and persistence, as names can be abbreviated, misspelled, or truncated. (The source of the captions is often indicated in the Notes area of the photo’s record.)
I searched first for J. Reynolds, and failing that, tried just Reynolds. The crazy photo at right as well as a new piece of information was my reward: Reynolds’ first name was John. The caption also provided a location for this stunt and the flagpole in use at the top of the Times-Herald Building in Washington, D.C., seen below:Before starting a new search, I browsed the rest of my results and found that the same man was referred to as John, Jno. (an abbreviation for John), and Jammie Reynolds, all within the captions provided by the National Photo Company. These bits of information, original to the time the photos were created, even if they are typos or mistakes, can be useful for guiding further searches.
Searches elsewhere in our collections turned up more examples of Reynolds’ daring acts, as I took full advantage of both the names I found in the National Photo Company Collection’s original captions as well as additional variations on the name John. The photos below are some of the products of those searches, and a closer look at the captions reveals how they were uncovered.
This unusual double exposure photo shows Reynolds in his “human fly” mode, climbing a building in Washington, D.C. with no apparent safety equipment!
- View the set of photos taken of John Reynolds high above 9th Street N.W. in Washington, D.C. from the Harris & Ewing Collection.
- Browse through all of the photos which include the name Reynolds in their descriptions from the National Photo Company Collection. It takes a bit of looking to find our daredevil under various first names!
- Take a second look (pun intended!) at the previous entries in the Double Take series: Fairy Tale Tower?, Churning Questions, and Christmas Tradition.