Friday, March 30, 2012

Favorite Photo Friday—Balanced Rock

These two photographs came to me separately and so long ago I can’t remember the source.  They both show tourists posed in front of Balanced Rock, in the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Both photos are 4.5 by 7.5 inches in size and mounted on cardboard backgrounds.

The photograph with the ladies (and two gentlemen)  has printed on the  cardboard mounting: “Balanced Rock, Garden of the Gods.  Weight, 600 tons.”  But someone has written in pencil below that “California, 1883”.  The “California” part is wrong, so the date may be as well.

The second photograph-- of three men on donkeys-- has printed in the photograph “Balanced Rock, May 8th, 1903”, so I suspect that date is correct.  The second photograph is numbered  3450 and the first one 208.

I love how serious the ladies are, standing without fear that the huge rock would decide to topple over on them.  I especially like the elderly lady cuddling the baby donkey.  The woman perched sidesaddle in the foreground does not have a divided skirt for riding, but someone has suggested to me that a lady in the back row does.  It’s hard to tell.  I love all their flowered hats as well.

The three men in the second photo all have dapper mustaches and seem quite pleased with themselves as they pose for the photographer.

On the back of the second photo is printed “Paul Goerke & Son Photographers at the Balanced Rock, Rainbow Falls and Manitou Ave.
Office next to Barker Hotel.  Manitou, Colorado
Duplicates of this picture can be had at any time.  Price 25 cents each postpaid.  Order by the number on the picture.
 Prices for Bromide Enlargement given on Application.”

Professional photographers setting up their large cameras on tripods could make a good living photographing tourists at sites like this in the days before cameras and photography were available to amateurs. 

Niagara Falls was especially popular with tourists and professional photographers at the dawn of photography-- in the 1840’s and 1850’s.  If you find in your attic a full-plate daguerreotype of your great-great grandparents posed in front of Niagara Falls on their honeymoon, you can probably sell it for a small fortune.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Remembering Sixties Fashions and Mad Men Days

                                                                                       Megan on Mad Men
As the reaction to Mad Men’s season premiere last Sunday proves, today’s younger (than I am) generations are fascinated with the lifestyle, the fashions and especially the presumed decadence of life in Manhattan in the 1960’s.

For those of us who lived through it, the show brings nostalgia, bittersweet memories of youthful foolishness, and frequent hilarity at anachronisms that slip by, despite the dozens of people on the program who are working to make every ash tray, cocktail shaker and plaid blazer authentic to the period.

I was 19 and in college when the 1960’s began.   In the summer of 1963 I graduated from the University of California,  Berkeley (English Lit.), and entered Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in the fall for a year-long Master of Science program.   My first job after graduating was in public relations at Lever Brothers—in the iconic Lever House on Park Avenue.  After six months there, I moved a few blocks uptown to  work at the Ladies’ Home Journal, at 54th and Lexington (right across from what would be Studio 54 where Andy Warhol and Truman Capote played.)

There were no three-martini lunches for someone as low on the masthead as I was, but some of my colleagues did slip out for long lunch hours with older gentlemen and would come back looking rumpled and a bit tipsy.  One voluptuous blonde was having a relationship with a married account executive at J. Walter Thompson and kept us abreast of all the drama.

Yes, I did smoke at the time--in fact when I went to college there was a “smoking room” on my floor in the freshman dormitory where obsessive students like myself could sit up all night smoking, studying and living on Mars Bars out of the vending machine.  I smoked from the age of 18 until at 29 I married a Greek-American New York Times reporter who insisted I quit. (And I’m still married to him 42 years later.)

The thing you have to understand about the Sixties—and this is starting to be portrayed on Mad Men—is that at some point in the decade there was a watershed moment when everything changed 180 degrees:  everything from fashion, music and lifestyle to views on race, women’s rights, health—you name it. 

