Wednesday, February 03, 2010

From the mouth of babes. . .


I must share a fascinating story with a 125 year history that I have managed to become a key player in involving the photograph of a little girl named Lydia.

About four years ago, a close friend of mine rented a retail space in on old street front building in a small town in New Jersey where I was living at the time.

For many years at that location, stood a rather disheveled curio-consignment shop. The shop, which seemed to grow more and more chaotic with passing each year, eventually proved too much for the aging tenant and the space was rented to my friend who used it as a storefront for showcasing his hand painted furniture and faux painting business.

While renovating the space into his new storefront, my friend and his wife experienced some rather unusual occurrences that most would describe as a “haunting”. Several times, rocking chairs on display would begin quickly rocking back and forth on their own accord with no breeze to cause it as would the doors to the rooms and cabinets. I personally witnessed a heavily closed door – complete with a clicking sound of a turned doorknob mind you, creakily and steadily open as if being slowly pulled by something mischievous only to be slammed shut with a wildly loud bang.

The most disconcerting occurrences according to my friend however, were the loud moan and growling like sounds and scattering footsteps noises that seemed to emit, from no other place of course, then the dark and windowless basement. . .

As far as I can remember, there were no light fixtures of any kind in the basement keeping it dark as a cave at all times. Personally, having seen my fair share of things that go bump in the night, I couldn’t imagine descending down the rickety, wooden stairs which disappeared into nothing but cold, inky darkness. However, one day, my brave friend had had enough. He grabbed a flashlight, clenched his teeth, and went for it.

The basement, he discovered, was empty – all except for the upper corner of an old photograph that he noticed in the beam of his flashlight that was sticking up from between a crevice in the old wooden floor.

It was a photograph of Lydia. Lydia Bishop Maiden to be exact. . .

Not long after his discovery, while I was visiting his shop one afternoon, my friend kindly gave me the photograph as a gift. He knew that I collected antique photographs and that I use them frequently in my work or model paintings after the subjects of them.

I thought it was a very lovely photograph of a well dressed Victorian era little girl of perhaps 2 or 3 years old. After he told me the story of how he came about it, I became even more enamored with with the little cardboard backed bit of history.

While the original photograph had faded noticeably over the years with a bit of tattering on the lower edge (the above work is a version that I restored in Photoshop), it was still in relatively very good condition and I welcomed it into my collection.

I recognized the photo as a “cabinet card” which was a late 19th century form of studio photography that was wildly popular in the post Civil War United States until being replaced by the even more popular brownie camera. I was also particularly taken with the back of the photograph.


Someone, over the last 125 years or so, had written the name “Lydia Bishop Maiden” in pencil above a beautiful and flourished photographic studio and emblem.

Eventually, I discovered that the name of the photographer who took the image was W.G. Entrekin who had a studio at 4384 Main Street in Manayunk, Pennsylvania which is right outside of Philadelphia. According to information that I found on this wonderful site, Entrekin learned photography in 1856 before traveling for some time with a gallery on wheels. In 1861 he was employed by the Army of the Potomac. After the Civil War, he established galleries at Manayunk, Norristown and Philadelphia, Pa. and he was also credited with the invention of the Entrekin Burnisher for photography.

To an antique photography lover like myself, this information proved fascinating. So, excited by my new addition, I took the photograph of the young Lydia into my collection, scanned it, digitally restored it in Photoshop and posted it along with my findings on my account.

After I estimated the photo to have been taken in the late 1880’s/early 90’s based upon Lydia’s clothing and other visual clues and posted the image, I placed it with my collection of hundreds of other antique and vintage photographs and, quite frankly, forgot about it.

Two years pass.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I received the most interesting email that read. . .

“I have been researching my wife's family and stumbled across the Lydia May photo. Lydia is my wife's Great Grandmother. Lydia married WM, who had FM, then FM, my father in law, who is 80 years old. We would love to hear about the photograph.”

Initially, I couldn’t figure out what he was referring to as the email came to me from a form on my web site, and I’ve no antique photos posted there. Eventually, I brushed away the cobwebs from my memory and found the reference point on my account.

Still not quite certain that this was the same Lydia (after all, there was no “May” listed on my photograph), I emailed him my story of how I had come across the image and the history that I had been able to piece together from it. I then received this response. . .

“That is a great story and back ground. To give you some background Lydia May Bishop was born May 4th, 1882 in Manayunk and lived there until she died in 1944 at the age of 62 and was buried in Westminster Cemetery, PA. So your estimate on dates, giving she looks to be ~2 years old, this would have been taken around 1884, so you are on the money. I have her father as John Bishop who died in Philadelphia, but I do not have any other details on him. Lydia married William Henry Maiden from Madeley Wood, England in 1905 at the age of 23. She had 5 children, all died starting from 1989 to finally EBM died in Florida in 2006 at the age of 96. Her oldest child FJM Sr. had four children, F. Jr. being the oldest and my father in law, and then his 3 sisters, all still living and all born in Manayunk.
I don’t know how her ghost was relocated to Haddon Ave., guess I have some digging to do. I do know she had a sister-in-law, RJM, died right around the corner in Haddonfield, which is where we live now. That would be my best guess at how the picture moved to NJ.
After college at West Chester, my father-in–law got a job teaching in Stratford, New Jersey where he met RH and had 3 children, my wife being one of them.”

And that is how I became, in my opinion, a key player in the full 125 year circle return of this photograph of Lydia May Bishop Maiden to her family.

The fellow that contacted me (I replaced any prevalent names with initials in the snippets above) asked in a gentle manner if I would be at all interested in selling him the photograph. I responded with a “no”, but I did inform him that I would gladly give him the photograph in the same way that it was given to me.

I feel that in this manner I am but a link in a long and magical chain centered around a small and delicate antique photograph of a beautiful child that somehow managed to survive 125 years that, quite literally perhaps, cried out in the darkness in order to be returned to the family that she created so many years ago.

I can live with that decision quite happily.

I can’t remember if the possibly paranormal activity in my friend’s shop ceased after his discovery of the photo, but I do know that I had no such issues after it was placed in my care.

And I can’t imagine that her descendants will either. . .

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