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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

1899 PHOTO -- MAN AND HIS FRIEND



In the photograph above dated 1899, sits a man and his friend -- his arm on its back like they were best of friends. 


He brought it to a studio to have their picture taken together. Notice the sign (difficult to read)  that he placed on his friend.  I have a feeling that his "friend" was a squash or pumpkin that probably was a county fair winner and the man was so pleased about it that he took it to a professional photographer. 


And why do I assume that it was a professional  photographer? Because of the hand-painted backdrop  that is behind the man and his friend. Backdrops like these were popular in small studios during the late nineteenth -- early twentieth century.


The sign on the pumpkin or squash says that it is 122 pounds in the year 1899. I cannot make out the long name except that it starts with an "S."  It could be his name or perhaps an heirloom variety name.


I found this old photo in a box with many others about twenty years ago in an antique store in Williamston, Michigan. It was one of those large, about 8 X 10 cardboard's, with the photo pasted on the cardboard while leaving about an inch of cardboard border. Sometimes you find names on the backs of old pictures. This was not the case here. Its back was blank.


You might wonder why I call this very large pumpkin or squash this man's "friend"  Well, I just thought it was a bit strange to include a squash or pumpkin with the presumed owner in a photo taken professionally. Perhaps it was a cultural folkway in 1899 to do so?


It is difficult to understand folkways sometimes when time has passed, in this case one hundred and twelve years. 

32 comments:

  1. I love this photo! Getting your photo taken in 1899 was a big deal. It was something that happened maybe when you got married if you could afford it. You were not supposed to smile as it was a very serious occasion. No matter for this man, his eyes smile for us. :-)

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  2. Pride in produce is surely a folkway. Next weekend is the annual "Pumpkin Show" in Versailles, Indiana which has been occurring at least since the 1940s. I know because it was the nearest town to the farm where I grew up. Farmers competed to grow the largest pumpkin. Usually the winner, with statistics about weight and girth of pumpkin [not of farmer] were printed in the local weekly paper. As a child I was not interested in the pumpkins because there was a midway with rides and cotton candy. This year I would go to the Pumpkin Show if I didn't have conflicts because my high school class reunion [I'm not admitting the number] is being held concurrently. I don't know when the annual show started, I suppose someone in the town must know, I doubt it goes back to the 1800s.

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  3. Fascinating! I'm also fond of old photographs even when I don't know the people in them. I find myself looking through the pictures and trying to imagine what their lives must have been like. I love this man and his pumpkin.

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  4. I wonder what people 100 years from now will say about our picture, if any of these digital gems still survive?

    I wish that man had written a little on the back of that picture, so we would know who he was and why he was so proud of that pumpkin/squash.

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  5. That's just the neatest photo! Evidently this fellow also had a wonderful sense of humor.

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  6. He looks quite proud of this pumpkin. It would be my guess that he grew it.

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  7. Well, I tell you, if I had a pumpkin/squash that big, I'd be over at the photographer's place also.

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  8. birdie -- Yes, it was a big deal -- that's why I questioned why he had his photo taken the way he did. Unusual to say the least. Thanks -- barbara

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  9. June -- I agree. Pride in foods takes the form of traditions and ritual. The Indiana Pumpkin Show would be great to attend. When I was a teenager I would attend the Michigan State Fair. I concentrated on the midway and rides too and never went in the agricultural buildings to see their displays. Have lots of fun at your high school reunion!!! -- barbara

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  10. NCmountainwoman -- Like you I'm always trying to imagine the story within the photo. I used to collect old photos but I have given it up as the good ones are too difficult to find now. Thanks barbara

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  11. Louise -- I think 100 years from now they will say that we took too many photos. When I think of the late 1800s or even the 30s and 40s such few photos were taken in comparison to today. I think the film and processing costs were what made taking lots of photos prohibitive. But we probably will still be forgetting to write the names on the backs. Thanks -- barbara

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  12. Mama-Bug -- I think that is what it boils down too -- he had a big sense of humor and perhaps some extra change in his pocket to make it happen. Thanks -- barbara