When people talk about the “Swinging Sixties” they’re talking about the last years of the decade, from about 1966 on.  The first part of the sixties was a lot like the 1950’s—conservative, uptight, well-mannered (although archaic in beliefs about sex, race, whatever.)  Clothing was  conservative and preppy, fitted to the body.  Just look at the pleated skirts and man-tailored blouses that Peggy, the secretary-turned-copywriter on Mad Men is still wearing in the season premiere, which takes place in 1966.
 Here is a photograph of me in the spring of 1965 when I was headed for the airport in Los Angeles to fly back to New York after a visit with my parents.  Can you believe the hat, shoes and gloves?  I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have the photo as proof.

And here are two photos of me on the job in 1964 and 65.  You can see that we are rocking the  sculpted beehive hairdo’s that were so lacquered with spray that they were un-squashable, inspiring jokes about rodents nesting within.

So we women all looked and dressed pretty much like the earlier seasons of Mad Men.  Then something happened. I’ve often pondered what it was that revolutionized the Sixties.  When I left Berkeley in 1963 the Free Speech movement was just a-bornin’ and it slowly moved across the country bringing sit-ins and riots on campuses, not to mention the surging of the Civil Rights movement. The Beatles came to New York in 1964  which was a cause of great excitement at the magazine. And there was the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967.

And suddenly hems rose to incredible heights while dresses, once structured  and controlled, became loose on the body, like tunics.  On the Mad Men premiere last Sunday, when Megan, the new Mrs.  Don Draper sang her French song and did her sexy dance, which shocked and alarmed her colleagues and her new husband, she was wearing  a black, flowing mini dress that illustrated perfectly the new fashions and attitudes.  Everything that had been up tight until 1966 soon became flowing and loose and very, very short.
 In this photo from Feb. 1967, when I was  discussing a magazine article with Ruth Jacobs on the “Jewish Home Show”, you can see that my beehive has been replaced by a pseudo-Vidal Sassoon, asymmetrical bob.  Though you can’t see it, my A-line dress with a yellow stripe down the side is very short.

On April 1, 1968, I left New York and the Ladies’ Home Journal to travel and work in Europe.  I was leaving partly to get away from the Greek-American reporter who, I was sure, would break my heart.

As soon as I left New York, Martin Luther King was assassinated, then Bobby Kennedy, then, a year later, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick and the Charles Manson murders terrorized Los Angeles.  From my vantage point overseas, it seemed that my  country was literally coming apart.

I had scored an editing job in London, when Swinging London was peaking.    I met the Beatles, bought clothes from Biba Boutique and shared a flat with three young women who were waiting to turn 21 so they could get their hands on their trust funds. Meanwhile they got up at four every afternoon and circulated from one club to another all night.  I, meanwhile, went to a nine-to-five job and occasionally handed over my rent in advance when the girl who owned the place got in a jam and had to be bailed out.

In 1969 I traveled to Greece, because I had reconciled with the previously mentioned reporter, and he was vacationing there. I arrived with a whole wardrobe of skirts so very short that he refused to introduce me to any of his friends or relatives until I acquired something of a more respectable length. 
 My asymmetrical bob had grown into a French twist and, for some reason, I seem to be wearing a ratty rabbit fur (or something) coat .  I won’t comment on the shoes, but it all seemed very stylish at the time.

I went back to my job in my beloved London, but we eventually agreed to marry (if I quit smoking), so in 1970, I returned to Manhattan. 

On March 18, 1970, at least 100 feminists staged a sit-in at the Ladies Home Journal, protesting the way the magazine’s mostly male staff depicted women’s interests.  They occupied the office for 11 hours.  They held prisoner my highly respected boss, John Mack Carter, and the managing editor Lenore Hershey.  They even smoked JMC’s cigars.

Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see this historic moment, because by then I was writing articles for the company's foreign syndication service and working mostly at home.  But I suspect that pretty soon I may get to see a similar feminist sit-in in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on Mad Men.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Found Art – The High Line

You may argue that a park is not art, but in the case of the High Line I think you’d agree with me that it is.  It has outdoor sculpture and artistic plantings, ghost signs, views of  the Hudson river and even a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Live birds were checking out this sculpture for real estate
 And, in the other direction, you can gaze at cityscapes including the Empire State building. 
 Even the billboards and graffiti seen from the High Line seem like art.
I’d been hearing raves from New Yorkers about this newest park.  I finally got to visit it on March 13th, when one of the first really spring-like days brought Manhattanites out to stroll, visit, photograph or just soak in the sun.
Originally—in the 1930’s-- the High Line was an elevated freight rail line above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. The trains carried freight from docked ships into warehouses, where it was stored.  
In the mid-1980’s a group of property owners lobbied for demolition of the entire structure, but the Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 and ultimately won the City to their point of view—to “reclaim the High Line” by turning it into an elevated park (accessible by elevators as well as stairs).
The High Line runs on Manhattan’s West Side from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street between 10th & 11th Avenue.  The first section of the High Line opened on June 9, 2009 and the second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.  Now they’re talking about a third section.
On the High Line there is room for picnicking, sunbathing and people-watching, and in the summer, street vendors sell food and drink, all made from local ingredients.  Soon The Green Table—an open-air café—will open as well, featuring food from environmentally friendly farms. 
On March 13 there were no food vendors, but everyone was luxuriating in the promise of spring.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Favorite Photo Friday—A Boy and His Dog

I’m passionate about old photos and like to research some that I think may be historically important, treating them as a mystery that must be solved by examining the clues.  When I think I’ve figured one out, I often post “The Story Behind the Photograph”, like the ones listed on the right.

But sometimes I have no clues and no information, but just love an old photo because it makes me smile.  I’m going to share one of those from my collection each Friday, and if you can tell me anything about the photo at hand, let me know.

                                                                                                   copyright Joan Gage

This photo is pure Americana—looks like it was posed for a Norman Rockwell "Saturday Evening Post" cover.  It’s about 8 by 10 inches and mounted on cardboard.  There’s the blue-eyed boy in his suspenders and straw hat holding his faithful dog, who’s ready to join him on any adventure.  Even the screen door behind them is perfect.

Who took this photo, and when and where?  I have no idea.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Resourceful Mom Writes an eBook Bestseller


This is a story about how an intrepid Greek-American mom in Alaska tackled economic problems caused by a family health crisis that forced her to quit her job.  She did it by pouring her family recipes and her memories of her mother and grandmothers into a cookbook that she self-published on the internet as an eBook.  Within less than a month, she had an internet best-seller.

This is also a story about how the internet has made it possible for us to reach out to people around the world to find support, friendship and a marketplace for things that we create with our own hands and talents, no matter how physically isolated we may be. 

The first I heard of Demetra Nerantzini was an e-mail from her on Jan. 9 saying that she would like permission to use a photograph of mine – a view of  Santorini that appeared on my blog in 2010-- for the cover of a Greek cookbook she was writing. She told me what impacted her final decision to publish the book:  The last few years had brought an overwhelming sequence of health emergencies affecting her children and her husband, all of whom had surgeries requiring a great deal of home care while recuperating.  During that time Demetra had no option other than to leave her job.

It was her daughter Marina who pointed out that this would be an ideal time for  Demetra to consolidate all the family recipes into one place.  People were always asking for the Greek recipes she had learned from watching her mother and two grandmothers—recipes that were stored in her mind and on scraps of paper tucked into cookbooks.  And once the recipes were gathered into a manuscript, along with the  cherished memories of the women who created them, then Demetra could self-publish an on-line cookbook that would be available not just to family and friends, but to the whole world.  Marina begged her mother to make the book her single New Year’s resolution for 2012 and kept insisting until  Demetra agreed.

                                                       Demetra & daughter Marina

In her introductory letter to me, Demetra said, “This book will be my most requested family recipes.  I don’t know if it will sell 5 copies or 5,000. I’m not an author and I’ve never published anything before, so my apologies for being very green about this.” She offered to pay for the use of my photo, but I told her she was welcome to use it;  I was delighted that she liked it so much.    

