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For Photo Surprises, Check the Picture This Blog

Photograph of 1908 geography class with students using stereoscopes.
A stereoscope brings the world to 3D life for students in this geography class. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division photo copyrighted in 1908 by Underwood & Underwood)

Returning to resources — the Library of Congress Picture This Blog brings wonderful surprises, as well as researching inspiration.  A recent post by LOC librarian Kristi Finefield explains how details in this photo led her to discover what a 1908 student was doing—using stereo images to study geography—and to find the textbook that guided her.

The time-traveling image plopped down into the middle of my very different life, and in the way that unexpected pictures often do, this one got me thinking about how it might fit within the context of one of my books.

The stereoscope, first patented in 1838, reached its greatest popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Relatively inexpensive and widely available, it provided a way for folks in those mostly pre-film, hard-travel days to experience exotic places in 3D detail.

And even after the stereoscope had been upstaged by far more advanced technologies—and by a world war that took young people far, far away—many of the viewers and double-paned picture cards still remained in the parlors of homes like Maggie Lundgren’s in HITCH, a novel set in rural Montana during the Great Depression.

Moss Trawnley, a Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee who is the main character, first visits the Lundgrens with Maggie’s brother, but Maggie soon becomes a friend, too—as well as a potential complication in his love life.

I know, of course, how things play out for them on the pages of the book—that part of their story that got set when HITCH went to print.  But the two of them also have lives outside of the printed word, just as any story’s characters do.  Lives I imagined while doing the writing.  Lives I—or another reader—may yet discover.

Right now I’m wondering whether Moss and Maggie might not have spent an hour with a dusted-off stereoscope, looking at pictures of places neither had ever been to, and talking about where they’d most like to go. Or whether Moss might not have wondered if Beatty, the airplane-flying girl he’d left behind in Texas, would see them without him.

You can subscribe to the Picture This Blog at Library of Congress subscriptions, but be warned.  You may be tempted to sign up for all of the several dozen free offerings you’ll find there—or to give in to losing yourself in surprise after surprise.  More than 50,000 stereographs in the collections of the LOC Prints and Photographs Division—including many online—who knew? — Jeanette Ingold