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Friday, October 23, 2009

George Lawrence Photographer

Chicago photographer George R. Lawrence (1868-1938) was a renowned inventor of cameras and an innovator of photographic processes. 
George Lawrence. Online photo.

In 1896, Lawrence opened a photographic studio in Chicago with the motto: "The hitherto impossible in photography is our specialty."

One day while walking along Chicago's Michigan Avenue, Lawrence observed a kite trailing an advertising banner. This inspiration led him to develop cameras which could be taken aloft by kites. (As early as 1895, another American photographer, William Eddy, experimented with this idea).
Lawrence with his kite camera.

Lawrence's new kite cameras were suspended below 5 to 17 kites. With his kite-flying cameras, he took aerial photos around the region including at the U.S. Army Post Fort Sheridan, North Chicago, Zion, Waukegan and Rockefeller (Mundelein).

Fort Sheridan 1908 by George Lawrence. Library of Congress.

Rockefeller (later Mundelein) about 1906 by George Lawrence. Library of Congress.

Zion parade about 1906 by George Lawrence. Library of Congress.

In 1906, he traveled to San Francisco to photograph the aftermath of the earthquake and fire.

San Francisco Ruins, May 28, 1906 by George Lawrence. Library of Congress.

The panoramic, kite-flying camera created a photograph of San Francisco so stunning in detail, clarity and objectivity of the disaster that it became famous and was reprinted many times. Sales of the photo earned Lawrence $15,000 (equivalent to $300,000 today). 

In 1909, Lawrence abandoned photography to design and build airplanes. After World War I, government contracts for airplanes declined and Lawrence turned to analyzing lenses.

Lawrence pioneered aerial photography before airplanes were able to fly high enough to capture the spectacular photographs he took with his "kite cameras." He is also known for building the world's largest camera in order to photograph the Chicago and Alton Railroad's new passenger train. To capture the entire train in one photo, Lawrence used a glass plate negative measuring 56 x 96 inches.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fascist visits Chicago World's Fair

World's Fair poster, 1933. Source: online

"A Century of Progress International Exposition" was the name of the World's Fair held in Chicago from 1933 to 1934.

The Century of Progress celebrated the city's centennial. The Fair became known for many things, including appearances by future stars Judy Garland and the Andrews Sisters, Art Deco buildings, and exhibits relating to its' theme of technological innovation.

It was likely the emphasis on innovation and the chance for publicity that lured fascist leader, and Italian Air Marshall, Italo Balbo (1896-1940), to the Century of Progress.

In 1922, Balbo was one of four men who brought Benito Mussolini to power in Italy. He served as Mussolini's general of militia and minister of aviation. Although he knew nothing about aviation when he was appointed, Balbo quickly learned to fly and set out to re-organize Italy's air force.

Balbo's flying boat from "Official Book of the Flight of General Italo Balbo and His Italian Air Armada 
to a Century of Progress Chicago 1933." Online via University of Chicago Library.  

Balbo was eager to promote advances in Italian aircraft and made a spectacular trans-Atlantic flight to Chicago for the Century of Progress in 1933. He led 24 Savoia-Marchetti S-55 double-hulled flying boats from Italy to land in Lake Michigan in just over 48 hours, setting records for speed, payload, altitude and range.

The planes maintained a tight "V" formation for the entire Atlantic crossing. To this day, pilots often refer to a large formation of aircraft as a "Balbo."

When the planes landed in Lake Michigan it was reported as one of the proudest moments for Chicago's Italian community. At the time, many Americans supported Mussolini and his fascist regime. It was not until the United States declared war on Italy in 1941 when that sentiment changed sharply.

Balbo at Fort Sheridan with Chaplain Aristeo Simoni. Dunn Museum, 92.24.688.

Balbo was charming and educated, and his adventurousness appealed to Americans. During his 5-day stay in Chicago he visited Fort Sheridan. 

The Chicago visit included mass at Holy Name Cathedral celebrated by Cardinal Mundelein, who in 1924 had a town in Lake County named in his honor.

After returning to Italy, Balbo became Mussolini's possible heir. In 1938, Balbo met with Aldolf Hitler. Two years later, Balbo was killed in an air crash in Libya. Some have claimed that his plane was shot down mistakenly by his own military.

Chicago retains two reminders of General Italo Balbo's famous visit. The most prominent one is Balbo Drive. Then Mayor Ed Kelly capitalized on the excitment of the visit by renaming 7th Street in Balbo's honor.

The second landmark was a gift from Mussolini, who donated an ancient Roman column from the temple in Ostia to the people of Chicago, to commemorate Balbo's voyage and to symbolize the greatness of Fascist Italy. The column now stands as the last remnant--in its original spot--from the Century of Progress exhibition. It is located a few feet off Chicago's lakefront bike path, and within a hundred yards of Soldier Field.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

American Archives Month

October is American Archives Month which celebrates the value of archives and archivists.

