August 11, 2010

I See Dead People

I like to think I'm not much of a "Fad" person, which is probably just as well.  By the time I hear or read about some new trend, it's usually way around the bend on the way out.  When I was a kid, I was too late for the Davey Crockett coonskin cap fad.  And then I was too young to appreciate the Beatles fad.  When the Disco fad hit, I was hidden away in the backwoods of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where they had not even heard of Canadian Bacon on a pizza for God's sake.

Fads have always been with us and always will be.  Some are more puzzling than others, like the one I stumbled across the other night while galloping through the ethernet.

In the late 1800's, the camera was coming into popularity, however it was available to only a few people. Those with the money and the skill used both to their advantage and the "family portrait" industry was born.

I say "skill", because early cameras required quite a long shutter exposure time to take adequate pictures.  You had to be extremely patient to be not only the picture taker, but the picture takee too, because you had to stand perfectly still for minutes at a time so your image wouldn't blur.

Using this annoying glitch to their advantage, some photographers began to specialize in taking portraits of dead family members, since their stillness was guaranteed.  Somehow, this trend took off, and soon thousands of families were hiring photographers to take pictures of their dearly departed, which given the skyrocketing death rate from disease around the turn of the 20th century, gave them plenty of business. Sometimes the dead were photographed alone, but soon, the whole family joined in.  It is speculated that because of the cost, many families would have only this one picture to commemorate their existence on earth, and so they did a sort of "two-fer".  A dead family member and the rest of the crew in one shot for posterity.

There are quite a few of these pictures available.  In fact, I'll bet it would make a great party game if you got a whole group of people together and had them guess "Which One Is The Corpse?"  Better yet, a TV game show. Why, it might even be bigger than "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?".  I've included a few below so you can play along ...

This one's pretty easy

The one in the middle doesn't look too robust

  A little harder to tell

The snoozy slouch kind of gives him away

The "blur" gives the still kicking one's away

I'd give that last one a "10" on the old Creep-O-Meter, but extra points for prying her eyes open.

As fads go, this one had quite a run.  It started in the 1880's, peaked around 1900 and was all but gone by the early 1920's.  Facebook should only hope for this type of success.

For those of you out there who are scratching your heads and saying to yourselves "Hey, I thought Rob had a job! What's he doing home at this time on a work day?"  Well ... Rob has had quite a day, and it isn't over yet!  And I'll be back to tell you about it when everything shakes out.

Wow, remember those teasers at the end of every James Bond movie that said things like "James Bond will be back ... in THUNDERBALL!!"  Well, this is kind of like that.  Rob will be back in ... "Rob has a totally fucked-up shitty day!!"


  1. " The one in the middle doesn't looke too robust."


    Hope your day improves!

  2. Too cool. The photos, that is. Hope your day got better.