It turns out that Demetra was not green at all about internet publishing.  In her second letter to me she wrote “It appears that Smashwords is really the only aggregator that can help me get this first book out into iBooks and Kindle without a lot of up-front charges. My deadline is to have this book submitted to Smashwords on/before January 25th since my New Year’s Resolution …is to have this in the eBook stores by February 1st.”

Demetra kept me posted on the ups and downs of finishing the book by her self-set deadline.  “It’s amazing how hard sticking to a schedule can be at times, having lost my Mother and Grandmothers not too too long ago. (Lost all three between March 2001-Halloween 2006). Some recipes/stories I can sit and smile through typing, while others feel like they’re ripping my heart out…Sometimes I can’t see the screen through tears and need to step away.…Even if this book only sells 10 copies it’s done me a wonder of a soul cleansing”

She finished it by her deadline of Jan. 25,  and the next day wrote me: “A Google search for “Demetra’s Kitchen” already brings up the Smashwords page….  Before the book can be submitted to iTunes,/iBooks/Sony/Kobo, I have to wait until Smashwords does a visual review and then they will assign it to their premium catalog. At that point I can obtain an ISBN through them where I am noted as the publisher.“

Despite getting the book done on time, Demetra was soon disillusioned with Smashwords,  “It is driving me absolutely batty every time I see their screen about the ISBN number. It should say, “Click here to give up your publishing rights…or wait an eternity for us to get to your book so you can keep them!”

By Feb. 3, she was more optimistic:  Everything is good now. The book has been distributed to Apple and all the other vendors, so I ‘m just sitting on pins and needles waiting for them to update their sites!... It, for sure, is going to be on all the Apple stores (available both in iTunes and iBooks), Barnes & Noble’s e-site, Sony, Kobo, Nook, and then somewhere along the line Amazon too. .. If you happen to be on Facebook, I have made a page for the book itself  There’s already 55 “Likes” on it, and according to the exposure statistics…it’s been viewed and translated for countries from Greece to UAE, to Germany, Switzerland and numerous others.”

On Feb. 11 Demetra gave me the high points of the previous week: On Monday she learned from the Facebook Reach Insight Report that people from  21 countries have been “poking around the Facebook page for the book.”

Tuesday she found out that a chef in Mombasa, Kenya wants to feature a couple of her recipes on his weekly show.

“Thurs—we finally appeared on iTunes/iBooks! (note no sign of it still on Sony, Kobo,  Barnes & Noble, Diesel or Kindle as of today.)”

“Friday—some one at Apple read the book and made it one of 20 categorized as “New and Noteworthy”.

On Saturday she went to the Smashwords home page, clicked on “Cooking” and then clicked on “Best Sellers” and found that “It’s Smashwords #1 cookbook. This is amazing.  I’m honestly floored at all the attention this is getting.  I’ve said more thank-you prayers in this last week than I think I have in the last few months…I’m a housewife in Alaska – I must be dreaming.”

By Monday, Feb. 13—“We’ve hit more milestones today.  We made the front page of iTunes cookbooks page and also, when you click through the recent releases (which are default sorted by sales, not release date) I AM #7 AND MARTHA STEWART’S COOKBOOK FROM DECEMBER IS #8!!!  HOLY COW!!!  This is all just so humbling.  It’s very surreal seeing this little thing that I consider my heart on paper being rated well enough to be sold on the same pages as the likes of Martha Stewart, Julia Child and Mario Batali….

“How very humbling this year has been ever since Marina decided this was my New Year’s Resolution.  Thanking God every step of the way for what a miracle this is turning into for our family.”

Feb. 18—“This is just amazing. God’s hand truly is in all this…For days now, when you go to the iTunes cookbooks page there sits the book cover (with your beautiful picture on the cover) interspersed with the likes of Martha Stewart, Mario Batali and Julia Child…God’s hands combined with the power of the Internet.”

