Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday From The Collectors - March 27

[Select Image For Larger View]


Jack Mord, of The Thanatos Archive, has a simple question for Shades readers. Is the little girl lying on the floor in the center of the photograph above, dead? Simple question; difficult answer. Select the image for a larger view.

Jack wrote Shades saying, "I would love it if you would consider doing another series on this photo! The feedback from the 'I Think She's Dead Series' was awesome to read, and your readers seem very knowledgeable."

There is no right or wrong answer readers. Jack is looking for as many opinions as Shades readers are willing to share.

There are two schools of thought with regard to analyzing this photograph. We are looking for those who are not knowledgeable in post-mortem photography, but look at the photograph and form an opinion based on how the photograph makes them feel. The photographer and the family obviously wanted to convey something. What do you think it was?

The second school of thought comes from those who have seen many post-mortem photographs and have formed an opinion based on that experience. What is that opinion?

The photograph itself measures 8.5" x 6.25" and is on a 12" x 10" mount with no photographer's imprint. The only clues reside within the photograph.

We'd like to hear from each and every one of you. Both Jack and I have an opinion. We want yours.

Place your opinion in a comment below. When you have finished, follow the link included in my comment to read whether or not I think she's dead.

So upon peril of my becoming "The Queen Of The Eternal Night;" please tell us, Is She Dead?

You can find My Opinion and more comments here.


Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Here's My Opinion


March 27, 2009 at 1:38 AM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Okay - I'll take an uneducated total guess here and say that I think she is dead. The vase of flowers on the floor next to her is strange and the boy next to her, seems a bit mortified to be sitting there, he's holding himself away as not to get to close? Just my opinion. On the other hand, some people in this photo are actually smiling which is unusual in itself.

March 27, 2009 at 6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first one to raise a hand always risks supreme mortification. . . this is only an observer's opinion:

Smiles. Everyone is smiling. Not very funereal. The girl on the floor doesn't seem quite right; I have seen post-mortem photographs where children were posed on sofas, beds, tables, but the floor seems somehow irreverent.
The setting appears staged: a family scene.

Could this be a cast photo from a theatrical production?

Of course, these could just be automatic grim
"smile for the camera" grins, but the expressions just don't go with a Death in the
Family for me.

Now I am anxious to read what you think...

March 27, 2009 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

I agree with The Family Curator - I don't think she is dead. There are too many smiles on the faces of the other people.

March 27, 2009 at 8:26 AM  
Blogger geneabloggers said...

1. I would like to know what the two "blocks" are in the foreground in front of the little girl. Any guesses?

2. Too many contradictions here - guests smiling, one man on right is rocking back in his chair. The father (my assumption) has a boutinniere (was this just common or was he being feted and the little girl was just tired?)

March 27, 2009 at 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does look like a family party. Perhaps the little girl insisted on being photographed 'sleeping' like that?

March 27, 2009 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Little children do fall asleep at family parties. But I wonder if she might be comatose? It seems a little too arranged for her to have just fallen asleep - the flowers, the doll and the teddy bear. Her position does not look "dead". She's dressed for an occasion like a birthday party or holiday, as are the others. Too much smiling and relaxation for a wake, especially with the time period.

March 27, 2009 at 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I am not an expert or anything, but I think she is sleeping too. The family just does not appear to be in morning. I also think that is a bed on the right side that the lady is sitting on. At the same time the piano is in here with the dining room table. While I don't have any idea how well off they are, they are by no means poor. So it is strange to me that the table and the piano are in the same room. So my thoughts are, they have made this the family room. The bed is for the child so she can still be part of the family and they can still interact and include her on some level.

March 27, 2009 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger M. Diane Rogers said...

Agree that almost everyone looks too relaxed and happy for a wake - including the little girl's body.

Instrument out of case on top of piano and music looks recently used - could those be some kind of percussion music blocks by the little girl? Maybe they just tuckered her out with the family singsong?

One man does seem to have a flower in his lapel but the most relaxed man has a ribbon, doesn't he? Could they be a musical family - and a couple of them were in some competition?

Are those bananas on the table? (Might help with a date/season.) And an arrangement of cards or photos on the wall by the door? Wish I had a high tech outfit as on CSI to bring out details!

No matter what - great photo - even the cat is in it.

March 27, 2009 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

If it wasn't for all the smiles I'd think she was dead.

March 27, 2009 at 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anyone is interested, a larger and sharper scan of this image is available here: (Link)

March 27, 2009 at 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi fM,

Smiles aside, everyone seems to be ill-at-ease with this sitting. If the girl is alive, wake her and prop her up!

