On Monday, 15 April 2019, the world watched as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire and burned. Thankfully, firefighters were able to stop the flames and keep the entire building from burning down. There was much damage, but over time repairs will be made.
As soon as news hit the world of this tragedy, social media was inundated with images of people’s experiences and visits to Notre Dame, bringing the world together.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we share the Kelsey Museum’s connection to Notre Dame. On 23 March 1924, U-M photographer George R. Swain was in Paris and had the opportunity to visit the church. The images he took nearly a century ago are now in the Kelsey Archives. In addition to the iconic exterior views of Notre Dame, we get a glimpse of happenings outside as Swain turned his camera around to show canaries for sale in the bird market.
In time, Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and tourists and Parisians alike will continue to pose before it. There are many photographs to remind us of what this structure looked like at various stages in its long history. Archives around the world, including ours here at the Kelsey, will preserve these memories, and will continue to document this important history.
As a keepers of history and supporters of collections, museums, history, and culture, we here at the Kelsey are grateful that Notre Dame was saved and will survive for future generations to admire.
A recurring theme in the “From the Archives” blog posts is coming across random materials and being surprised by what turns up. Often, the archives provide a fun opportunity to learn about the history of the Kelsey’s excavations and of the museum itself. As we have shown, sometimes within those papers are random tidbits that were not expected, such as a recipe for rice.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present this interesting cigar box. It is labeled “Spanera” and “Havana Cigarillos.” Of course, the Kelsey Museum would not normally collect cigar boxes — or cigars — but that’s not what we find when we look inside.
When we open the box, we see that it was used for storing thirteen glass plate negatives. From an archaeological standpoint, we may be most interested in the images that show ancient Egyptian artifacts: Bes amulets, fish, various other gods and images, scarabs, and hieroglyphs. However, it is the plates that show people — people posing and having fun — that draw our attention. There is no information in the images about these objects and people. The clues to this puzzle are on the box itself.
As the reader can see, the cover of the box has some handwritten notes on it. First we see “Komter Scarabs I,” followed by “Egypt,” “Maria Luz,” and finally “Scheveningen.” “Komter” refers to Douwe Komter, a Dutch artist who ran an art dealership in Amsterdam from 1902 to 1926. “Scheveningen” is a region of The Hague, Netherlands. Added with the knowledge that Spanera was a Dutch cigar company, we see more evidence that this is all taking place in Netherlands. But how did the Kelsey come to have this box of images?
When we took a closer look at the pictures of people, we saw a familiar figure that is perhaps a clue to the source of the images. The kneeling man at the left in image 001, the face peeking out at rear center in 002, the man on the floor, at left, in 003 — all are a young Samuel Goudsmit (1902–1978), U-M professor of physics from 1927 to 1946, amateur Egyptologist, and friend to the Kelsey Museum. Goudsmit, his wife Irene, and daughter Esther have donated many beautiful and wonderful materials to the Kelsey over the years. In these photos we see Goudsmit in his early days in the Netherlands, his place of birth.
On page 6 of A Scientist Views the Past, the catalogue of a 1982 exhibition celebrating the Goudsmit collection, we find notes from Goudsmit about how in the early 1920s he was searching the art and antiquities dealers in Amsterdam for ancient Egyptian amulets. He couldn’t find any until he came across a small collection in D. Komter’s shop. Komter allowed Goudsmit to borrow the amulets to study, even though he did not purchase them. Are these the scarabs we see in the images?
These plates likely came into the Kelsey collection in 1981 with other Goudsmit donations. They have not yet been catalogued or incorporated into the archives. We will continue to research the images and try to figure out who the other people are. Unfortunately, a search for “Maria Luz” did not reveal much, as it is a common name. However, we hope to provide more information in the future. And we will of course continue to stumble upon more interesting finds like this.
Every year at this time, children and adults start dressing up as goblins and ghouls and monsters of all kinds, scaring their neighbors and friends, and decorating their homes with skulls and witches and other Halloween trends. There is a focus on the deathly, the afterlife, the things that go bump in the dark. We look to be frightened, calling upon the wicked and evil to come give us a spark.
