The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Decoding a Photograph

The first time I viewed this cabinet card, which is part of our Photographic Views collection, I immediately recognized the old Jordan Marsh building in Downtown Crossing and thought, "Wow! They really decorated Jordan Marsh up right for the 4th of July." Perhaps drawn first to the flag atop the building, my mind's eye assumed that the bunting in this black and white image was in fact red, white, and blue.

Jordan Marsh Building in Funeral Bunting after death of U.S. Grant, 1885

Looking more closely, I noticed the large image of a man in the panel directly over the awning and thought perhaps my initial instincts were wrong. Intrigued I turned the card over and read the brief handwritten description:

Jordan Marsh building, Washington St., Boston. Photograph by N.R. Worden, probably in 1885, after the death of Ulysses S. Grant.

In fact what I was imagining to be red, white, and blue was indeed a black and white display of mourning. A look through a jeweler's loop showed that the four corners surrounding the portrait of Grant contained images of battle scenes, helping me confirm the portrait was indeed of Grant. It is likely that this photograph was taken at some point between Grant's death on 23 July 1885 and his funeral, held in New York City, on 8 August 1885.

permalink | Published: Friday, 3 August, 2012, 12:00 PM


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