Mysteries in Stereo: Flickr Members Provide Answers

The intent expression of the young woman seen (twice!) on the uncaptioned stereograph card draws one in — even more so if the photos are seen as a single three dimensional image when viewed through a stereograph viewer. But who is this woman, beautifully draped in lace, with red lips courtesy of some careful hand coloring on the photographic print? Printing on the mount (“Sarony Stereo Celebrities”) suggests that she was a celebrity in her day.

Head-and-shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing lace scarf

Uncaptioned portrait of a woman. Photo by Sarony on stereograph card mount. Dayton, Ohio : Lee Wolf & Bro., [between 1868 and 1878]. Updated description: // (spoiler alert!)

The mystery woman was one of more than twenty stereographs from the Marian S. Carson collection that came to the Prints & Photographs Division lacking key identifying information. The Carson Collection contains exceptional early American prints, drawings, and photographs, including more than  1,000 stereographs, and it’s not surprising that not all came with full captions. We recently shared on the photo-sharing site Flickr, a set of twenty-five of the least identified with the question “who” or “where” is this? Flickr members immediately dived in and supplied some answers. In the space of a weekend, five were fully identified.

We now know, from a Flickr member who picked up on the “Sarony” clue and located in another online resource a Sarony photograph of the same portrait sitting, that this is actress Clara Morris. Not only were we able to update our description and make the image retrievable by Morris’s name, but the discovery led me to read up on Morris, who appeared frequently on the New York stage during the 1870s.

The same intrepid Flickr member identified two photographs that had only the most bare-bones caption, “Rustic Arbor, Forest Hills.”

Pond with ivy-covered structure in background and people standing on a bridge leading to the structure.

Rustic Arbor, Forest Hills. Photo on stereograph card mount, between 1860 and 1890. Updated description: //

Path and bridge leading to ivy-covered structure

Rustic Arbor, Forest Hills. Photo on stereograph card mount, between 1860 and 1980. Updated description: //

He pointed out a related stereograph at the New York Public Library’s collections that further pinned down the location: Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.

Another Flickr member did some very effective sleuthing by recognizing the similarity of a stereograph, somewhat the worse for wear, that showed an impressive structure and the road leading to it.

Path leading to large multi-story structure, some discoloration apparent on the photo and some breakage on the stereograph mount

Pathway leading to large structure. Photo on stereograph card mount, [1864]. Updated description: //

The member commented, “Looks somewhat like cover of The Victorian Architecture of Iowa by William Plymat,” leading to the revelation that the photo shows the Governor’s Mansion, Terrace Hill, in Des Moines, Iowa, which a P&P staff member was able to confirm by viewing historical photos on the Iowa state government’s Terrace Hill web site.

The dedication and creative searching Flickr members devote to adding to our understanding of images from the collections is evident nearly every day, as we share 20-50 images to the Library of Congress Flickr account each week. Whether it’s pinning down the who, what, where, when or why of a particular image or simply communing over the human experience conveyed in photographs, the pleasure of a well-crafted image, or a funnybone-tickling situation documented visually, our conversations about images in Flickr have helped to keep us connected to the power of images–and to each other.

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A Small Texas Town on a March Afternoon in 1940

The following is a guest post by Mary Jane Appel, photo historian and author of the recently published Russell Lee: A Photographer’s Life and Legacy (Liveright, in association with the Library of Congress, 2021). When Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee drove through the small town of San Marcos, Texas on a sunny afternoon […]