This is not a new phenomenon. A fascination with death has a very long history. Communication and connection with the afterlife, with demons and spirits, has been known for thousands of years. Looking back at ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, there was a great amount of focus on the afterlife, for example. And the famous Greek and Roman stories are littered with cathartic moments of visiting the afterlife.
Even in the United States, death has been a popular topic since the arrival of the Europeans to the New World. Tombstones from the New England area show iconography that appears frightening to the modern viewer. Over time, skull and crossbones on tombstones changed to cherubim, appearing more welcoming and less scary.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some rather macabre photographs. Again, we see people flirting with the dead, this time literally. Here we see several familiar names, though perhaps not as familiar faces, posing for the camera. We see Easton Kelsey, son of Francis Kelsey, posing with a skull. We see Leslie Askren, daughter of Dr. David Askren, a colleague of Kelsey’s who was a great resource and ally while working in Egypt. Finally, we see Mr. Brunton posing in a mummy case. Mr. Brunton is Guy Brunton, student of William Flinders Petrie, colleague of Joseph Starkey (the original dig director of Karanis), and archaeologist from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. Mr. Brunton worked at Lahun, Egypt, and it appears some of the Michigan crew had a chance to visit for at least this one day, 26 February 1920 (the Karanis excavations did not commence until 1924).
Though a fascination with the dead may still be ongoing, there are a number of differences between people working at excavations in the 1920s and our current excavators working in the field today. Though the skulls seen here may be unnamed people, they are still people. We cannot judge the people of the 1920s using today’s standards, but we can make a concerted effort to pay better respect to the people we encounter during excavations. Nameless to us, but these people had names, had families. It is on us to pay them proper respect, not to treat them as props for a photo op.
People will continue to be fascinated with death and the dead. Skulls and mummies will be party decorations for years to come. This interest is not new, but is something we share with many generations that have come before us. And likely something we will continue to share for a long time.
Every summer, members of the Kelsey Museum community travel to Italy to participate in a number of projects. Many excavate at the site of Gabii (one of three sites currently featured in the exhibition Urban Biographies). Some work for the American Academy in Rome. A few work at Sant’Omobono. Some students do all of these things, all while doing their own research.
For many students, their first time visiting Rome must include some of the highlights, including seeing the Coliseum. This structure has been a destination for tourists and scholars for a long time — long before tourism was big business. Back in the 1800s, traveling was expensive and tedious and took a long time. There were no planes, so getting to Europe from the United States required a long voyage by ship. In addition, not many people had the funds to engage in long-distance travel. For these reasons, tourism did not happen on the scale it does today.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a photograph showing the Coliseum as it looked back in 1885. Images such as this one were taken by professional photographers who would package several photographs together and sell them to schools or scholars or churches. They’d come in series, such as “View of Rome” and “View of the Holy Land/Palestine” and “Views of Greece.” People bought these photographic souvenirs in order to show their students, congregation members, and friends back home what Europe looked like.
However, the image of the Coliseum depicted on the obverse (front) is not the focus for this month’s post. Instead, we flip the image over to discover the following:
Colosseum, interior view, 1885.
On the difference between Roman and English ruins, see Hawthorne ‘French and Italian Notebooks,’ small ed. (Boston) pp. 54–55.
On the Colisseum:
Gibbon, ‘History of Rome,’ last chapter
Madame de Staël, ‘Corinne,’ book iv, chap. 4.
Byron, ‘Manfred,’ first part of last scene. ” , ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimages,’ stanzas 128–145. Bowden, ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ vol ii, pp. 245, 246. Hawthorne, ‘Marble Faun,’ chap. 17 Dickens, ‘Pictures from Italy,’ Peterson’s (Philadelphia) edition, p. 430. Hare, ‘Walks in Rome,’ vol. 1. Gregorovius, ‘Geschichte der Stadt Rom.’ Dyer, ‘The City Rome.’ Parker, ‘Archaeology of Rome – The Flavian Ampitheater.’
