I can’t look at the quasi-360 degree scope and everyday details of this image and not think about Google Street View, which keeps coming across my radar in the form of amazing projects—but more on that later. For now let’s look at this incredible daguerreotype from 1848 that shows a panoramic view of Cincinnati’s riverfront and has been named the first photograph of urban America.
When the folks over at the George Eastman House put these plates under a microscope, they discovered information in the photograph that had never been seen before. Conservators saw the shadow of a person through an open window, laundry drying on the line, signs, and people relaxing by the water. It was even possible to pinpoint the exact day and time the photo was taken: Sunday, September 24, 1848, 1:55 pm. They did this by looking at the leaves on the trees, water levels, the names of the steamboats, and the clock tower a mile and a half in the distance.
Conservators saw the shadow of a person through an open window, laundry drying on the line, signs, and people relaxing by the water.
The panorama’s interactive website is nothing short of magical—you can zoom in and out for hours. I die for such peeks into other times and places and so it goes without saying that I have to stop myself from wishing in vain for the existence of more more more of these images from all over the world. I guess that that is Google’s project now and we’ll just have to let it marinate for another 164 years.
+ Official Website
+ Interview with the librarian involved in the photograph’s restoration on the Story.
+ Wired Magazine also has an interactive feature about the panorama as well as information about daguerreotypes.
Photos courtesy of the Public Library of Cinninnati
Hand lettering by Rebecca
Treptower Park is a bit out of the way from Field Office HQ, but our good friend and self professed русские-o-phile Micheal was in town recently so we decided to visit to the Soviet memorial there. It seemed like a suitable adventure, and we are always up for an adventure!
Now for a quick history lesson. The memorial was built in as a tribute to the Red Army that fought in the Battle of Berlin. Between 70-80,000 Russian soldiers died to capture the city for Russia ahead of advancing Western forces at the end WWII.
The architecture of the park is decidedly Soviet, with massive promenades, towering red granite sculptures of flags flanking the entrance to the memorial and quotes from Stalin all over the place.
It was all very serious and rightfully so, but I think my favorite part was the kids rolling down the hill under the statue of the soldier.
Soviet Memorial/Sowjetische Ehrenmal – Treptower Park
My dad found another box of stuff in the basement at my grandparent’s house. Going through it, we found a book from my great-grandfather’s funeral as well as his obituary and this letter to my great-grandmother from Podbiel, Slovakia—all of which spelled their last name as “Salus” (though I think that the letter on the end might be an “š”).
Either way, it was an interesting find because although my grandpa only spoke Slovak with his parents, he was always vague about the name. He told us that it had been spelled differently at one point—but never offered up that he new that spelling or that his parents still used it. Even my great-grandmother’s “real” name was a surprise—to us she was always Anna.
I’ve written before about my own experiences as an expat as they relate to the experiences of my immigrant relatives—but it really does fascinate me how they gave up their lives, identities, and places in ways that are so much more drastic than what I’ve needed to do.
The photo of the house was also in the box—it was identified with the same address that the letter was addressed to—my great-grandparent’s house, of course.
Wold-Chamberlain Airport (now Minneapolis/St Paul International), 1947
My great grandmother was Swedish. In about 1912, she left Sweden with her 6 year old son (who is still alive) and came to the United States. According to my grandmother, her English was never very good. She married and had more children but her husband died young. She worked hard and would only return to her native country once, in 1947.
I have often wondered how she (and so many other immigrants then and now) managed to leave their homeland knowing they might never return. In terms of keeping the homesickness at bay, it is invaluable to me to have the possibility to return when I need or want to and to do so several times a year. It is beyond my comprehension to imagine what this trip must have meant to her after 35 years.
Today I go back to Berlin. The last three months have been the largest dose of America I’ve had in two years and I enjoyed every single minute of it. People, language, culture, landscape—the longer I am away the more I love and appreciate it all.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota
Let’s see…what do we have here?
+ Dancing in the backyard on a summer night
+ Giggling in the grass
+ A back porch and a wicker sofa
+ A late night game of cards
+ A GAL IN A TREE
I want to party with these people.
In fact, these people are my grandparents and their friends, partying it up out at Lake Minnetonka back when it was a small town, before it was all Starter Castles and floating frat parties.
Really wish I’d gotten the invite.
I was in history class twenty years ago today when our teacher told us what was happening at that very moment in Berlin. He wheeled in a t.v. and we watched the fall of the Berlin Wall as our lesson for the day.
I had no idea at the time that I would ever find myself living in that city, twenty years in the future. But here I am. Today I went to the Deutsche Guggenheim to see Julie Mehretu’s work for the second time (I also attended the talk she gave in the gallery just after the show opened).
The main piece I show here is called Berliner Plätze. It is gorgeous and if you are in Berlin between now and early January I highly recommend seeing it in person.