Feb. 20—“Your beautiful cover now graces the first spot on the iTunes main cookbooks page and the first spot on the iTunes Regional & Ethnic Cookbooks page.  I couldn’t sleep tonight and thought I’d see where the book was and now I’m just sitting here in a dark and quiet house shaking (also wishing I could wake everyone…except it’s 3:02 a.m. in Alaska.)”

Clearly it’s too soon to write the ending to Demetra’s story of how she used the internet, her family’s recipes and her computer and cooking knowhow to help her family get over a rocky patch in the road.   But whatever the ultimate monetary rewards of “Demetra’s Kitchen”, its success so far has her looking for a hardback publisher.  And she’s now working hard on “Demetra’s Kitchen Volume 2”.

“I’m going to have to set myself a short deadline for Volume 2 and just bury myself in it” she wrote me.  “ Heck, my birthday is April 27th –why don’t we make that the official “upload to Smashwords” date.  I wrote the first one straight from my heart and out through my fingers (in a hurry).  Might as well try that again, right?”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Found Art – The Murals of the Mission District, San Francisco

Art is all around if we only keep our eyes open to see it.  So I’m going to try every week to have a post about “Found Art”, sharing some of the beautiful things I encounter, often just walking down the street, like an unexpected gift.
 Marina in front of a mural  including Frieda Kahlo
When I was in San Francisco last year, daughter Marina took me on an impromptu tour of some of the wall murals of her neighborhood—the Mission District.  They are truly astonishing.  Unlike the murals of the Wynwood Walls district in Miami, which are created by established artists like Shepard Fairey, who command huge prices for their work, the Mission Murals are done by “real people” who actually live in the neighborhood.  The best thing about these murals is that they are filled with pride in the culture of the community, and they empower the children of the Mission, reminding them of what their heroes have achieved and emphasizing that their culture, traditions, religion and rituals are important.
Guadalupe & Victory
 If you go to San Francisco, be sure to tour the Mission Murals.  It’s impossible to see them all, but inexpensive tours are given every Saturday and Sunday .  All the information is at the Precita Eyes Mural Arts & Visitors Center, 2981 -24th Street, San Francisco, phone 415-285-2287, or on their website: 
 Cesar Chavez & Mariarchi musicians

Malcolm X on the right

An unfinished mural in the making

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Baby's Earrings: To Pierce or Not to Pierce

In Minnesota where I grew up, piercing your infant daughter's ears so she could wear earrings was considered tatamount to child abuse.  In fact I didn't get my ears pierced till I was in my 40's.

But daughter Eleni and her (Nicaraguan) husband Emilio and their baby daughter Amalía live in the Latin country of Miami, FL, where  Latino parents insist on a baby girl's ears being pierced immediately and if the pediatrician refuses (as Eleni's female pediatrician did for several years) the parents might try doing the operation themselves.  So Eleni's doctor buckled under and now schedules a "day of beauty" for little girls who are at least three months old.

Granddaughter Amalía passed six months recently, so on March 6 she had her ears pierced.

And Eleni wrote a pretty funny essay on the subject which was posted today on The New York Times' web site  Opinions Page under the title "Baby's First Bling."

Check it out and if you are inspired, add your own opinion of the practice to the comments already there.

And I'll give you more than the NYT web site does.  Here's a photo of Amalía in the doctor's office, happily unaware that she is about to get her ears pierced and a flu shot as well.

And here she is preening with her new earrings as her Papi smiles proudly.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Her Tossed-Out Diary Made her an Author at 92

Angel Franco/ The New York Times

I often say that the Obituary Section of The New York Times is my favorite section because it introduces me to fascinating people I’d never have heard of, like the man who designed the New York Coffee cup or the one who invented the Frisbee.

Last week I learned the story of Florence Wolfson Howitt, who died at 96.  Hers is a story so full of coincidences that, if it were fiction, everyone would scoff.