Here we have a handwritten note from Francis W. Kelsey himself, namesake of the Kelsey Museum. Not only is Kelsey sharing his comments and thoughts about this image and the Coliseum itself, but he is also giving us vital information. To people who work in archives, learning a particular person’s handwriting is a big key in deciphering other archival materials. Here, we see and can now learn to recognize Kelsey’s penmanship (though it does change as Kelsey ages). Now whenever we find unattributed notes in the archives, we can compare them to this signed note. If they match, we can safely say it is Kelsey’s note we found. And from that, we can start piecing together dates, context, and perhaps even the people being discussed.
Kelsey likely did not think of this as he made this annotation on the back of this photograph. To him, this was just a good location to make a note that would be useful to others. His concern was more for the scholarly aspect of the note rather than the archival one.
Archivists are routinely making discoveries when working in the archives, and they get to know the people captured in those archives. From their notes, we know what kind of workers they were, where they vacationed, about their relationships with family and colleagues, and their general thoughts about the world. Deciphering someone’s handwriting is a big tool for us, as it helps us piece together the archives and, often, people’s lives. We learn so much more about them from the tiny little memories they left than they ever could have imagined.
At the end of August and beginning of September, the annual migration of students, both new and returning, comes back to Ann Arbor. Roads will soon be closed off and traffic patterns thrown asunder. That one way to work we are all used to will longer be an option. Parents helping their children move into their dorms park wherever they can, often causing nightmares for the regular denizens of Ann Arbor.
Soon, those students will start venturing out on their own, making friends and filling the cafés and restaurants we locals have grown accustomed to having all to ourselves. They will form groups of friends through their residences, their departments, their activities, and their classes. They will spend much time together, forming bonds and taking a lot of group photos.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a mystery. Just like in 2018, U-M students have been gathering together since the university was founded, in 1817. With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, they could document themselves.
Often in archives work, while working on one project, other, seemingly unrelated, materials pop up. Many times, these are “orphans,” left behind by someone who had knowledge about them, but who has since left the institution. While organizing the Kelsey archives, these three photographs were found. Sadly, they are accompanied by no documentation, no explanation.
These photographs are presented as a mystery, but also as a call for help. If any of our readers recognize the people captured here, or the locations, or date, or even if this is from the University of Michigan at all, we can begin piecing together this puzzle.
Astute readers will notice one clue that may assist. In the lower right corner of the first photograph is the signature “Randall and Pack.” Some research into this reveals that Randall and Pack was a photo studio active in Ann Arbor between 1908 and 1917.* That gives us a time frame for at least one of the photographs. However, all other details remain obscure.
The archives present an opportunity to save history, to save the names and faces of people who have passed through these walls. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, and we rely on our community for assistance. These students may have a Kelsey connection, but without details we may never know. And with this loss, these photographs become an oddity in the archives, rather than a memory.
* * * * *
* Directory of Early Michigan Photographers, by David V. Tinder (Ann Arbor: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, 2013; online edition), s.v. “Randall, Herbert”; see also “Pack, Ambrose Clarkson.”
Spring has finally arrived in Ann Arbor, and with it our heavy parkas and snow boots have at last been stored away, not to be thought of for many months. Instead, we bring out the t-shirts and shorts and we venture outside to enjoy the sun and cool breeze.
During this time, we look to spend more time in nature, observing that which was covered in snow for so long. George Swain, back when he worked for the University, would do this as well. Of course, he would go outside with his camera, capturing whatever scenes he could.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two Swain images saved in the Kelsey archives. Though the great majority of our archival photographic collections are of excavations overseas, we do find the occasional non-archaeology image as well. The two images highlighted this month depict a squirrel caught climbing up a tree and an owl peering down on Swain, perhaps posing for the photograph.
Animal photography by George Swain, possibly on Ann Arbor campus.
Animal photography by George Swain, possibly on Ann Arbor campus.
These two photographs are glass slides. These were often used in lanterns for teaching purposes. Swain spent a great deal of time after the excavations in the 1920s reproducing images for U-M faculty and staff to use in their classrooms. One means of this, prior to digitization and PowerPoint, was to replicate images on glass so that they could be projected on the wall using a lantern slide projector (sometimes known as a magic lantern).