If she's deceased, get her off the floor!
The teddy bear, doll, and blocks look like props positioned to conceal something. (perhaps the hands are deformed?).

As much a good sentiment of having the girl photographed (perhaps for the first or last time) with her family may be, it's just a wee bit off-putting to me. Even the cat appears to be a reluctant participant.

I think she is deceased; and for me, the photo is creepy.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

March 27, 2009 at 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I found striking is that while everyone seems "placed" for the photo, few seem ready for the photo to be taken. So many people are looking in so many different directions that you wonder if the photographer didn't accidentally hit the button before he - and everyone else - was ready.

March 28, 2009 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Everyone seems uncomfortable, smiles or not. I think the little girl has just died (a somewhat "expected" death?), and she was deliberately posed as if she was sleeping, with all of her favorite things around her.

March 28, 2009 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Brett Payne said...

I think that she's just sleeping. Too many aspects of the group portrait point to a less than solemn occasion, and I can't believe that the young man seated second from right could possibly have that casual air and expression on his face while sitting next to a corpse. By the way, what's that oddly shaped ribbon or strap hanging from his jacket pocket?

However, the chap standing at back right looks like he might be dead! ;-) Perhaps I should be more charitable ... actually, I think this points to it being pretty late in the evening, another reason why the daughter has fallen asleep on the nice, soft carpet.

An interestimng collection of items hanging on the panelled wall at top right. At first I thought they might be medals or insignia of some kind, but in the detailed image they look more like keys. If I'm correct, then this must be a large house, as there appear to three or four dozen of them.

Nice image of bananas (somewhat worse for wear), a half eaten of crystal cake stand of grapes, and half a dozen apples on a plate, with another having just been given to the young child to stop him/her from fidgeting - anyone care to guess what apple variety?

The violin, case and musical score are suggestive of a musical get-together, at least one of the participants being a visitor, since a purse is sitting next to the violin.

The man standing in the middle, with his arms crossed, appears to be squinting. Is this because of the photographers light flash, or is he the one who has removed his spectacles for the camera, and placed them on top of a couple of books next to the violin?

The flowers appear to have been rather hastily stuffed into the vase. I can make out some Dianthus, but I'm not sure what the filler is - could it be Gypsophila? Anyway, they are past their best and look rather wilted and bent, not to mention sparse. The confident young lady sitting with hands crossed in her lap, apparently distracted by something the cat lady has just said, has seen fit to pinch one of the Dianthus for her own use, while her partner, the rather diffident young man to her right, has drawn attention to his poorly done tie with another Dianthus in his button-hole.

One of the odd things about the photograph - apart from the obvious - is that only four of the subjects, man, woman, starteled child and well-behaved cat, are looking directly at the camera. Several of the others appear to be looking off to the left or right, and it seems likely to me that there are other people present, who perhaps couldn't fit in the field of view.

The young man at the extreme left, with his half-embarrassed sideways glance, looks like he's just been told he shouldn't be in the photograph at all. Actually, I think his haircut belongs in the fifties, not the early 1900s or 1910s world that the rest of them clearly inhabit.

Okay, I'm off now to read the other comments, and see how many of them mirrow what I've said.

Regards, Brett

March 28, 2009 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Brett Payne said...

And thence to see how many spelling mistakes I've made - shock! That's the trouble with posting comments on other people's blogs, one can't edit the mistakes and faux pas, and they're so ... final.

March 28, 2009 at 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may have been the little girl's birthday party with her extended family, and the flowers and toys could have been gifts. They would not have been unusual gifts at that time. A full day of excitement could have caused her to fall asleep before the photographer arrived, and the smiles could reflect the group's amusement at taking the picture with her asleep. Or she could be dead. I am thinking family party, though, with her as the subject.

March 29, 2009 at 6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may have been the little girl's birthday party with her extended family, and the flowers and toys could have been gifts. They would not have been unusual gifts at that time. A full day of excitement could have caused her to fall asleep before the photographer arrived, and the smiles could reflect the group's amusement at taking the picture with her asleep. Or she could be dead. I am thinking family party, though, with her as the subject.

March 29, 2009 at 6:39 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Excellent observations, Brett, and good catch on the keys on the wall.

Could this possibly have been taken in a boarding house? The people in the background being tenants having been invited to the viewing and the photo even though having no relation or real connection to the family (woman, man, and little boy directly behind the girl) other than just sharing the home with them, which might partly explain their less-than-reverent attitudes, as well as their clothing. Not having much money, they just wore their nicest clothes, even it was not exactly 100% appropriate for the occasion (the woman in the shiny fabric dress being the most obvious example).