Archives provide researchers with firsthand facts and data from letters, diaries, reports, photographs, postcards, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources. You could say that archives preserve the "raw material" that is essential to understanding the past, present, and future.

When you donate your personal or family papers to an archives, your family history becomes a part of your community’s – and America’s – collective memory. Archives collect and protect the heritage of the area they serve.

In an effort to preserve history, great and small, archivists not only care for the items donated to their archive, but also do outreach to community groups to teach preservation methods. I have given lectures on preservation, including how to care for family photographs.

Here are a few tips to remember:

Do not store valuable paper or photographic collections in an attic or basement. These locations are commonly subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. The best place to store items in a house is a room where the temperature and humidity remains the same year round (e.g. the master bedroom). Also, an interior closet (not on an outside wall) creates a relatively constant environment. It's important to remember that extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity are damaging.

Light causes fading. Overall, it's best to keep photos in the dark. Direct sun or bright light will fade photographs. Hallways and other rooms without windows are best.

Color photos exposed to light will lose the red pigment first. The photo at right consists mostly of blue tones, having lost the red from light exposure. If you notice that damage has occurred, make a high-quality scan and display a digital print instead. Also, scanned images can be enhanced through Adobe Photoshop and other software.

Choose an archival photo album and archival photo corners.

Photo albums with "magnetic" pages (which actually contain adhesive that can stick to or react to photos) is the worst place for photos. Shown here is the condition in which the Maynard Family photo album was in when it was donated to the archives. Staff photographed each page to record the original order of the photos, since the album had to be dismantled to remove the photos from the sticky pages.

Also note that tape was used to adhere the photos to the pages. That's another problem with magnetic albums, sometimes they lose their sticking power and family's turn to tape to keep photos in place, permanently staining the originals.

Make preservation prints. By making a high-quality scan of your photos you can then make additional prints, and/or restore the image. The only way to conserve an original photograph is to take it to a photo conservator, but you can scan a photo and fix the digital image.

Here is an example of some minor restoration work on a digital scan. At left is the original photo with moisture damage, and at right the scanned image with dots removed from the subject's face.

Watch those fingers... The oil on your hands will leave an imprint on the face of a photo. You may not see the fingerprint immediately, but believe me, there are plenty of photos donated to archives with thumbprints! So, if you don't want a future detective using a photo as evidence against you, watch how you hold your photos! Remember to handle photos carefully and by the edges only.

As part of the celebration for American Archives Month, the Lake County History Archives and Curt Teich Postcard Archives are hosting behind-the-scenes tours on Thursday, October 15th (at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). The tours are free, but registration is required by calling 847-968-3381.

The Archives Tour is a great way to see how an archives works and to view the materials available to researchers. If you can't make the tour, but have questions about preserving a family heirloom, please give us a call.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Charles E. Bairstow

Recently, while arranging photographs in the archives' files, I became re-aquainted with a series of Spanish-American War portraits featuring Charles E. Bairstow (1880-1958) of Waukegan.

The photographs were donated to the museum in 1962 by Bairstow's widow, Elsie Ferguson Bairstow, and portray a youthful Charles and his friends as they were about to head off to war.

Photo of Charles Bairstow (right standing) with Waukegan High School football, classmates Raymond Lindson, Willie Putnam and Julius Balz, 1898. This was possibly the last high school portrait of the friends.

The Spanish-American War is a blip on the radar of American history, lasting only from April to August, 1898. The outcome of the war between the United States and Spain was that the U.S. gained control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

More significantly to Lake Countians, the war was the reason for the establishment of the Naval Training Center Great Lakes in North Chicago. The U.S. Navy figured prominently in the war, and the U.S. Navy Department decided to establish a new site for training sailors. Because of the number of recruits coming from the Midwest, a site in that region was suggested. Illinois Congressman George E. Foss and Chicago businessman Graeme Stewart were key in the campaign to locate the training center, and Chicago businessmen donated the land. Construction of the base began in 1905, and the dedication was held in 1911.

This group portrait, taken on June 9, 1898, includes (standing left to right) Charles Bairstow, Philip H. Kinsley, Brown Thacker, (seated left to right) Ben Thacker and Gray Detweiler.

An informal photograph taken in 1898, possibly by Charles Bairstow, on board a ship (standing) Ben Thacker, Brown Thacker, Phil H. Kinsley, (seated) Gray Detweiler and Jackson.

This portrait (left) is one of my most favorite in the archives' collections. The composition, clarity and charm of the portrait is extremely engaging, and I believe reveals a deep friendship between Herbert Amet (seated) and Charles Bairstow.

Herbert was the younger brother of inventor, Edward Amet, who is known for his work in the early motion picture industry, and who created movies about the Spanish-American War.

Charles Bairstow married Elsie Ferguson in 1909 in one of the "biggest church weddings of the year."

Interestingly, Charles also served in World War I and World War II.