Monday, November 23, 2009

Friends and Family at Poplar Grove

Hello readers,

You may have noticed the absence of a blog entry last Friday. This was due to the significant amount of work that Nathan and I were doing in preparation for the digitization of the Poplar Grove materials. The good news is that this made many new images available to share with you on the blog. The bad news is that this work has carried over into the new week, and I still have little time to provide one entry before we leave for the Thanksgiving holiday. In the interest of the gathering of families and friends over the coming week, I have decided to provide you with several photographs of people coming together in the past.

We have, first, several photos from a curiosity found in Series 18 of Poplar Grove. This is a photo album depicting friends of E. B. Emory from Virginia. The date is especially interesting, as the album seems to have been compiled in 1866. With the Civil War having concluded in the recent past, friendship was needed to begin healing a wounded nation. As with so many of these items, we don't yet have a strong sense of context in which to place this album, but I hope you will enjoy it simply for the photos from a semi-distant past in which friends, as today, kept in touch over significant distances. The images to the left and right are one such example, as a person who seems to have been a friend from University of Virginia wrote E. B. Emory some kind words about friendship. Regular readers will be reminded of the warm friendship between Emory and Mary Holladay, discussed in an earlier post.

I also have some other images, these of family life in the early twentieth century. Above, one finds a young couple in front of a house, and below is an elderly man watching over a young boy in a yard. These images of family life in America remain timeless, except perhaps for the old man's hat, which certainly speaks of an earlier era.Unfortunately, we cannot yet identify the people in these photographs. Even so, they stand out as distinct reminders of the real emotions and relationships enjoyed by those in the past. These photos provide a visual insight into some of the figures, admittedly unknown, that passed through the lives of those living at Poplar Grove. I hope you have enjoyed this brief entry, and I look forward to giving you many more posts after I return from the Thanksgiving holiday.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Around the World in Six Photographs

Good afternoon,

Friday has come around again, and that means I have some new images for you. I'll leave this post somewhat slim on description, and focus on the images. The last two posts have been fairly heavy on information, so I will allow these photos some breathing room, providing only what limited context I have available.

As a bit of context before presenting the images, these items were found in a series of Poplar Grove concerning the early twentieth century. They are primarily photos and postcards from the wanderings of one or another member of the family. In the case of postcards from Europe, it is not immediately clear who the buyer or intended recipient was, as they do not have any information written on them. They are fascinating, however, in their documentation of a place now foreign to us.

This is a picture, as indicated by an inscription, of Jacob Martenis and his wife "around 1900," in Wilmington, Delaware. Their facial expressions are somewhat mysterious. The woman in the photograph wore an amused visage, while her husband looked down, expressionless.

To the right is a photograph from Barcelona in 1929. It depicts a street scene in a bustling metropolis. Barcelona, in 1929, was hosting the International Exposition, and populated streets like this would be unsurprising. What is somewhat chilling about the pleasant quality of this image, however, is the looming shadow of the Spanish Civil War, which would erupt in the following decade. On a more amusing note, click on the image to the lower-left to find a building being constructed. This church, the Sagrada Familia, was begun in 1882 and remains unfinished. It actually looks quite similar today, since much of this work was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, and has proceeded under several different architects since then. Feel free to type the name into google and find more recent photos in which the surrounding area has changed but the facade has remained very similar.

The next photo, to the right, is an admittedly context-free addition. I find it simply evocative of an early twentieth-century American landscape. Train tracks run by a row of shops with hills rising in the distance. This is likely an image of a potential boom-town, but any information beyond that is elusive. The dog left at the store-front seems a particularly personal touch, and one wonders if the dog belonged to the photographer or some patron of the store.

The final two images are documents from Lloyd T. Emory's South American expedition. Emory was searching for resources that might be exploited by the United States, and took any number of photos of a modernizing Brazil. One of the most evocative pictures of the difference between the country's past and its future was this photo of what appears to be a nineteenth century sailing vessel.

To the right is an image very similar to the second one, found above. This scene is probably from a Brazilian town at the beginning of the twentieth century, suggested by the labeled photos that bookend it. This picture was, of course, far less populous than the photograph from Barcelona, but again juxtaposed the old and the new. Men and women in twentieth century clothing walked past nineteenth century buildings set against a much older fortress in the background. The photo captured the scenery of a moment in time that has since disappeared.

I hope these images provide a brief and interesting glimpse into the past. Typically, we present written documents for you to observe, but this week I thought some photos might bring you closer to the experiences of those living at Poplar Grove. This international character is one that we have not covered significantly so far, and we hope to explore it further in the future. Hundreds of other photos are being scanned at the moment, and all will be accessible once the collection is online. Thanks for reading, and please do add any insights you can to these somewhat mysterious documents by posting in the comments section below.


Friday, November 6, 2009

E. B. Emory's "Holladay" - Correspondence from 1897

Good afternoon readers,

This letter, written by Mary Holladay, was addressed to E. B. Emory and provides a brief look into the life of a young woman recently relocated from the Eastern Shore to Annapolis. The year was 1897, and that provides a context for some of the more intriguing pieces of this document. On the first page, displayed above, Mary recounted a recent fox-hunt in which a Tilghman and some others participated, at Annapolis. This was a relief from the apparent boredom felt by the author.

One wonders about that boredom, however, when "Experimental Psychology" is discussed several pages later. Mary was enjoying a series of lectures being given by Professor Alfred Dumm. The humor of the lecturer's name was not lost on Mary, who asserted that E. B. Emory "must not judge him by his name, for he is far from dumb." Besides the amusement associated with Professor Dumm's name, this situation intrigues me. American psychology had hardly become a common subject by 1897, and Mary was on the cutting edge of psychological research. The topics being covered by the lectures immediately preceding and following the letter were "The Dermal Sense" and "Kinaesthetic and Static Sense," respectively. Perhaps most curious, Alfred Dumm was referred to as a native of Kansas City; research methods and principles must therefore have been disseminated somewhat rapidly to the Midwest during the 1890s. Sadly I can find no more information on this professor, so we are left to wonder to what extent he represents the academic world of Kansas City. Regardless, it is fascinating to read the admittedly brief observations of a student of this now-common discipline from the era when it was in its infancy.

The letter also touched upon local politics, discussing Governor Lowndes (1896 - 1899). He was "playing politics very hard," Mary wrote. She added the personal touch that the governor was attempting to make Annapolis his legal residence because of "his inclination of not going back to Cumberland," the town from which he had come. His wife was helping him as well, because "she is also anxious to go back to Washington," where Lowndes had been a State Senator earlier in the century. Sadly, they did not succeed in this venture; Lowndes returned to Cumberland and died there in 1905.*

Perhaps there are more observations in other letters from Mary Holladay to E. B. Emory, found in Poplar Grove Series 17. We are working hard to render these papers accessible to our readers in their entirety; this task will ideally be accomplished by the end of the year. Until then, these fragments of personal correspondence must suffice to whet the appetite.


* Much of this biographical data was obtained from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, available at