Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them

Thanks to a Hagerstown pal, I’ve acquired and am devouring Steve Recker’s wonderful new book Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them.

A Washington County native, Recker has researched the lives of all the major photographers who took photos of Antietam battlefield: Elias Marken Recher, David Bachrach, W. B. King, J. H. Wagoner, and more.

Recker carefully investigated how each photographer came to take their pictures, and has painstakingly worked to understand what is depicted in each. Also included are some rarely-seen images of the photographers themselves. Some of these cartes de visite and stereoviews have never been seen before.

And you can’t get it on Amazon–only at area bookstores and at Recker’s site, Virtual Antietam. So virtually run, don’t walk, to his site and grab a copy before they sell out.

Read a Q & A with the author on John Banks’ Civil War Blog.

Read an article about Recker and his career in the Hagerstown Daily Mail.

Standing Where Jefferson Stood: William M. Chase Stereoview of Jefferson Rock

Stereoview of Jefferson RockThe excitement I felt upon acquiring this circa 1870s view of a man standing on Jefferson Rock above Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia was not really about the location. It was about the man. The stereoview was published by William Moody Chase (1817-1901), and the man in the view is the prolific Baltimore purveyor of stereoviews himself.

I would not have known what William M. Chase looked like if it were not for the work of Ross Kelbaugh. His invaluable Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 includes rarely seen reproductions of some of the works in his own collection.

One of Kelbaugh’s stereoviews depicts William M. Chase and his younger colleague and sometime collaborator and partner David Bachrach encamped on a stereoview photography expedition. Chase’s long beard, lanky figure, and the distinctive straw hat he wore all match those seen in this view, as well as in the view of Chase and Bachrach’s “Artist Corps” encampment at Niagara Falls.

Those familiar with Harper’s Ferry and with Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia know the shale outcropping became a place of pilgrimage because Jefferson is believed to have stood on this rock in October 1783 while looking out upon the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. In the 1780s he famously wrote that:

“the passage of the Patowmac through the Blue ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain an hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their juncture they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea” (Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 27).

The eye was then drawn, says Jefferson, eastward down the Potomac toward the lovely and fertile lands around Frederick, Maryland:

“The distant finishing which Nature has given to the picture is of a very different character. . . . It is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountain being cloven asunder, she presents to the eye, through the cleft a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in the plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around, to pass through the breach and participate of the calm below” (Notes, pp. 27-28).

Historian Pamela Regis places Jefferson’s book at the heart of “American self-creation and self-definition” (Regis, Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crevècoeur, and the Influence of Natural History, Northern Illinois University Press, 1992, p. 3).

“The country itself,” says Regis, “needed to be written into existence,” and the Notes, she argues, were among a small but influential group of such fundamentally creative early American prose works (Describing, p. 3).

Jefferson described the view in terms that an educated 18th century gentleman would understand: America was a worthy location for the rebirth of republicanism because it  fulfilled the highest aesthetic standards of the era.

The view was sublime and beautiful, full of both the wildest and noblest scenery, but also of useful rivers, abundant natural resources and broad, fertile lands ready for the plow.

Jefferson’s artful eye and pen composed the view into a land that had all that was required for the establishment of a new society grounded in the best traditions of the old world–a society that would be egalitarian, educated, prosperous and self-governing. Together, says Regis, texts such as these constituted “the description of a ground on which [republican] politics could hold sway” (Describing, p. 4).

With the spread of railroads and middle class prosperity, the shale rock formation that Jefferson is believed to have stood upon became an early tourist attraction. The depredations of weather and visitors necessitated stabilization, and between 1855 and 1860 the uppermost slab of the formation was placed on four stone pillars (“Thomas Jefferson at Harpers Ferry,” National Park Service).

After the Civil War, Jefferson Rock became subsumed into a larger tourism that included pilgrimages to “John Brown’s Fort” and wealthy visitors escaping the heat of the Washington, DC summer to enjoy the mountains, walks and scenery around the town (Paul A. Schackel, Archaeeology and Created Memory: Public History in a National Park, New York: Klewer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2000, pp. 66-68).

Stereoviews of John Brown’s “Fort,” the ruins of the government armory, and other Harper’s Ferry sites made famous by the war joined views of Jefferson Rock in appealing to middle class hunger to see the places that made America a nation.

In standing where Jefferson stood, seeing what Jefferson made visible, William Chase took part in Jefferson’s descriptive creation of the nation.  Mass reproduction of Chase’s views enabled Americans in all walks of life, north and south, to do the same in a time when the nation sorely needed to recall a common vision of itself.

The “Artist Corps” at Work: Chase and Bachrach at Niagara Falls

After reading David Bachrach’s memories of outdoor work during and after the Civil War, it was exciting to acquire an actual image of him in the wild.

This stereoview of Bachrach (seated) and William Moody Chase (standing) shows them with their outdoor studio, the Niagara Falls railroad suspension bridge on the horizon. Upon the tent a sign reads “Artist Corps, Chase’s American Scenery.”

The scene gives life to Bachrach’s sketchy  recollections in volume 53 of The Photographic Journal of America:

“About a year after the war I fell in with Mr. William M. Chase, a former army officer of volunteers, afterward a sutler, from Massachusetts, who went into the publication of stereoscopic views, very popular at the time. I made the negatives for him for about two years, over 10,000 of them . . . We went all over Maryland, the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys, in the Alleghenies, Washington, D.C., on the Hudson and Niagara Falls” (“Over Fifty Years of Photography,” Part III, The Photographic Journal of America, Volume 53, February 1916, pg. 71).

