Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Picture-Perfect History

During research for Ruth by Lake and Prairie, Kate pored over paintings, engravings and sketches from the 1830's to try picking up clues about the era. Photographs from that time simply don't exist. A patent for the daguerreotype process would be granted in France in 1839, but it would be some years before it was widely used. Abraham Lincoln had his first daguerreotype taken in 1846.

Since so much of Ruth's story takes place during a schooner voyage, Kate was particularly interested in descriptions and images of towns along the coasts of the Great Lakes where the Telegraph may have docked. That's why it caught her eye when a report came out recently about restored daguerreotypes of the Cincinnati waterfront.

Taken in 1848 by Charles Fontayne and William Porter, the multiple images create a panorama of almost two miles of shoreline with incredible details including signage on the shops.

Alas, all of the ships at anchor are side-wheel steamers with not a schooner in the bunch, even though sailing ships would continue to be used for many more years. Two history buffs in 1947 used the ship names visible in the image to pinpoint the date on which they were all anchored in Cincinnati at the same time: September 24, 1848. Then they analyzed the shadows of the image to determine at what time the daguerreotype was taken. Their guess was a little before 2:00 pm.

There is a clock face on the image, but at just one millimeter in diameter, the two gentlemen couldn't make out the time, even with a magnifying glass. After this recent restoration, however, and using a microscope scanner, the clock face became visible. The time is 1:55!

Experience this remarkable daguerreotype for yourself. You can view each of the images and zoom in on the one with the clock tower.

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