Here’s what The New York Times obit said on March 7, 2012:  “Florence Wolfson Howitt, whose lifelong dream of recognition as a writer eluded her until she was in her 90s, when the diary she had kept as a teenager was found in a Dumpster and became the subject of a newspaper article and a widely publicized book, died on Tuesday at her home in Pompano Beach, Fla. She was 96.

Florence Wolfson, the daughter of well-to-do parents living in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was 14 when she was given a little red diary with gold-edged pages. For the next five years, without skipping a day, she wrote four-line entries that evoked her passions.
‘Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven,’ she wrote on June 28, 1932. ‘I feel like a ripe apricot — I’m dizzy with the exotic.’
‘Went to the Museum of Modern Art,’ she wrote on Feb. 21, 1931. ‘Sheer jealousy — I can’t even paint an apple yet — it’s heartbreaking!’
But she could write, and that was apparent at Wadleigh High, an arts school in Manhattan, from which she graduated at 15; at Hunter College, where she was editor of the literary magazine in her senior year; and at Columbia, where she earned a master’s degree in English literature in 1936. …
She wrote articles for Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and Cosmopolitan, with titles like “How to Behave in Public Without an Escort” and “What to Do With the Unmarried Daughter.”
Miss Wolfson married Dr. Nathan Howitt, a dentist, in 1939. They moved into an apartment on Riverside Drive and 82nd Street. Sixty-four years later, a steamer trunk that had languished in the basement was placed in a Dumpster on the street. A worker at the building pulled the diary from the trunk and gave it to Lily Koppel, a news assistant at The New York Times, who was subletting an apartment in the building.
In July 2006, after searching birth records and locating Mrs. Howitt, Ms. Koppel wrote an article about her for The Times. That led to Ms. Koppel’s 2008 book, “The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal,” and a close friendship. Ms. Koppel, who is now a freelance writer, said in an interview that the diary “was sort of a telephone line across time, and a glimpse into a vanishing New York.”
Profiles of Mrs. Howitt appeared in publications around the country. She was a guest on the “Today” show. She gave readings and interviews at book club gatherings.
Florence Wolfson was born in Manhattan on Aug. 11, 1915, to Daniel and Rebecca Wolfson. Her father was a physician, and her mother owned a couture shop on Madison Avenue. Mrs. Howitt’s husband died in 2007…
“It was the most exciting year or two of her life, something she always sought,” Ms. Fischel said of her mother’s unexpected fame. “She felt like a celebrity and was 92 years old.”
So many unlikely things gave this woman literary fame at 92.   What if the curious apartment worker hadn’t pulled the diary out of the steamer trunk on the sidewalk?  And what if he never gave it to the young New York Times Reporter?  And what if she never researched to find out the author of the diary?  But in the end, after longing for literary recognition for nine decades, Florence Wolfson Howitt got her fifteen minutes of fame before she died.
Her story hit a sensitive spot in me—because she and I have so many things in common.  Like her, I went to Columbia for a masters degree (in journalism)  When I got married, I lived two blocks away from her building on the West Side.  Like her, I wrote dozens of articles for women’s magazines (and 22 articles for The New York Times.)   Like her, I’ve kept a diary all my life (but not one worth publishing—just a boring few lines on what I did every day.) 
I also have a habit, on my birthday, of making a list of my goals for the year—and then hiding it somewhere in my desk.  Not too long ago I found a list I made when I was fifteen years old.  The number-one goal on my list was “write a best-seller.”
Seeing that brought a rueful smile to my face.  When I was fifteen, it seemed like a reasonable goal, but now that I’m 71, I can only laugh at my naïve 15-year old ambitions.  I have written a few books in my life that were well-reviewed and are still in print, but they were ghost-written with other people’s names on them and told other people’s stories.  I have yet to see my own name on a “real” book. (I’m not counting my Greek Cats photo book as a real book.)
But instead of giving up on my habit of writing a list of goals every year, I’d better sit down and write my list for this year (my birthday was last month.)  The story of Florence Wolfson Howitt has given me hope.  After all, I’m not dead yet....
And, oh yes, I'm designating her as Crone of the Week.  The statue please...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Shocking Story Behind the White Slave Photographs

In my previous post, I discussed the recently-in-the-news photos of the “White Slave Children of New Orleans” which portrayed only white-appearing slave children, not black ones.  I explained how this apparently wrong-minded and politically incorrect practice of the Abolitionists had originated nearly a decade earlier with a daguerreotype of a white-skinned little girl named Mary Botts.  She was purchased and brought north by her father (an escaped slave) with the help of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who paraded her (and circulated her photographic image) around New England making her a celebrity described in The New York Times and other media.