Bachrach had developed his skills at outdoor work during the war, “in portable dark rooms, both with horse teams and for small work with those carried by hand.”

Success often required what he calls “dodges”–improvised methods for keeping the plates wet and for capturing the spray of falls and rapids.

Bachrach’s memoir places these two years between 1865 and 1868, when he and Chase traveled to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis to photograph the graduating class there–the first time such as thing had been done.

David J. Bachrach (1845-1921) is buried in Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.; William M. Chase (1817-1901) is buried in Worcester Rural Cemetery, Worcester Co., Massachusetts.

Read  three parts of David Bachrach’s four-part memoir, “Over Fifty Years of Photography,” free on google books, in The Photographic Journal of America and Wilson’s Photographic Magazine. Part I is found in The Photographic Journal of America, volume 52, December 1915, pp. 578-579; Part II in volume 53 pp. 18-20, January 1916; Part III in volume 53 pp. 71-73 February 1916;  and Part IV in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, volume 53 pp. 117-119 March 1916.

© waldonia 2012

Stereoview of Barnum’s Hotel by William Chase

Journalist and Baltimore historian Carleton Jones called David Barnum’s City Hotel “by all odds the greatest hostelry historically in city history” (Jones, Lost Baltimore Landmarks, p. 33).

The hotel’s guest register contains the signatures of numerous 19th century worthies, including Confederate spy Belle Boyd, John Wilkes Booth, and some of the Harper’s Ferry conspirators. Barnum’s was Charles Dickens’ favorite American hotel. President John Quincy Adams was a guest when the hotel was new.

Located on North Calvert Street at Fayette, the hotel was built in 1825 and torn down ca. 1889; the Equitable building stands in its place.

Jones learned that the hotel had originally resembled Boston’s Tremont House, but had been “gussied up like some aging dowager” by the 1860s with “bulging iron balconies” (Jones, 33).  The online collaborative project  Maryland’s Digital Cultural Heritage has an 1835 drawing that shows the hotel’s original design.

Its basement, recounts John Thomas Scharf, was “of granite from the Susquehanna, near Port Deposit, and the front appointments of this story were originally used as a post office” (History of Baltimore City and County, p. 516).

It was, writes Molly Berger, “the country’s most renowned hostelry at the time.” Four stories tall, and encompassing 172 bedrooms and suites, “an enormous 86 by 30 foot dining room, plus another room of equal size to accommodate ‘public dinner parties’ and balls. . . a reading room” open to the public, all illuminated by gas lighting, the City Hotel set a new standard for comfort and service (Hotel Dreams: Luxury, Technology and Urban Ambition in America, 1829-1929, pp. 18 ff.)

Philadelphia  architect Norris Gershon Starkwether gave the hotel its makeover in the late 1850s. The details Jones loathes were drawn from Starkwether’s fanciful designs of Italianate villas (Hayward and Shivers, The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, pp. 132-133).

Published by William Moody Chase, this stereograph was probably made ca. 1862-1876, the period, according to McCulloh, when yellow mounts dominated and card stock had grown thicker (McCulloh, Card Photographs: A Guide to Their History and Value, 1981, p. 79)

Neither a monument, a public institution nor a personal mansion, the hotel was nevertheless a fit subject stereo-optical subject for an armchair tourist. Barnum’s City Hotel, situated in the  heart of Monument Square, was a sign of Baltimore’s coming of age as a great American city.

Stereoview of Christ Protestant Episcopal Church

This stereoview of Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Paul and Chase streets, Baltimore, was probably published by William M. Chase in the 1870s. The view looks east from E. Chase Street, toward St. Paul Street.

Christ Church, organized in 1797, was the second Episcopal church in Baltimore. The congregation occupied a variety of locations before the present church building was constructed at a cost of $125,000 (Henry Elliot Shepherd, A History of Baltimore, Maryland, S. B. Nelson publisher, 1898, pp. 217-218).

E. Francis Baldwin and Bruce Price designed the Gothic Revival structure in the Mount Vernon area in 1869, when the new ecclesiastical architectural style was first being introduced into the U.S.  According to The Architecture of Baltimore: A Pictorial History, this particular church’s style was known as French or Norman Gothic:

Its details are elegantly restrained and carried out in rough-faced white marble–narrow lancet windows, carved stone trefoils, pointed-arch doorways and window lintels, stone columns with leafy medieval capitals, and carved stone rosettes. The massing is symmetrical with a tall main tower and secondary smaller towers and spires (199).

This beautiful and historic church structure has been occupied by an independent non-denominational African-American congregation since the mid-1990s. Today the church is called the New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral.

Christ Church is located three blocks directly north of Mount Vernon Place, and is part of a historic neighborhood rich in cultural and architectural landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the Walters Art Gallery.

The fashionable Mount Vernon neighborhood developed in the 1830s in the elegant streets and parks laid out around the Washington Monument by Charles and William Howard on their father’s former estate, Belvidere (Architecture of Baltimore, 118). The area remained the epicenter of wealthy and cultured Baltimore until the late nineteenth century.

View a contemporary photograph of Christ Church taken by the author of the Monument City blog.