Thursday, April 16, 2015

When History Came Alive

The other day, I came across an album of old photographs that's been in the family for years. Only thing is— they're not our family. My sister and I found this album at an estate sale when we were kids. It dates from the 1880s (judging by the dresses) and holds "carte de visites" of members of a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio, family. We found it in the attic of this grand old home. I'm guessing it had been up there for ages, those particular inhabitants having departed this mortal coil many years previously.

The album, which once had velvet violets on its cover and a clasp that closed, was never full. The missing photos had been randomly removed. With the paper sleeves so brittle at this point I dare not rearrange anything, let alone pull out the cards to have a closer look.

At age ten this was the first time I sensed that history was about real people, who lived and breathed and did things and had their pictures taken. For a child this is quite a revelation-- the world does not revolve solely around her. Although babies just looked like babies, and many men were obscured by their facial hair, I began to see those faces as having had lives. The girls grew up to be women. What wonders must they have seen in their lifetimes— electric everything, movies, cars, airplanes, radio? Did they accept them as easily as we jump on the latest technology?

Who were they? What did they do? What happened to them? And— to take this in the direction I've been traveling since— did they really wear all that stuff?

The Victorian beauties

There are some beautiful women, in the style of cameos and Julia Margaret Cameron photographs. And one woman who was not. I remember feeling sorry for her as she did not look like the others. Now I imagine she was the one with real personality, and I'm ashamed at my younger self for ostracizing her. She is also the only one to have two photos in the album. In the second she's wearing a fancy ensemble shown almost in full. That one was taken in New York City.

Miss Personality

So one thing I know: she was as excited to go to New York as any of us and either wore her best or bought it there— immortalized for the ages at a photo studio.

Have you seen the pictures of celebrities matched to anonymous doppelgangers? Some of the resemblances are amazing. They do say everyone has a twin. I'm usually mistaken for a nurse or someone's teacher— totally not me. In the album I found my own celebrity look-alike. Doesn't he look like Ansel Elgort, the young model and actor?

??? and Ansel Elgort

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