History

It’s about 1948, and you’re looking over the National Mall in Washington, DC

Among the Kodachrome slides that belong to my mother in law are several from a trip to Washington, DC. Guessing from a number of clues among the entire set of slides I scanned, I think they’re from about 1948. Certainly no earlier than 1947, and no later than about 1953.

Three photos probably taken from the observation deck of the Washington Monument show a very different National Mall than we experience today. The Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool, and the US Capitol and the grassy areas before it, were there. But so were a number of buildings not present today. Check it out:

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The buildings on the left are a grassy area today. The buildings on the right have given way to Constitution Gardens and its pond. These buildings remind me of other buildings I’ve seen only in photographs that were built hastily as office space in support of World War II.

The Vietnam War obviously hadn’t happened yet, but it would happen, and eventually the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be built beyond the buildings on the right. Finally, the National World War II Memorial would be built some 55 years hence, replacing the small pool before the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

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Looking east toward the Capitol, you can see that most of the Smithsonian museums haven’t been built yet. More of those anonymous-looking buildings stand beyond the Smithsonian Castle at center right. That’s where the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian would eventually go.

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One last Kodachrome from atop the Washington Monument shows Virginia Avenue and the Potomac River. The set of buildings in the bottom right corner is the Department of the Interior.

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Film Photography

People in the early 1950s bearing cameras

Among the Kodachromes from my wife’s family were a few photographs of people and their cameras. What’s great about them is that they are all common cameras to collectors today, about 70 years later!

Here’s a young woman posing with a deer, an Argus Seventy-Five around her neck. This is a box camera with a TLR-style peer-down viewfinder. It takes 620 film. They were made by the bazillions and you can buy them used for under $10 today. I’ve never owned one, but fellow collector Mark O’Brien did some very nice work with his; see it here.

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This stock-straight fellow has a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye dangling off his hand. This is another extremely common camera from this era. It, too, takes 620 film. I owned one for a while and made some photos with it on Route 66; see them here.

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Finally, this photo is both at the wrong angle and too shadowy to tell what cameras these women are using. Based on size, I’m guessing they are using 35mm cameras, perhaps something like a Kodak Pony. The bespectacled woman on the left even has her leather “ever-ready case” on her camera.

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I wasn’t alive when these cameras were new. My whole life they’ve been widely available at yard sales, in thrift shops, and (lately) online for next to nothing. But at one time, they were the kinds of cameras people bought brand new to record their memories!

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Film Photography

Postwar memories on Kodachrome

My wife’s parents are pushing 90, which is apparently the age when you no longer care about the lifetime of stuff you’ve accumulated. When they moved into assisted living they left behind their house and most things in it, and declared no interest in ever going back.

My wife disposed of their unwanted stuff and put the house on the market. While helping her sort I came upon boxes filled with color slides, the vast majority of which are Kodachromes. They showed images of my mother-in-law as a teenager with her family, as a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and as a young wife with my father-in-law. Given her age, and given notes on a very few slides, these images are from about 1946 through the early 1950s.

These would be memories that my wife’s family would value seeing. So I brought them home and scanned all 743 of them, and shared them via Dropbox with the family. I haven’t asked the family’s permission to share with you photos that are obviously of family members. But I think it’s safe to share these photos of places the family visited. Because I think you’ll agree that they’re delightful.

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I have little idea where most of these images were made, or why. As an aside, I realize that some poor eventual grandchild of mine might be similarly puzzled over my photographs, should he or she come upon them. I should document them better.

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But for now just enjoy the great Kodachrome color. And for the camera geeks in this audience, you’ll enjoy knowing that some of these images are on 35mm film with its 36x24mm image, and others are on 828 film with its 40x28mm image. Both films are 35mm wide, but 828 was a traditional roll film with backing paper. I found a Kodak Pony 828 camera with these slides; I wonder if it was used to make any of these images.

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Enjoy the scenery. While the people who made these slides were clearly not accomplished photographers, they captured some lovely scenes.

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This family loved to go. The slides record planes, trains, and ships, and the places they reached on them.

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Here the photographer was about to board a boat to go see the Statue of Liberty. I guess this runs in the family — Margaret and I and two of our kids did much the same thing a couple years ago; see those photos here.

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Our cruise merely passed by Lady Liberty; this cruise stopped on the island.

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The slides include many images of Canada. From my mother-in-law’s stories I gather that they either lived in Vermont or at least had property there, which made Canada an easy place to visit.