In 1855, Sumner may have been the first to focus on white-appearing slaves to raise indignation against the practice of slavery.  It worked so well that, after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, Northerners and Abolitionists who wanted to support schools for former slaves went to New Orleans looking for white slave children to bring up north and  photograph.  According to Celia Caust-Ellenbogen of Swarthmore College, “Keeping these schools up and running would require ongoing financial support. Toward this end, the National Freedman’s Association, in collaboration with the American Missionary Association and interested officers of the Union Army launched a new propaganda campaign.  Five children and three adults, all former slaves from New Orleans, were sent to the North on a publicity tour.

A full page of Harper’s Weekly’s Jan. 30, 1864 issue was devoted to this engraving, which was based on a large-format photograph taken of the group.   Explaining the picture was a letter written by  C.C. Leigh introducing the stars of the new propaganda campaign.  Pay attention to how he keeps emphasizing the intelligence of the children.

“To the Editor of Harper’s Weekly:
The group of emancipated slaves whose portraits I send you were brought by Colonel Hanks and Mr. Philip Bacon from New Orleans, where they were set free by General Butler…REBECCA HUGER is eleven years old, and was a slave in her father’s house, the special attendant of a girl a little older than herself.  To all appearance she is perfectly white.  Her complexion, hair and features show not the slightest trace of Negro blood.  In the few months during which she has been at school she has learned to read well, and writes as neatly as most children of her age.  Her mother and grandmother live in New Orleans, where they support themselves comfortably by their own labor…ROSINA DOWNS is not quite seven years old.  She is a fair child, with blonde complexion and silky hair.  Her father is in the rebel army.  She has one sister as white as herself and three brothers who are darker.  Her mother, a bright mulatto, lives in New Orleans in a poor hut, and has hard work to support her family.  CHARLES TAYLOR is eight years old.  His complexion is very fair, his hair light and silky.  Three out of five boys in any school in New York are darker than he.  Yet this white boy, with his mother, as he declares, has been twice sold as a slave.  First by his father and “owner”,  Alexander Wethers, of Lewis County, Virginia, to a slave trader named Harrison, who sold them to Mr.Thornhill of New Orleans.  This man fled at the approach of our army and his slaves were liberated by General Butler. The boy is decidedly intelligent, and though he has been at school less than a year, he reads and writes very well. …”

The letter goes on to describe the adults in the group—two of them chosen, evidently, because they had physical scars from their masters’ mistreatment.  Wilson Chinn, on the left, was branded on his forehead by Volsey B Marmillion, who branded all his 210 slaves, and Mary Johnson carried the scars of 50 cuts on her arms and back –given by her master because one morning she was “half an hour behind time in bringing up his five o’clock cup of coffee”.

The little girl on the left next to Charley was described  as AUGUSTA BROUJEY, nine years old. “Her mother, who is almost white, was owned by her half-brother, named Solamon, who still retains two of her children. ISAAC WHITE is a black boy of eight years; but none the less intelligent than his whiter companions. He has been in school about seven months, and I venture to say that not one boy in fifty would have made as much improvement in that space of time.”

The man on the far right is  “the Reverend Mr. Whitehead” who managed to earn enough as a house and ship painter to buy his freedom and is described thus: “The reverend gentleman can read and write well and is a very stirring speaker.  Just now he belongs to the church militant, having enlisted in the United States Army.”