Also, possibly, this was one of several shots taken. As mentioned somewhere above, I believe, there is the perception that several of the people were not quite ready for the shot to be taken. Maybe this shot should have just been thrown out by the photographer! For all we know, there could be another photo out there showing these same people, now prepared for the shot, looking at the camera and with a bit more appropriate attitudes. I wonder if there would be any doubt that it was a post-mortem then?

Having said all of that, I am back to being 50/50 on this. I have seen several "no doubt" post-mortem photos of people on the floor, as if sleeping, and I've seen many, many of children posed with toys - including blocks - almost identical to how this little girl is posed... but I've never seen a single post-mortem photo with so many (if any) smiles.

Whatever the case, I do not believe the girl is just sleeping. Even the baby in the shot is wide awake - it would be hard to imagine a girl her age "crashing" so hard that she would not even be awakened by the noise and movement in the room, or preparation for the shot, which included toys being propped right up against her.

Lastly, I am not an expert on this, but wasn't it a custom back then that children were buried in white?

March 29, 2009 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger wendy said...

I don't think she's dead but I would like to know what that thing is hanging on the upper light & if it has any significance. Perhaps the little girl decided she wanted to pose by lying on the floor & blinked at the time the photo was taken so her eyes are closed. With all the smiles and informal setting - I don't think it's a post mortem photo.

March 29, 2009 at 3:25 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

It certainly seems to me like the little girl is sleeping. She is on her side with her head on a pillow, her hands are under her head cradling her face and she is covered with a white blanket to keep her warm. I think it is a family get together and she may have been feeling under the weather that day.

March 29, 2009 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Sheri Fenley said...

All the women (except for the one on the right in the shiny dress) look similar to each other especially in the mouth and nose. I think that this is a family group not just a bunch of boarders as some one else suggested. The couple in the middle - the man with the flower in his lapel and she all dressed in black holding a similar flower - they are dressed appropriately for mourning but the rest of the group certainly isn't. And the smiling, if the little girl is dead then this picture really gives me the creeps. Unless it is nervousness and/or the camera caught them off guard. I don't know. I'd like to think that she is not dead.

March 30, 2009 at 6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't imagine having a wake with the child lying on the floor like she is. And the smiles, perish the thought at such an event!! On the other hand, in the larger scan the girl's pinky finger seems to be black? And the boy sitting next to her flithy indicating he may have been hard at play prior to the photo (A party as many have suggested?). But the couple sitting with the bout (Carn) and the woman beside him holding the carn and hanky seem to be more somber and perhaps in mourning. It's a strange and fascinating photo. Oh how I would love to hear the real story behind it!!

March 31, 2009 at 3:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe for the actual wake/visitation she was laid out on in a more traditional manner, on her back on the couch, head on the white pillow flanked by her toys... but when the photographer came he suggested a nicer, more life-like pose - on the floor as if she was only sleeping. That would also enable her to be the main focus of the photo with everybody being able to then pose around her, as opposed to off to the side, feet facing the camera, as she would have been on the couch. The "parents" not only look unhappy, they look a bit angry? mortified? ... possibly at the inappropriate smiles. Just throwing theories out there!

March 31, 2009 at 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think she's dead. Why would the teddy bear be propped in front of her if she was alive? Why would the mother be wearing all black? The smiles are small, nothing that really shows joy. The boy in the front looks upset.

March 31, 2009 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. said...

I would say that she is most certainly not dead.

Everyone is smiling and in relaxed poses. If they look uncomfortable its because a photo taken inside at this time in history was a process that required the sitter to remain absolutely still for up to 5 minutes.

I suspect what happened is that there was a party and the little girl fell asleep on the floor. The partygoers decided that it was time to take the picture, but she was asleep. The decided to include her in the photo anyway. What a story it would make when she woke!

They dressed her up as much as they could without waking her. Pulled some dead flowers from a side table somewhere, a doll and a teddy bear from the girl's room and had a great laugh when the photo was developed.

I wonder if it's not a theatre troupe. There seems to be a lot of personality in the room. The third person from the left, the man standing looking to the right seems to be very theatrical, the two sitting in chairs, just above the girl seem to be portraying snobbery and arrogance, the two to the right of the photo seem to be portraying a looser, too relaxed sort of people.

