Hidden in Plain Sight: Deconstructing a 1912 Panoramic Photo

Our first post of 2012 featured this photograph of a train excursion taken by the Young Men’s Business League (YMBL) to the Texas town of Comanche in 1912. It turns out there’s a lot going on in this one photo, so we’re going to take some time today to look a little closer at what lies within.

Since it’s unlikely these yardsticks were on-hand in case the people of Comanche had a spontaneous need to measure something in 3-foot increments, it’s likely they were branded with the name of a Waco company and passed out on the stops along the YMBL’s route. During this stop, the men took the opportunity to use them to spell out WACO, just in case later viewers of this photo were unsure of the train’s point of origin.

Of course, with almost every man in the photo wearing a hat reading, “Texas Cotton Palace/November 2 to 17/1912/Waco, Texas,” it would be hard to miss the source of these itinerant community spokesmen. The YMBL was a forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce; using their motto of “Come to Waco,” the YMBL toured Texas while touting the benefits of relocating to Waco for business or pleasure. In a book published by the League in 1912 (the same year this photograph was taken, coincidentally), the group listed “Situation [location], Natural Resources, Railroad and Capital” as reasons for choosing Waco as a permanent residence.

The Cotton Palace was another major point of pride for Waco, and a big draw for visitors from other cities. It made sense to promote the exposition to people across the state, as their attendance meant additional revenue for business owners in Waco. The hats worn by the men in this photo were just another way to get the message out about the date of the Cotton Palace – and they made a handy shade from the sun, to boot.

But what’s a pep rally for an entire city without a band? On this particular trip, the YMBL brought along a contingent of the Baylor University band, seen here posing with their instruments. Unlike the men wearing the Cotton Palace hats, the BU students are seen wearing a motley assortment of headgear, including what appear to be “slime caps,” or felt hats worn by Baylor freshmen.

Baylor wasn’t the only Waco institution of higher learning represented on the trip to Comanche. Here was see a small group of students from Toby’s Practical Business College, a school that purported to teach its students the most up-to-date techniques in the world of business. With branches in Waco and New York City, Toby’s was a fixture on the local scene and even fielded a football team – in fact, Baylor’s first football game in 1899 was played against Toby’s, with Baylor winning handily 20-0.

The real focus of the trip was commerce, and what better way to show Waco’s importance to the regional economy than to wear the message on one’s sleeve – or, in this case, across one’s back. This young man turns his back to the camera to reveal a message: “Ten Wheeler Overalls/Made in Waco/by Longley Mfg. Co.” While history may have forgotten his face, his endorsement of a favorite brand of local overalls is captured for posterity.

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If ever a group of men could appreciate the importance of good overalls, it would be the engineer and fireman of the locomotive pulling the YMBL special along. The badging on the cab of the locomotive identifies it as belonging to the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, part of a conglomerate known more commonly as the Cotton Belt Line. Servicing major cotton markets in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, the Cotton Belt is recognized as one of the more famous regional railroads in the South.

These little vignettes within the larger photo make for a more interesting composition than might otherwise be expected. But the real challenge for historians when confronted with photos like this is the overwhelming lack of documentation associated with them. The caption in the upper left gives us some good information, but we’re not told if this photo was taken in Comanche or at a whistle-stop along the way. An even bigger challenge is identifying the men in the photo with any sense of accuracy. Precious few of these photos contain listings of people seen in them, and in this case, their identities may be lost forever.

But we have to emphasize the word may. The unique approach of using Internet users to identify elements of historic photographs – called “crowdsourcing” – can be helpful in identifying people, places, and events in historic photos. So, if you recognize your great-great-grandfather in this photo, drop us a line. You just might be able to help save a small part of Waco history.

(1) Images excerpted from an original panoramic photograph from the Texas Collection; images enhanced for Web viewing.

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

A Visit From Rep. Chet Edwards

Former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards in his office at Poage Legislative Library

Baylor University recently announced that former U.S. Congressman Chet Edwards was appointed the W.R. Poage Distinguished Chair for Public Service, an honor that was accompanied with the news that his congressional papers would be housed in the Poage Legislative Library on campus.

A few weeks prior to the announcement, Congressman Edwards toured the Riley Digitization Center and learned more about our capabilities to digitize large archival holdings. Edwards was very interested in how we are able to turn hundreds of feet of paper records into searchable, remotely accessible digital objects. As his records will also contain materials on audio/visual formats like DVD, VHS tapes, and Umatic tapes (like Beta), Edwards was also impressed with the Riley Center’s video and audio migration technology.


Above, Assistant VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan shows Rep. Edwards a 16” radio transcription disc while Darryl Stuhr, Manager of Digitization Projects, looks on at left. The disc was placed on a turntable in the radio studio and cut live as the broadcast was under way. An interesting thing to note on discs of this size is the second hole in the center; the extra weight of such a large disc could cause it to wobble during recording, so the second hole in the center fit over a second spindle for added stability.

