David McAlpine, Lonaconing Coal Miner

This cabinet card portrait by Thomas L. Darnell (1825-1908) of Cumberland, Maryland, was one of a small group of photographs I recently rescued from an internet auction site. Unfortunately, despite resemblances among the sitters, this is the only one with an identification.

To complicate matters, there were several David McAlpines in Lonaconing. Because of the sitters’ clothing and the style of photograph, I ruled out the younger ones, and tentatively identified David McAlpine as born in Scotland, about 1856. I believe he was one of a family of Scots immigrant coal miners who settled in Lonaconing, Maryland in the late 1860s-early 1870s.

John McAlpine (b. abt. 1821, Scotland) came to Lonaconing with his seven  children, John Jr. (1845-1914), James, David, Walter, Agnes, Robert and George.

According to an obituary and notes on a memorial for David’s brother James McAlpine (1847-1932) their mother was Barbara Bell, and they were related through their mother to Alexander Graham Bell of telephone fame.

If this was David McAlpine’s wedding or engagement portrait, ca. 1885, then his companion would be Emily B. McAlpine (1860-1941).  Emily’s left hand rests against her white dress so as to show off several rings, a common pose in nuptial photographs.

David McAlpine died on 22 March 1899, and is buried in Old Coney Cemetery, Knapp’s Meadow, near Lonaconing. His death and life just prior are a mystery in themselves. According to the Genealogical Society of Allegany County’s “Allegany County Maryland Rural Cemeteries,” his grave marker in Old Coney Cemetery says “Co. B 1st Md. Inf. Span. Am. War.”

The roster of the 1st Maryland Infantry lists him as a private in Company D, but the grave marker reader may easily have mistaken a “D” for a “B.” The troops moved several times between mustering at Belair Md. in May 1898 and disbanding at Camp Mackenzie near Augusta Georgia in February 1899. So David McAlpine died less than a month after returning home to Lonaconing.

His death notice in the Cumberland, Md. Evening Times, obtained through Frostburg State University, makes no mention of his time in the army, saying only that he “had suffered from nervous prostration for the past four years.”

His death notice also mentions that he had served as janitor at the Allegany County Courthouse. This is the sort of political patronage job given to constituents who might have been unable to continue working because of disability.

Was his shattered mental health the result of a trauma such as a mining accident? The investigation continues.

Regardless of how and why he died, David McAlpine left his wife with five young children: Elsie Bell (McAlpine) Carpenter, Alice B. (McAlpine) Hardegen, Allan, Mable Edith (McAlpine) Duckworth, and Hila Madaris (McAlpine) Zimmerman Collett, all born between 1887 and 1895.

Thomas Ludwick Darnell was born near Poolesville in Montgomery County, Maryland, to Fielder Darnell (1798-1858) and Elizabeth  (Young) Darnell. Darnell, or Darnall, was an old, slave-holding Maryland family.According to Hartzler’s Marylanders in the Confederacy, Thomas served  as a private in Company B of the 2nd Maryland Cavalry during the Civil War.

Sometime between 1860, when he was working as a clerk in Washington, DC, and 1870, he settled in Cumberland as a professional photographer; his studio was for many years on Baltimore Street.  Assisted by his daughter Bertie and his son, William, Darnell produced untold numbers of cartes de visite and cabinet cards, as well as stereoviews of the developing coal regions of the Cumberland area.

He retired to Raleigh, North Carolina, several years before his death there in 1908. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina, along with his wife, Adeline (Bartruff) Darnell, and four of his daughters.

Next up: “McAlpine Mystery House?”

Hebbel Newlyweds

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“It is the sleeve and its changes,” writes clothing historian Joan Severa, “that gives the best dating tool for the nineties” (Dressed for the Photographer, 458). This bride’s leg o’mutton sleeves date the photograph to ca. 1895-1900. If you look closely, the sleeve appears to have a double puff and to end just below the elbow in a loose gathered lace cuff.

White for wedding dresses, pioneered by Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding gown, had become traditional by the early 1890s.

The groom wears a morning or cutaway coat, typical fashionable formal day-wear for Victorian men.

The black  mount, with its gold serrated edges and relatively elaborate advertising on the back, was in wide use between 1890 and 1899.

The address indicates that the photographer occupied two spaces, 409 and 411 North Gay Street. According to his obituary, Julius Hebbel (1853-1905) owned two studio spaces on North Gay Street at the time of his death.

The term “instantaneous,” according to Lou W. McCulloch, referred in cabinet card photography to “short durations of exposure.”  Faster exposure times became possible with the invention of the gelatin-bromide dry plate by George Eastman in 1881.

The sepia tone of this photo suggests, however, that Hebbel was still using wet-plate process albumen paper and washing it chloride of gold. McCulloch says both processes were in use up to about 1895 (Card Photographs, A Guide to Their History and Value, 47.)