I’ve been enchanted by this postcard ever since I found it on the Minnesota Historical Society’s photo database.
The illustration shows the streetcar line that ran from Minneapolis to Lake Minnetonka (which is where I am from). Unfortunately the line doesn’t exist anymore, but the idea of taking a streetcar out to the lake on a warm summer evening sounds pretty fantastic to me. Back in the day it brought people to Big Island, where there was a short-lived but legendary amusement park before the First World War.
One last thing that charms me so about this image is that the artist included the Minnehaha Creek running alongside the tracks. The Minnehaha Creek runs from Lake Minnetonka into Minneapolis, where it ends in a waterfall in the city.
Nicollet Island is a small island in the Mississippi River. 50 acres in size with a population of about 150 people, it sounds like a small town and it feels like a small town. Quiet streets, gardens, little houses and paths that wind through tall grass make it hard to remember that just outside the tree cover, is a major metropolitan city.
I have many good memories of this place. Once on an early spring day I heard the most beautiful music in the air. It was hard to tell where it was coming from, but after some looking I discovered a french horn player who had taken his instrument down one of the bluffs on the northwest side of the island to play next to the water.
Years ago, somewhere between Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, I found myself in a city that I don’t remember the name of. I only remember it as an average American city, neither big nor small. I also don’t remember why we stopped there or what we were doing in the library downtown. What I do remember is a moment, dreamlike in all of the vagueness of the setting and circumstances: I chose a shelf close to the front desk and went over to look at the books on it. My eyes fell directly on a book called Minnesota Pioneer Sketches: The Personal Recollections and Observations of a Pioneer Resident. Of course I took it out, looked at the table of contents and found that there was a Nicollet Island chapter. It was very short, but it was the most enchanting description of the place I love as it existed in another other time.
From Minnesota Pioneer Sketches: The Personal Recollections and Observations of a Pioneer Resident by Frank G. O’Brien, 1904
Forty-odd years ago  Nicollet Island was a beauty spot on the face of nature. At this period the West Side of the river was not of much account; the East Side, or St. Anthony, then wore the laurels, and was a wide-awake, progressive city. From this side of the river I made my first visit to Nicollet Island. I recall the feeble old wooden bridge with its loose planks that spanned the east channel of the river. Leaving Blakemann & Greenleaf’s jewelry store on the right and Nash’s drug store on the left hand corners, the other end landed on the island, which seemed away out in the country.
At the roadway going over to the West Side was a tall picket fence, with boards nailed lengthwise along its base, to prevent the escape of a few sheep and hogs that Capt. Tapper was pasturing there. Once over the fence- or under, we should say- we gazed upon a most lovely sight. About half way to the present railroad crossing there was quite an elevation, which formed a perfect half circle, extending from one side of the island to the other and sloping to somewhat below what is now the level of the road. From the top of this elevation down to the fence there was not a tree, but it was a beautiful carpet of green, fresh woven from the loom of nature. At its summit there was a little weather-beaten frame dwelling occupied by Mr. Williamson, who had a general supervision of the island, and whose duty it was to see that the timber was not molested. In consideration he received a free rental of the premises.
Back of this house was a forest so dense with timber and undergrowth, that it was impossible to penetrate it. This was the home of rabbits by the hundred, and the roosting place for wild pigeons by the thousands. In the summer of 1856 a noble buck was chased off the upper end of the island into the main channel of the river, and killed in midstream by a rifle ball, his lifeless body being carried over the Falls.
There was a single footpath all around the island, and the only fault lovers found was that they were obliged to walk singly- in Indian fashion. Wild grapes and flowers grew in profusion all around the banks of the island, making the surroundings very picturesque.
Nicollet Island was a great place for gatherings of all kinds, both of private and public character. It was here that the First Minnesota regiment gathered previous to departing for the seat of war, and was banqueted by the citizens, who cheered the brave boys about to leave their homes and friends to save the Union. This beautiful vision of the past has about faded from the canvas, but not from the memory.
This inscription on the inside of this book was written in 1975. It was a birthday gift from my mom to my grandma. I remember seeing this book throughout my childhood. It was always such an intriguing book; it has a rough, papery book jacket (which is now brittle and falling apart) and a charming sailboat pattern on the front, back and spine. I always knew that it was a book of history and personal stories from our lake, Lake Minnetonka. But I never read it.
It now lives at my parents’ house and I picked it up the other night, thinking that it would be the perfect book to read on my visit. And it has been. It was written in the 1950′s by the Wayzata librarian. She does quite a good job of describing what the lake was like in the 1850′s.
When she was writing this book she was going back 100 years. But now about 60 years have passed since its first publication. I wish that I could have a little glimpse of the Lake Minnetonka she inhabited. I think it would be about as foreign to me as that of the 1850′s.