Prior to his visit, Rep. Edwards had mentioned the impact a speech by George W. Truett had on his development as a legislator. That speech, “Baptists and Religious Liberty,” was delivered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920 while Truett was in Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Edwards spoke fondly of his appreciation for the speech, and we were excited to be able to pull up a digital copy available in our Institute of Church-State Studies Vertical File Collection. Below, Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames shows Rep. Edwards the digital copy of that speech, reprinted in the October 1981 issue of the “Baptist Standard.”

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We are excited to work with Rep. Edwards as he develops his congressional papers for use by students, scholars, and interested parties around the world. They will serve as a unique and invaluable asset to those seeking a deeper understanding of American politics, geopolitical relations and his beliefs on the subject of leadership.

(1) Photos of Edwards’ tour by Allyson Riley

“War of the Rebellion Atlas” Puts DPG on the Map in Tennessee

The Digitization Projects Group’s efforts to put the War of the Rebellion Atlas online have once again led to an exciting collaboration, this time with Zada Law, Director of the Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). Law will be utilizing high-resolution copies of several Atlas maps of the Nashville area to see if defensive earthworks built around the city by Federal forces might still be discoverable today, almost 150 years after the war ended.

Law, a PhD candidate at MTSU, plans to overlay the Atlas images with “modern high resolution orthographic aerial images,” she told me via email. Using records from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and enhanced elevation (LiDAR) datasets, she hopes to locate “previously unrecorded extant earthwork sections or identify where archaeological traces of entrenchments may still remain.” (1)

Defenses of Nashville, Tenn. from the War of the Rebellion Atlas

Before she located the Atlas using a simple Google search, Law was relying on hard copies of the Atlas and other records to conduct her research. That all changed when she found our Digital Collections.

“Finding Baylor’s freely accessible high resolution image of an original copy of the War of the Rebellion Atlas plus searchable metadata was the tipping point for me to finally proceed beyond the dreaming phase,” Law said. “And, as GIS becomes an accepted part of scholarly research in the humanities, I’m certain the need for access to digital copies of original maps will increase.”

The metadata Law refers to is the cataloged information that accompanies each image in our digital Atlas, including information like city names, names of battle participants, descriptions of geographic formations and more. This is the fully-searchable information that makes finding specific locations or persons in our Atlas much faster than using traditional printed indices and page-by-page searching available elsewhere.

In addition to her work on the Federal defenses of Nashville, Law shared access to the Atlas collection to Dr. Wayne Moore of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Moore is heading up a project called the Tennessee Civil War GIS Project, where he and his team are working to “inventory and describe the geospatial data points for approximately 700 Tennessee Civil War military engagements” throughout the state. “Having the Atlas’ maps available online and searchable and ‘zoomable’ through your website will improve our workflow and will be less tedious that looking at hard copies of the maps with a magnifying glass,” Law said.

Finally, Law hopes to use an image of the area around Murfreesboro – specifically a location called Fortress Rosecrans – to search for the location of a nearby contraband camp. “Contraband” during the Civil War referred to Confederate-owned slaves who sought protection in Federal camps or who lived in areas that fell under Federal control. The public history program at MTSU is documenting a “rural post-emancipation African American community that likely had former residents of that camp,” Law said, and the maps provided by Baylor could help them in their work.

Topographical Sketch of Fortress Rosecrans from the War of the Rebellion Atlas

We’ll keep you posted on how Law’s research goes, and we wish her and her colleagues all the best in their efforts. We’re happy to be collaborators in this important work, and we look forward to seeing where it leads as the Civil War Sesquicentennial continues through 2015.

(1) Excerpts from email from Zada Law, received 1/5/2012

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

Get On Board with the DPG!

Waco-Young Men’s Business League: 1912, from the Texas Collection’s Photos (1)

As we kick off a new year of digitization excellence here at the DPG, we wanted to take a moment to answer a question we’re getting with increasing frequency: “How can I help?” We’ve got three simple answers!

Tell your friends
The more people know about our collections, the better it is for a number of reasons. Of course, we like seeing our materials show up at the top of Google results, and it’s always fun to see us getting mentioned in the news, but it’s also the best way for people to get involved through …

Contributing materials
When people hear about the work we’re doing, many start telling us stories about their own treasured collections. Whether it’s a packet of letters from World War I, a program from a Baylor football game, or a stack of gospel LPs, we’re always looking to enhance our collections through the addition of new materials. Whether you’d like to make an outright donation to the University or if you’d like to loan materials just for scanning and adding to the collections, we’re happy to talk to you about how you can help.

Make a gift
Thanks to generous gifts from supportive donors, we’ve been able to secure some of the most advanced digitizing technology available. From fragile books to large format maps and audio/visual materials, our center can digitize an increasing number of materials. But we’re always looking to augment our technology, hire more graduate students, and purchase other tools that help us in our work. For more information on how your gift can support the work of the DPG, contact Trey_Hagins@Baylor.edu.

If you’d like more information on how to add your materials to the growing digital collections of the Baylor University Libraries, contact Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames at Eric_Ames@Baylor.edu.

(1) See the full-size panoramic photo at
http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tx-phot/id/111