I've seen a lot of victorian death photos in my time, as I collect and am fascinated by them, and I'd have to say that the mood in this photo is uncharacteristically light. I've rarely, if ever, seen a smile in a death photo. In this photo there are six smiles and no somber looks (not counting children, who are usually somber in photos from this time, I suspect from being scolded to remain still!)

Two more things: The legs of the girl are folded in a way that supposes that she just tucked them that way to avoid hitting the bed (or whatever furniture that is at the right of the photo.) If they'd laid her dead body there, circumstances certainly wouldn't have allowed them to arrange her legs in such a natural position. Also, lastly, she's got a pillow and a blanket has been placed over her. These are naptime accouterments.

April 5, 2009 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger lindajalexander said...

Fascinating, great photo--thx for posting! I couldn't resist & spent a considerable amount of time looking at it & doing research. I do a lot of historical writing but know little about post mortem photography, so I'm guessing along w/digging. If I had to make a decision, I'd say the child is deceased, though there are things which make me lean in both directions. As follows:

Girl’s lips are parted. Would that be the case if she were dead? Not sure.

BUT her left leg looks positioned, not natural, as if skewered. Try laying like that, w/your legs in that position. Her right leg looks okay but if she were asleep, her left leg probably wouldn’t look so awkward & uncomfortable. Something about how the toe of her foot points & her ankle looks. Her knee is on her other leg & her ankle rests on the floor. Wouldn’t it be a bit off the ground if there were nerve & muscle connections still @ work?

BUT her hair is mussed. Looks like there a big bow ribbon at the nape of her neck. Is she sleeping or did she recently pass away?

AND the bananas on the table are old—not fresh. Had the food been there awhile? Would they look that old if this was any sort of celebration?

ALSO, grapes are half-eaten as if the gathering hadn't just started.

BUT the boy’s right foot is close to girl’s head. Would that be if they were honoring her in a post-mortem photo?

AND boy’s fingers look dirty; again, not respectful.

AND woman, far left, has right hand in pocket—again not respectful.

BUT man standing @ left looks to have ribbon or jewelry (pin?) on left lapel.

AND supposedly female mourning wear was often crepe—note [probably] mother’s dress—she’s all in dark, material is shinier than other women.

AND that woman holds a single flower in right hand; man next to her has flower in his lapel.

AND a ribbon/tassel/banner, light-colored, hangs from light fixture. Doesn’t look to be part of fixture.

AND it looks like the girl on right sits on a bed, not sofa—no back—& bed’s pushed against what looks like a slide door (common in those days). If the girl was/had been ill & that were her bed, there could’ve been family in/out of the house. A family gathering . . . maybe her birthday & they wanted her off the bed for photo? Maybe her birthday & her death, similar timeframe?

I’m fascinated by the wall hanging on the far right. Looks like an old hanging card holder—get well cards? Birthday cards? Sympathy? I’ve seen these in antique shops.

Bottom line--I believe the young girl has passed away because of info on a few websites. These sites give some good info, just for a choice of perspectives. What sways me most towards post mortem, though, is the ribbon hanging from the light fixture. Supposedly light-colored things such as this were placed in the home of a deceased child—darker for adults, etc. Often on the doorway so no one would ring the bell. Also, one of the sites indicated that when family gathered around a body, those closest to the deceased sat directly at the head of the individual & other family members fanned out beyond. Looks like that to me in this photo.

No matter how this played out, I’d have to say this was an unusual family. While it is odd that a family would be smiling during a photo taken after a family member’s death, especially a child, it’s actually odd that many in the group are smiling, for any reason. It was rare that anyone smiled in photos in those days, reportedly because it took so long for the shot to be taken. If the child had recently died, maybe they weren't happy but, rather, relieved she was no longer suffering??

April 25, 2009 at 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am split on this- if it is a post mortem, it is certainly unusual. But the biggest reason in my opinion that it is a postmortem is the white ribbon on the chandelier. In victorian times, white ribbon represented the death of a child. Also, if, as some people see, she is dirty (like the little boy) why is her white dress not filthy?

June 9, 2009 at 8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a further thought on this photo. The woman in the shiny dress is way out of line for mourning. Apparently, crepe was very dull and flat. Also, as awful as this might seem, could one suppose some of these gathered in this room are not, ahem...well wired emotionally? Just a thought, with sincere apologies to any descendants who might read this.

June 12, 2010 at 4:26 AM  
Anonymous marble top dining table said...

If it wasn't for all the smiles I'd think she was dead.

February 24, 2012 at 8:43 AM  

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