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From the March 2014 Books & Bytes Newsletter
By Jennifer Morrow, College Archivist
Picture it: Hiram, Ohio, January 2014. A happy, mild-mannered archivist is working on adding metadata to images for the James A. Garfield Collection digitization project when she comes across a group of images surrounding the death and burial of the president. She is intrigued because they are all stereoscopic photographs, and most have detailed information about the photographer and studio that produced them. Putting together the information should prove an easy yet interesting and entertaining exercise for the afternoon. Suddenly, she comes across one that is not so easy to define and creates turmoil in her universe. Her nemesis? The Buckeye View Company. What happened next was a journey seeking information regarding an image taken in Cleveland that became part of a collection in Hiram, ending with an answer in Texas. Okay, maybe I have had too many snow days and too much bitter cold this winter.
Let me start with the basics. For those of you unfamiliar with stereoscopic photographs (also known as stereographs), they were the forerunners of modern 3-D imaging. Two of the same image are placed on a card, and using a specially designed viewer, the left eye view and right eye view are kept separate and create a three-dimensional image when viewed by both eyes. For those old enough, think View Master.
The Hiram College Archives has a number of these stereoscopic photos depicting scenes from Garfield’s funeral, including the catafalque in Cleveland’s Public Square, the bronze casket and even the wreath sent by Queen Victoria. However, the mysterious one was of the Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
According to the only information found on or with it, the “Buckeye View Company” produced the images as part of its “Original Home Views.” While it is perhaps an easy assumption that a business with “Buckeye” in its name is in Ohio, we cannot count on that, and it still does not answer the question of where – in or out of Ohio – this company was located. It also does not help us narrow down the period when the image was produced, beyond the knowledge that the monument was completed in 1890. Stereoscopic photographs were popular home entertainment from the 1850s to the 1920s.
I searched all my resources in the archives’ regional history collection, as well as some basic online stuff. (That means I Googled it, too.) In my quest for knowledge, I hounded each of our college reference librarians. (Thanks Dave, Chris and Jeff!) They came up with a few clues. For instance, companies with similar names were found in Cleveland and Canton. In addition, other stereographs of other subjects were being auctioned online. With nowhere else to turn, I did what all good archivists do: I went to my fellow archivists and sent out a distress signal. (Okay, that is a bit dramatic.) I put a message on the archivists’ listserv and requested help.
My answer came from the husband of an archivist at the University of Texas. She read my plea and forwarded it to him. An aficionado of stereographs with a collection of his own at Southern Methodist University-Dallas, he used one of his favorite resources, an out-of-print book produced by the National Stereoscopic Association (I’m really hoping they refer to themselves as the NSA) titled Stereographers of the World, Vol. II (1994) by T. K. Treadwell and William Culp Darrah, to find the answer. The Buckeye View Company was located in Port Washington, Ohio, and was in business from 1880 to 1900.
Since I will probably never have an exact date or be completely sure of who actually took the images, I can live with knowing that in the 1890s the Buckeye View Company of Port Washington, Ohio, produced the stereoscopic photograph of the Garfield Monument.
To view this image at our Cleveland Memory Page with all its lovely metadata, please go to: http://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/hiram/id/25/rec/37
For more information regarding the James A. Garfield Digitizing Project, stereoscopic photographs, the ways that archivists rock, or any other Hiram history subject, please contact the Hiram College Archives at 330.569.5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.