Photographs and Reveries

Our mystery room

Among the Loring photographs, I found a cyanotype of an empty room. Empty, that is, except for five chairs, two settees, a desk, bookshelf, armoire, tea table, photographs, books, artworks, cut glass, vases, figurines, patterned rugs, lace-edged curtains… The room is empty only of people. It is, in a sense, an archive of a moment. If we understood it better, what would it tell us?

Whose room is this? Why was this photograph saved in the Loring collection?

Thanks to all of you who have sent information and suggestions to help me solve our mystery. Pam found information on gas lighting and crystal glassware. Anna, Christine, and Mary dug deep to find photos of the Boston hotels we’d wondered about. Both the Hotel Puritan, and the Riverbank Court Hotel have double windows with narrow spaces between them.

Emilie’s sister, Rachel, lived at the Hotel Puritan from 1916-1923. Emilie and Victor stayed at the Riverbank Court Hotel for at least two seasons between 1913 and 1917.

Allister, a colleague of Mary’s, is a photo researcher and offered these observations:

I can see nothing later than 1910.

The table lamp has a 1900-1905 silhouette.
The chairs are from different periods and that indicates very likely second hand.
The ceiling lamp seems very plain and without style so could have been a hotel or ‘rooms’
unless it came with the house or home.
The space between the windows is very narrow so light was important to the architect so it could have been a narrow frontage building.
Nothing expensive in the room.
The dresser table and the wardrobe are mass machined pieces, prob. 1880s-1890s…

My guess would be 1905-1910 at earliest. I think the latest item is the fat table lamp. Looks like terracotta. It is a very Bloomsbury on a Buck look.

I would like to see more photographs of hotel apartments of this time period to understand whether inexpensive and varied furnishings were the norm or indicated something about the lodger.

For my part, I’ve been taking details one by one to see what I can learn from them.

Details, one by one

See the little photo behind a vase on the left side of the bookshelf? There was something familiar about it. “That looks like the photo of Mrs. Hallet,” I thought. “I wonder if it could be?”

I know it seems impossible with that little, blurry photo, but there’s something about the shape of the shoulders, the carriage of the head, the shadow on one side of her face.

Could it be Ellen Hallet? The comparison is suggestive, not persuasive. If it is she…

The Hallets were Emilie’s friends on the Cape. In 1914, Louise and Lizzy took their mother, Ellen, to Europe for her health. They lived in Switzerland, Italy, and on the Côte d’Azur in France. Not until their mother’s death did Louise and Lizzy return to the States, and thereafter, they lived in luxury hotels–the Mayflower in Washington, D.C., the Malvern in Bar Harbor, the Hotel Puritan in Boston. The Lorings and Hallets remained friends for the rest of their lives.

So little detail to go on!

I looked next at the books. Even with my best photo editing, I could pull out no more detail than the light-dark-light-dark-light pattern on the spine. What look like creases could indicate leatherbound volumes. Was there any chance of matching that to a set available by, let’s say, 1910?

You can imagine how that turned out. Poorly.

One set did catch my eye.

The Children’s Hour, 1907

The Children’s Hour had the right sequence of light-dark-light-dark-light–not in the looked-for proportions, but still, it stimulated memory cells.

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat…”

What was the name of Wendy Adair’s radio program for children in Love Came Laughing By?

Oh, yes, it was “Let’s Sing For Our Supper.”

The program of short, very short stories and songs planned to interest the younger contingent who, it was assumed, would be waiting for their suppers at this hour, closed with Eugene Field’s charming verses set to music of her own composing.

"Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
'Tis a marvel of great renouwn!"
Love Came Laughing By

The title poem of this multiple volume set is a treat:

The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Serendipitous finds are pleasant consolations for not finding what we seek. Sometimes, they point the way toward people and events of which we knew nothing before but which enrich our understanding in ways we wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Lucky finds.

What do we know now?

Where are we now on our mystery? We have a woman’s room that is probably in a hotel apartment in Boston, likely photographed between 1910 and 1920. The clutter on walls and horizontal surfaces suggests a longer stay, perhaps after down-sizing from a larger home. We can guess about her fondness for art, reading, and personal souvenirs, but so far, we have no positive identification for our occupant.

I had hoped to come back with a “Eureka!” moment of discovery that would solve our mystery without a doubt. Alas, that hasn’t happened yet. But after decades of this kind of work, I have internalized for research the same advice that Emilie Loring gave to writers:

“A writer who is determined to make good should cut the word discouragement from her vocabulary.”

emilie loring

Thanks again for your help, everyone. Keep sending your ideas. I’ll keep on with the search and get back to you when our mystery room and its occupant are confidently identified.

A question for you

Now, for a new idea. At the end of my last post, I included a quote from Emilie:

Beverly was intrigued:

So interesting to wonder about the furnishings of that room. But the closing quote is so thought-provoking, Patti. Would you consider using it as a jumping-off point for discussion here? I’d love to know how readers think we can make an art of living.”

I love that idea. Emilie’s wisdom has accompanied many of us for decades, and we make of it what we will, given our own lives and philosophies. I invite you to share your thoughts about “making an art of living” and respond to others in our comment section below. I’ll devote a post to the topic when everyone’s had a chance to write in.

Until then, stay cool, wherever you live, and if you have an archive of photographs, do history a favor: get out a pencil and label them.

Happy Landings, everyone!

6 thoughts on “Photographs and Reveries

  1. THis is one reason I love scrapbooking. I don’t scrapbook to win a prize or use all the trendy and glitzy things. I scrapbook to record my family history. I journal (label) all the events and I include menus, receipts, tickets, etc. I don’t want to leave my future generations with questions. Love seeing all the responses about the items in the photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I made lovely scrapbooks in high school (alas, all on acid paper and in huge books that defy shelving). Now, I have files and boxes marked “Memorabilia.” I’ve begun to scan and photograph items to preserve in printed books (I love Mixbook), but those don’t have the immediacy of the real thing. In our family lake house, we still have my grandmother’s report cards, signed by my great-grandfather. Treasure.


  2. Hi, Patti!

    I love serendipity! As I re-read the quote from Emilie about the art of living, I looked down at Alexandra Stoddard’s “You are Your Choices” (can’t italicize on my phone!) which I borrowed from my mother yesterday. I’d already borrowed and read “Living a Beautiful Life,” which has been my mother’s “Bible” for as long as I can remember.

    I’d thought, as I read Stoddard’s books, how much her advice reflects the lives that Emilie Loring’s women lived and how Emilie herself lived. Kindness; beauty; simple pleasures; art; literature; nature; intentional living and doing what one does “superlatively well” (which I know is a quote from one of Emilie’s characters, but I can’t remember which one! Prudence Schuyler, maybe?).

    Anyway, I thought that anyone who loves Emilie Loring might enjoy Alexandra Stoddard’s books too. She has written more than 25!

    Happy Landings to all!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for writing, Barbara. I’m smiling at the mention of “Living a Beautiful Life.” Since reading it, I have kept triple-milled, lovely-scented soaps in my shower, made thoughtful choices about the feel of sheets and pillows, and have been known to shower and dress in something nice (although not necessarily a crisp, white blouse) before doing my household business. For all that, I have read only the one volume by her–soon to be remedied!

      I think the “superlatively well” comment is Nancy Caswell’s in “Gay Courage,” and I agree that it fits well with the “art of living.” I especially like your phrase “intentional living.” It encompasses so much.


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