I didn’t have to look too far for answers, as a “Summary” provided in the catalog record explains that the “Photograph shows the actress Esther Lyons inserted into a picture of Chilkoot Pass. Although Lyons wrote a series of articles about the expedition she claimed to have taken, and lectured about it for the rest of her life, later research indicated there is no evidence of her participation in the expedition and that, in fact, she could not have been on the expedition at that time.” But, why did she bother?
I was intrigued when I noticed that there are three more similar scenes “documenting” Lyons’ participation in this Yukon expedition. A cataloger’s “Note” in the Group Record provides further specifics: ”Actress Esther Lyons (1864-1938) used these photographs to illustrate her 1898 series of articles in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly describing her participation in the 1894 trip. The original photographs appear without Lyons in [Veazie] Wilson’s Yukon Gold Fields Guide (1895) and in Glimpses of Alaska (1897). Research has indicated that Lyons was acting in the East and Mid-west during the Wilson expedition. Nevertheless, she continued to lecture about the trip for the rest of her life.” (See Melanie G. Myers’ article on “The Mystery of Ester Lyons, the ‘Klondike Girl'” cited in “Learn More” below.)
To our contemporary eyes exposed to countless images and trained to observe trickery and fakery in pictures, these late 19th century photographs appear obviously to have been manipulated. But, one wonders if viewers over one hundred years ago might have been less skeptical than our jaded 21st century sensibility?
- These “Klondike Girl” photographs are examples of composite photographs. The Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM) defines composite photographs as “photographs made through multiple exposure of negatives, sandwiching negatives, or other means of combining negatives.” See a variety of composite photographs via the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- A related visual format is a montage, which the TGM defines as “compositions made by juxtaposing or superimposing multiple pictures to create a single image. [A montage] May be produced by pasting together whole or partial pictures or by recopying multiple images through photography or scanning.” Compare the visual similarity of montages to composite photographs.
- Read about an example of photo sleuthing in “Solving a Civil War Photograph Mystery” in which the facts are revealed behind a photograph purported to picture General Grant [on Horseback] at City Point.
- ”The Mystery of Ester Lyons, the ‘Klondike Girl’,” by Melanie J. Mayer, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Summer 2003, pg. 115-129.