How Do They Think They Can Get Away With That?


While scanning more prints (and a few negatives and tintypes — I’m actually nearing the end of the task!), I was watching the decently-acted recreation of the demise of the Jesse James and Younger gangs, The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid.

Now, understand — as the title strongly suggests — the setting is Northfield, Minnesota.  That’s just down the road from here.  The year is 1876, a brief wink of time ago in geologic terms.  I mention this because I’ve been to Northfield.  Its elevation today is 910 feet.  Its tallest hill can’t be more than 100 feet higher than that.  In the movie, however, Northfield has snow-capped mountains in the background and rolling foothills all around.  Northfield has never, ever, in geologic time, had mountains — it is sedimentary country that used to be the bed of an antediluvian sea.

Now, maybe the fact the movie was made in the 80s is an excuse.  But I’m not buying it.  Did they intentionally intend to get laughs from Minnesota audiences?  And from anyone who’s visited here?  Fortunately, not everyone is so cavalier with settings.  Fargo, for example, not only is laughably over the top with Minnesota and North Dakota vernacular and accents, but shows the great prairie expanses in the dead of winter.  Sweet Land, a greatly underrated movie is set in a post-WWI Minnesota farming community, and is wonderful in the purity of the portrayal of the rural people and their life on the land of those days.

Mountains in Northfield, MN?  You’ve got to be kidding me!


Anger Department

If it weren’t in poor taste to think ill of the dead, I’d be angry with my mother.  I have scanned literally hundreds of photos made in the 1880s, 1890s and early 1900s, and some tintypes and daguerreotypes made as early as the 1850s, many of them formal portraits, and some of them gorgeous original prints that one would have hung framed on the wall or set in ornate desk frames.

Many of these prints, however, were stored under really poor conditions in her basement.  It’s amazing that some of them have come to me in as good shape as they have.  For example, yesterday’s finds included these three absolutely exquisite photos of my grandmother and her two sisters, probably taken in the first decade of the 20th century.

My Great Aunt Myra

My Grandmother

My Great Aunt Beulah

The photos appear to be selenium toned albumin prints pasted within the white ovals in the middle of a heavy, dark olive green-colored board.

For all these old photos, once they’ve been scanned, the resulting PSDs archived, and JPEGs uploaded for my extended family to view and download, they are now under archival plastic in books, or, in the case of these three, in archival ClearBags.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve now found and scanned two daguerreotypes and well over ten tintypes.  Those too will now be much better protected than they have been for the last 150 or so years.  I don’t think anyone in my family appreciated how rare (and potentially valuable) they are.

Unbelievable!  If only Mother had confided in one of her sons that she had this family treasure just downstairs.


One of several highly contrasty shots from this series.

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3 Responses to How Do They Think They Can Get Away With That?

  1. Jim says:


    I know the feeling. Although we have precious little in the way of photos of even my grandparents on either side (my father’s parents didn’t like to have their picture taken and my mother’s parents lived their entire lives in Ireland – we only saw them once), I had to “rescue” the old family photos, and the 8mm movies of our trip to Ireland (I was five years old on the trip) from my mother back about eight years ago because she had them so poorly stored. I scanned a bunch of them and then I was able to show them to my mother and ask who all the people were. I have put many of the ones of us as very young children (along with our very young parents) in an album for protection and access. My mother’s habit was to store them in old cardboard boxes and leave them in the dampest part of the basement.

  2. Could be worse. There could have been a dementia-fueled day of photo destruction somewhere along the way. My grandma did that, and as a result, I have exactly two photos of her husband who died before I was born, one of which is a newspaper clipping and exactly as yellowed as you’d expect from 50+ year-old newsprint.

  3. Mark says:

    I can appreciate your frustration. My mom died last spring and in going through the family pictures we had many of the same sorts of discoveries. There are a fair number of pictures of (presumably) relatives from the nineteenth century who are currently unknown. My mother-in-law just moved to Georgia and I have now become that family’s historian. Those pictures were in worse condition. Some of them are stuck together to such an extent that they can’t be separated without damage. I did find a surprising amount of geneological material, but pairing names with faces will be even harder past the 1930s. I like a lot of old photos even if I don’t know who the people are; so even if I can’t put names to everyone it is still worth the effort (and it keeps me off the streets).

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