Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is He or Isn't He?

Dead I mean.
Many portraits taken about this time (late 1800's, early 1900's) were taken of individuals and families who may have only gathered in their best clothes for a funeral. We do have one family portrait here in the library where the descendant proudly proclaims that his grandfather is dead in the picture.
I have not such family stories about Great-great-great-grandpa Jacob Gilbert here. But consider these points raised by my co-worker/blogger.
  1. His eyes appear rather fixed and glazed over.
  2. His hands are firmly placed on his legs, but not supporting any weight.
  3. He has a stiff appearance.
  4. His head appears slightly forward on his neck, but pointing straight ahead.
  5. GGGGrandpa Jacob died in 1915. This was within the time frame where such photos were common place.

What do you think? I have no problems with this idea, but it never occurred to me.

What had occurred to me was this picture of the family that married Jacobs grandchildren. The Samis family lost their father, James Henry in 1899, after he suffered an accident and died "attempting to board a freight train." Family story--tried to hop a train to find a job in a nearby city. Fell beneath the train. Lost a limb and died. In this picture, James Henry does not appear, but the whole family is here. Looking somber and mostly dressed in dark colors, was this taken when they gathered for his funeral?

I double checked some of the dates. If this was taken about the time of James' death, the youngest daughter would have been only 9 years old. In this picture, the girl in white is clearly younger, but 9 years old? I'm not sure.

Sure people had to stand still and stiff for pictures then. They often dressed up for the occasions. Fashions made children look like adults.

So tell me--is he or isn't he? Dead I mean.


  1. Second g-grandpa Jacob looks stiff to me. He is in an unnatural position. I looked through all m old family photos, and I don't have one with a man sitting like that. They are standing with their hand on wife's shoulder, or holding a cane, or in "head shots" which do not show their whole body. I think he's dead.

  2. My opinion on the photo of Jacob Gilbert is that it is not a post-mortem photo. The placement of the hands on the thighs would be very difficult to achieve for a lifeless body. There is some tension there between the shoulders, elbows downward to keep the hands in place.

  3. That was my humble opinion. But I didn't want to argue with the boss! Thanks for the thoughts.