The letter in Harper’s ends by telling where the small CDVs of the individuals can be bought for 25 cents each or the large photo of the whole group for one dollar.  This would have been a very good investment, for today the individual CDV’s can cost several hundred dollars or more, and the only copy of the large group photo that I have ever seen was in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Three photographers took photos of the white slave children: Charles Paxson and M. H. Kimball  in New York, and J.E. McClees in Philadelphia (where they were kicked out of their hotel when the manager learned they were not “really” white.) The children were dressed in elegant clothing and posed with props—the American flag, an ornate mirror, books which they were studying—to appeal to the sentimentality of Victorian audiences.  (See my previous post.)  Kimball produced the most “shocking” photo (to Victorian eyes) of dark-skinned Isaac and white-skinned Rosa arm in arm .  (Augusta was in only 2 of the 22 photos on record and Isaac in three, but Rosa and Rebecca are pictured in most of them.) 

The most photographed and most popular of the “white slave children” was Rebecca, 11 years old, posed in ever more stylish outfits.  Prof. Mary Niall Mitchell (who is writing a book about white slave Mary Botts, mentioned in my previous post) suggests in an essay “Rosebloom and Pure White” in American Quarterly, Sept. 2002, that Rebecca fascinated the Victorians because she was closest to becoming an adult woman and the thought of her  sexual vulnerability —a white slave girl who could be bought and sold and raped—fascinated and horrified the Northerners.  Clearly the white children were the result of masters raping the slave women who were their property. Professor  Mitchell repeats the famous quip of southern diarist Mary Chestnut: “Every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think.”

Professor Mitchell writes in the same essay: “In the images of Rosa and Rebecca, a notion about white little girls as pure and precious things may have been employed to redeem those viewers who had yet to rally around the antislavery cause and encourage them to act on the girls’ behalf.”

Finally, the Abolitionists photographing the “white slave children” were using the new and undeniably “scientific”  medium of photography to battle the beliefs of the leading scientist of the day—Louis Agassiz—famous Harvard natural scientist.  He claimed and tried very hard to prove “scientifically” that the Black race was an inferior and separate biological species.  According to Kathleen Collins in “Portraits of Slave Children” in “History of Photography”, July- September 1985,   “The anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould recently reconstructed Agassiz’ life and thought from his unexpurgated letters in the Harvard University Collection.  Gould concluded that behind Agassiz’ separate creation theories was an initial, visceral reaction to contact with blacks, which left him with an intense revulsion against the notion of miscegenation.”

Agassiz himself tried to use the science of photography to promote his theories that blacks were a different species from whites.  Long before the civil war, he toured Southern plantations and had the owners bring forth the most “African” looking slaves.  In 1850 Agassiz arranged for J. T. Zealy, a daguerrotypist in Columbia, South Carolina, to take photographs of African-born slaves from plantations Agassiz had visited. 

The slaves were stripped and photographed and these haunting daguerreotypes were sent to Agassiz at Harvard.  In 1976 they were found in a storage cabinet at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. (To see these dags and read a brilliant discussion of Agassiz’s racism and his use of the camera to debase his subjects, go to ) Here are two of the captions:

The Zealy pictures reveal the social convention which ranks blacks as inferior beings, which violates civilized decorum, which strips men and women of the right to cover their genitalia. And yet the pictures shatter that mold by allowing the eyes of Delia and the others to speak directly to ours, in an appeal to a shared humanity.

Agassiz commissioned these images to use as scientific visual evidence to prove the physical difference between white Europeans and black Africans. The primary goal was to prove the racial superiority of the white race. The photographs were also meant to serve as evidence for his theory of “separate creation,” which contends that each race originated as a separate species.

So the Abolitionists who photographed the white (mulatto) children of New Orleans, arm in arm with a black slave child, and who emphasized at every turn the intelligence and good behavior of these children, were fighting fire with fire—using the new science of photography to refute visually the beliefs of the country’s most famous scientist and other racists who insisted that the two races should not and could not be mixed.