Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Distinction of Honor @ Rootstech!

Stella, Mary Malinda or neither?
 Among the many amazing demonstrations, interviews and consultations available on the Rootstech exhibit hall floor, there was one consultation that I immediately signed up for prior to my arrival in Salt Lake: a one on one consultation with Maureen Taylor, aka the Photo Detective and author of the Last Muster. My appointment was scheduled for Friday afternoon at 2:45pm. For those who signed up, the instructions were clear. You were allowed a fifteen minute session and you should bring only one photo - either the original or scans of both sides. I knew exactly which photo I was going to bring along!

I normally shudder at travelling with original family heirlooms, but in this case, if anything happened to her, no one would be very sad. No one remembers this woman. Her name is not on the back and her face is not one we recognize - no one has recognized her in decades. The quality of the photo is so bad, I'm not sure anyone could recognize her....even back when the photo was first created.

As far as the woman's identity, I'm guessing that she was from the Cox, Mockbee or Allender families. She was in with these family heirlooms and chances are, she was a Kentucky gal since the
apparent time frame of photograph production meant these families were solidly in the Kentucky areas - possibly northern Kentucky. Her arms always looked stiff and her eyes were obscured. This led me to question whether the photo was a momento mori or post mortem photograph.

The production of the photo was extremely crude. It is a large tintype, over six inches in length and the image of the woman is jagged around the edges. Maureen agreed that this was a copy of an original photograph. In Maureen's analysis, she believed the photo to be a tintype copy of an original paper photograph. She was once framed because their is still an oval imprint around the image, but I don't believe she has been in a frame for many years. Maureen did not believe that she was a momento mori but rather a single cut out from a possible smaller picture that had a complex background - or possibly a cut out from a group photo. But then, Maureen gave our family gem the honor of all honors: she declared this tintype to be the ugliest one she'd ever seen!! I was in complete agreement. This poor woman's photo has always elicited gasps or groans when shown among the family, and frankly, I think she is best suited for Halloween display.
Stella Allender?

However, despite her ugliness, she will remain in the family collection. After all she is ours, even though we cannot give her a name. My guess is that she is a young woman in the family that died either as a teenager or as a young mother and this was the only photo they had of her. They obviously loved her very much to endure and even frame this monstrosity. Based on the time frame that Maureen pinpointed, the 1880s, I'm leaning toward a young woman by the name of Stella Allender. She died somewhere around the turn of the last century as a teenager and there is only one other small photo that was reproduced of her and passed among the family. Thankfully, a much clearer photo of Stella which has been sometimes incorrectly identified as a young picture of her style would be way off since her grandmother was born in the 1830s. If it's not Stella, it might be Mary Malinda Mockbee, another young lady that passed away in 1879 from typhoid at the age of 15. Both women died young, childless and were only half remembered by their siblings or nieces/nephews. However, the remembrance was short lived and didn't travel across the generations. I only know of them because of my research. In fact, Mary Malinda's gravestone had been missing for years until I dug up the pieces around a stand of peonies that grew near her grandparents graves. The full story of her gravestone rediscovery can be found here at my other blog: Musings of a Kentucky Gardner.

Maureen seemed so delighted with the ugliness of this bad tintype that she took some photos and has promised to blog about it as one of her Rootstech finds. I will keep an eye out for this one, but she is a very busy gal....maybe she'll keep it as a Halloween post?! BTW, I am totally serious about is a really cool honor to be in possession of the ugliest tintype that the Photo Detective has ever seen! But there in lies the challenge - if any of you have an uglier one, you've got to get it in front of Maureen! 
Happy Sleuthing!


Greta Koehl said...

This photo really is fascinating. I have to agree with Maureen - being cut from a group photo might explain the weird pose - perhaps there was a group clowning around and seeing her in the setting would explain the expression and pose.

Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

The ugliest photo distinction from Maureen Taylor is a big deal! She's seen so many!

Thanks for sharing this photo and all you know about it.

Joan Miller said...

This photo is intriguing. Maureen Taylor always has a way of getting photos to talk. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Cheri Daniels said...

Thanks ladies! That is a really positive thought Greta.....I really hope there was some clowning around going on....otherwise she looked like one angry depressed girl.


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