01 April 2009

Home Again: A faked photo, an orphanage, Part 3

Errol Morris' investigation of a photograph found on a dead soldier at Gettysburg in 1863 continues in the third installment here. In addition to the text, it is richly illustrated with photographs and documents.

There is something magical and sad about chronicling the history of a man who went more than halfway around the world on a whaling ship and then died (presumably alone) in a small town, a couple of hundred miles from his home.
Morris writes about a fascination with last words. In this story, it is all about last images - as Amos Humiston held the photo of his children. Morris asks:

By looking at the faces of the Humiston children, we can see what Humiston was seeing as he died. Or perhaps they can provide a glimpse of what was in his mind. Does linking his experiences with ours allow us to better know him or only to imagine ourselves as him?
As most genealogists and family historians know - and Morris reminds us - most historical mysteries stay in that state. What is fascinating is that although author Mark Dunkelman could learn so much about this one soldier and his family, there are so many about whom nothing is known.

Dunkelman writes about two cases of soldiers found on the same battlefield and how they were identified.

A Pennsylvanian was identified by a silver medal found clutched in his hand. Another soldier was found missing his hat, shoes, and socks, but inside one of his pockets the burial squad found a gold locket with a photograph of his wife or sweetheart, along with her name and address.
Others were identified by a letter, photo, diary, or other personal item. But it appears no other case resulted in such a major story.

Even before the days of PhotoShop, photos were altered. Through family members, Dunkelman found photos of Humiston before the war; one with a beard, one without, which Bourns had obtained from the widow. Dunkelman says Bourns wanted to issue a photo of him as a soldier, so he had a photo retouched, adding a beard and uniform. The possible reasons are revealed.

The carte-de-viste was sold and funds went to the Orphan's Homestead as explained on the back of the photo. Bourns wanted to raise money for an orphanage for the children of deceased soldiers. The article goes on to provide information on the Homestead Association, incorporated in 1866, three following Humiston's death. Bourns was the general secretary, while Humiston's widow Philinda was a housekeeper and the three children lived at the Homestead.

Philinda eventually married an older man in 1869, and sent for the children. Here, according to the author, the story takes a sinister turn. Stay tuned for Part 4.

Read the complete article at the link above and view the photographs and documents.

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