Why he chose an owl and a squirrel is unknown. No caption accompanies these two. However, they seem to be posing for the camera, so what is a photographer supposed to do? We are unsure if these hail from Ann Arbor, but we think the squirrel would appreciate the attention and extra food squirrels receive on campus these days.
As you wander outside, be sure to appreciate the animals that are enjoying the same sunshine you are. Listen to the wisdom of the owl as it stares down at you, trying to pass along a message. She may have some sage words for you, such as “Enjoy Spring!”
Digital photography has made documenting our lives a much easier endeavor. Now, anyone with a cell phone can capture almost any moment with photos and even movies. Digital photography has become ubiquitous, and sharing these files becomes increasingly more feasible.
Archaeologists are using this tool more and more on their excavations, and even the Kelsey Museum has gone fully digital. The Kelsey used to insist on film photography when documenting its collections, but greater access to storage space and proper archival methods for digital photography has paved the way for this change.
The same option was not available, obviously, to those who came before us. George R. Swain, University of Michigan photographer from 1913 to 1947, had to use the methods available to him at the time. This meant taking his wood view camera with him on his travels through the Mediterranean, along with hundreds of glass plates. These plates were heavy, and he often needed help carrying them (often his son provided this service).
His view camera was not Swain’s only tool in the field. In the 1920s, easier means of photography were available, though they were of lesser quality. Thanks to the innovations of George Eastman, film photography had become popular. Film rolls were small and easy to carry, but one was limited by the number of frames on each roll, and the photographer couldn’t see what they captured until later, when the film was developed. Swain carried a film camera, likely a Kodak (the model is lost to us), and often he had others do the same. He would take meticulous notes about who shot what, when, and where. These notes are reflected in our current records.
The Kodak shots often captured scenes that are less formal but equally as important. The glass slides were reserved for artifacts and excavations; the Kodak captured everything else, including people, humorous moments, animals, and anything else happening during the excavations and travels.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present one roll of Swain’s film that reflects this. In April 1920, only 98 years ago, Swain and company traveled to Dimé, in the Fayum region of Egypt, likely on a reconnaissance mission to see where Michigan could excavate in years to come. Dimé was eventually excavated, but was not one of the original projects of the 1924 season. In this roll, we see what Swain encountered during this trip. People holding fish. The train and the train station. Farmers working the fields. A village scene. Dr. Askren posing. Hiking over the sands.
Fortunately for us, making this kind of trip is easier now without having to haul so much photography equipment (though we are lost without an energy source). Swain did not have the luxury, but we are thankful for the work he did to capture these moments.
Image KS175_03: April 27, 1920; George R. Swain; Dimay trip. “Hiking over the sands to Dimay. Porter first, then Professor [Francis W.] Kelsey.”
Image KS175_06: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Engine and part of train of the Fayoum Light Railway.”
Image KS175_05: April 27, 1920; George R. Swain; Dimay trip. “Looking toward Lake Moeris, from the dock, on our return from Dimay.”
Image KS175_08: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Station and people at El Lahoun station.”
Image KS175_04: April 27, 1920; George R. Swain; Dimay trip. “Dr. Askren standing by a spherical boulder, on the way from the lake to Dimay.”
Image KS175_07: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Small group by a station of the railway — typical costumes.”
Image KS175_10: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Typical village and palm trees by a canal.”
Image KS175_09: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Man with string of fish, with several native bystanders. At El Lahoun station.”
Image KS175_02: April 27, 1920; George R. Swain; Dimay trip. “Dr. Askren standing by clump of old reeds in the sand, not far from the lake, as we started for Dimay.”
Image KS175_11: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Winnowing grain on a threshing floor, village with scattered palms in the background.”
Image KS175_01: April 27, 1920; George R. Swain; Dimay trip. “Looking back toward the shore as we started out to cross the lake.”
Image KS175_12: April 28, 1920; George R. Swain; “Another threshing scene — beans, bullocks and a drag.”