Each Saturday morning, I’ve been going to the Sauk-Prairie Historical Society and working with fellow archivists to scan and analyze local glass negatives from the early 20th century.
I feel like the person in the movies who sits in a dimly-lit library at night, only it’s morning, paging through thick volumes of material and looking for that obscure clue. I’m Lisbeth Salandar tap-tapping into online databases. Last week, I signed an email “Sherlock Holmes”. Next time, maybe, Encyclopedia Brown or Inspector Clouseau.
I was sharing with my daughter some of the subject matter. In the very first image, there was a man crouching in the bushes with a child while his wife posed in the foreground with a bicycle. Yesterday, in what looks like a graduating class of six young women, way over on the edge, there is a man peeking from behind the skirt of a girl. Silas joked that this must have been the photo meme of that generation, the 1910’s version of planking. Glass negative bombing, if you will.
When I get home in the early afternoon, I sit down with a stack of books at my desk and my favorite online databases open on the computer, and I take out the notes from that day’s scans. I generally find a few hits and I get sidetracked by a lot of misses. By Sunday, my desk is covered in papers, they are my tracks in the snow. Arrows. Lists of names and places. Initials instead of whatever RMV means.
[The daguerreotype above was found behind another photo when I bought a vintage frame several years ago. More here.]