Does This Old Photo Have a Hidden Message?

Does This Old Photo Have a Hidden Message?

Houston County, TN ArchiveHistorical societies all over the country have old mystery photos of local citizens. The picture above is from the Houston County, Tenn., archives. Thank you to Archivist/Records Manager Melissa Barker for submitting this image. Melissa knows from the photographers imprint it was taken by Edward E...


Houston County, TN Archive

Historical societies all over the country have old mystery photos of local citizens. The picture above is from the Houston County, Tenn., archives. Thank you to Archivist/Records Manager Melissa Barker for submitting this image.

Using Fashion Clues to Date an Old Photo

Melissa knows from the photographers imprint it was taken by Edward E. Collison, Jr., who was born April 16, 1859, and died June 15, 1907. Collison was also the inventor of the Instantaneous Shutter for camera, and received patent #341,887 on May 18, 1886.

Mom and Dad are cool under pressure. The photographer captured the baby mid-wail.

When this photo was taken isn’t the mystery: Mom provides the time frame.

fahion clues in old family photos: peaked shoulder of dress

The peaked shoulders on her dress and her short bangs date the image to circa 1890.

Is This a Hand Signal or Simple Coincidence?

The mysterious part of this image is the father.

I don’t think he’s holding his hand this way just because. Its position suggests there’s more to this. I know I’ve seen this hand position in photos before, but I can’t find an example. I wonder if it’s symbolic of membership in a fraternal or other organization. It doesn’t appear to be Masonic or signify that the father was interested in Phrenology (a school of thought based on measurements of the human skull).

Any thoughts on how this dad posed his hand? Maybe Melissa knows of specific groups active in Houston County.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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  1. Perhaps the child is not really alive and it’s a post mortem addition that was supposed to cover the father’s hand as though he was helping to hold it? Why would the mother’s right hand hang straight down instead of holding the child?