I’d love to know what bridge this is. I did about a half hour of research trying to figure it out with no luck. My whole life Canada’s flag has been the maple leaf, but that certainly wasn’t the case in the late 1940s.

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As I try to piece together story from these slides, I believe the family took at least one extensive trip through eastern Canada. I believe this image to be somewhere along the Ontario-Quebec border.

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The family also traveled domestically. This is Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Check out especially the signs for Routes 501 and 528 in the image, with the Civil Defense logos on them. Apparently in the early 1950s Massachusetts had a set of numbered, marked routes for use in times of national crisis, when main routes might be needed for military use. What a time the early Cold War years must have been.

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Speaking of route markers, here’s a photograph of the T junction of Vermont state highways 111 and 105. A little roadsleuthing helped me find that this is near Derby, in the northeast corner of Vermont. Click this link to see on Google Maps Street View what this looks like today.

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Downstate from Derby is the city of Rutland. 70 years ago, its fair always began on Labor Day. Maybe it still does.

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My mother-in-law may have been a majorette in the marching band while she studied at Pitt — there are several photos of her in such a uniform. There are also several photos of the band on the ball field. This is the best of them.

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I’m betting this is Pittsburgh. I’d love to know exactly where, and whether the buildings are all still there.

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It’s too bad that these slides were stored in random order, and were processed before Kodak started stamping processing dates on the slide mounts. It made it challenging to group these photos into their stories. I made a stab at it for the family and hope some of them can refine the organization more.

I’d better get busy documenting my photos. I just keep them in a folder system organized by date. If I wrote a Readme file in each folder I’d be doing future family a favor — if I’m so fortunate that some photo geek, maybe even yet unborn, stumbles upon them after I’m no longer interested.

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Old Cars, Photography

Imagining the stories behind old photographs of cars that weren’t that old yet

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Even for someone who doesn’t love cars like I do, a new car can be a point of pride of pleasure. How many of us have photographs of ourselves with our new cars shortly after we got them? Perhaps that’s why this smiling woman was photographed with her 1966 Falcon. The Kodachrome slide from which I scanned this image is dated October, 1968, so if my guesses are right she bought this car used.

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This slide from January, 1967, shows that the same family also bought a brand new 1967 Mercury Colony Park. At least in the late ‘60s, this family was loyal to Ford. About 30 years later I bought a Mercury wagon, too – but it’s the only car I’ve owned that I never photographed. I wasn’t terribly excited to own it so I didn’t take a “look at my new car!” photograph, and I didn’t own it for long enough for it to end up in the background of a photograph of something else.

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Our cars do commonly wind up in the frame as we photograph the scenes from our lives. This young couple, newlyweds perhaps, look to be ready to load this box into their ’50 Chevy. The ’64 Falcon that lurks in the background of this undated slide makes this Chevy a very used car, just the kind of thing two kids starting out would own.

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Just-married kids who do well eventually move up to a newer car and a starter home, like this ’60 Ford parked in this driveway. Not that this Ford was all that new; this slide was taken in February of 1967. But this photo is just the perfect image of the kind of suburban conformity that was starting to be challenged at this time.

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Kids come sooner or later, and of course we take copious photographs of them. Sometimes our cars are the backdrop, or are even an integral part of the photo. This fellow proudly holds up his child in the cab of his ’65 F-100 in a slide dated July, 1968. This kid is about my age now! Of course, this young’un lived a more rural experience than the suburbanites above. And you know he’s from Illinois because it says so on his truck. I guess it was the law in Illinois for many years that farm trucks had to have such identification painted on the door.

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This undated slide of a Karmann-Ghia looks to have been taken on a military barracks. Could this be a German-spec Karmann photographed on a US base in Germany by a soldier who decided not to ship his car back home and wanted to remember his good times driving it? Probably not; the cars in the background don’t look very European. But it’s fun to imagine the stories behind old photographs and slides that you find.

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I recently bought an inexpensive negative and slide scanner to quickly scan in all my old negatives, which go all the way back to 1976. It doesn’t do pro-quality work, but it’s good enough for my shoebox full of snapshots. I decided to review the gadget here in an upcoming post, so I bought these old slides on eBay for a few dollars to round out the review. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to find old slides featuring what are now very old cars. I saved what I think is the best for last – the oldest slide I bought, undated but based on the style of the slide mount from no later than 1952, of this woman showing off her 1950 Pontiac Silver Streak convertible. My smile would be a mile wide, too, if I owned such a gorgeous car.


I posted a version of this on the old-car site Curbside Classic, too.

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