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  13. Farmchick -- A nice observation about the pumpkin man --- thanks for stopping -- barbara

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  14. Towanda -- You are right -- I think today they would be putting it on a blog as a header. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  15. I love the picture, it's a classic!
    I immediately thought the same thing as Mama-Bug, that he had a quirky sense of humour and was rightly proud of his "friend's" efforts on the scales ;)

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  16. I love this post, so intriguing. And, I love the photo too. My guess is that whatever the prize was, it was well appreciated, possibly some money or the like. But also, he's proud, and rightly so, of growing such a squash. Afterall, he couldn't just go down to the local garden center and buy fertilizer; growing veggies was much different then.

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  17. What a cool find. I agree that the pumpkin was likely a county fair winner. Many of the fairs around here have 'largest pumpkin' contests. Interesting to see, too, how pumpkins have gotten bigger. There are even pumpkin boat races.

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  18. A prize vegetable from the garden. Why not display it proudly. Cool find. Thanks for sharing.

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  19. Now you peeked my interst. I looked up all the varieties of Curcubita and could not find a word that lookes like his. Perhaps is the word is not English? Fascinating find. I love old photos. Dianne

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  20. He looks awfully proud of his pumpkin, and very pleased with himself! Understandably so, that's a mighty impressive squash! I can see why he'd want to immortalize it in a photo, which I imagine cost a pretty penny to have taken back then, in addition to requiring a bit of a logistical effort to haul a 122-lb piece of produce into the studio! You don't think the fair (maybe a state fair?) provided a temporary photo booth and photographer for the winners to pay to have their photos taken, do you? Like photographers set up in makeshift civil war encampments?

    I can't help but wonder what he did with his pumpkin friend. Did it make enough pies to feed his town, or one heck of a jack o'lantern? This photo makes me think of the adorable book "Pumpkin Moonshine" by Tasha Tudor. Have you ever read it? I have my mother's copy from her childhood, along with several others. LOVE "Pumpkin Moonshine!"

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  21. Jayne -- the man seemed mighty pleased about his friend -- I could detect that from his face. Thanks for stopping by Jayne -- barbara

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  22. Rose -- your comment about fertilizer and veggies perhaps has some truth to it. Could it be that certain types of fertilizers are unhealthy for veggies. If so, maybe using those certain fertilizers are giving us smaller harvests and/or smaller vertebles. Thanks -- barbara

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  23. Sheri -- Interesting that you say pumpkins are getting larger now. I suppose these are new hybrids on the scene? Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  24. Grampy -- Yup -- why not show it proudly. A great prize from his garden. -- barbara

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  25. Dianne --- The name that begins with an S is difficult for me to make out. I thought it might be a German word? I looked in William Woys Weaver's book on heirloom vegetables and could not find a name that starts with an S. Thanks for trying to ID it. -- barbara

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  26. Laloofah -- Yes, I wondered what happened to his friend after the photo was taken. Was it bronzed, or made into one of those pumpkin pies you mention.

    Good point about getting a 122 pound pumpkin into a studio -- I'm sure a few people assisted. Or possibly there was a temporary set-up at the event.

    Tasha Tudor was a favorite of mine. I loved her lifestyle -- and of course all her art illustrations in her books. I don't have any of her works at present but maybe I should look for some at sales.

    Thanks -- barbara

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  27. Barbara, the winner at our local fair last year was 295 pounds. Many people grow Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkins for contests now. If you google images, you'll see some amazing pumpkins!

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  28. Sheri - Thanks for letting me know about these giant pumpkins. I am off to google the images. Amazing that pumpkins can grow to 295 pounds!
    -- barbara

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  29. Vicki -- Always nice when you stop by. Thanks for the compliment on the photo -- barbara

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  30. I love the picture! We have some family photos that have the fake backdrops.

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  31. Janet -- I once spied a very expensive book that had been well researched on the backdrops used in these early photos. Can't remember the name -- have searched the net and have come up empty- handed. I think the backdrops are charming and folky. Thanks for the comment Janet-- barbara

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