Tuesday, November 10, 2020


Post by Doris McCaw
writing as Angela Raines

I recently came across the phrase 'talking with the dead'. Initially, I thought it sounded rather morbid until I thought about what it was really about. To me, it's connecting with the past in ways we might not think about. This also follows an earlier post about what inspires your stories. For those who would like to take a look at that post, here is the link: What Inspires Your Stories

But on to the focus of this post: Photographs

I know many of us have looked at pictures, we may even have some favorites of family and friends that bring back memories of an earlier time in our lives. But what of those who had their photos taken back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? What can we clean from those? What do they tell us? It is this that allows us to talk with those people from so long ago.

Take this photo: 

This young lady appears confident. Not the semi-smile on her face. While you can see more detail in the original, she is someone you feel you could depend on. Perhaps a good friend who keeps your secrets safe.

How about this gentleman? He looks like the kind of man who wanted to be someone's husband, a good provider. He is handsome, and the smile on his face mirrors the one of the woman above.

I give you two more photos. What do you think they are saying? What were they like? What were their hopes and dreams? I would love to know how they are speaking to you.

There are many ways that those of us who write historical fiction get inspiration. Sometimes it seems when we research we are allowing those who lived in the time we write about speak to us. I haunt antique stores and search out photographs such as these. They help me to understand and when I 'listen' I feel my stories have some truth to what may have happened.

So the next time you see an old photograph, think about what the subject of the photo is saying to you. Until next time, happy writing. Oh, and as a side note, the first photograph and a bit of the second woman are how I picture my heroine in my current WIP about a woman doctor. Here is a short excerpt from that work.

Except for the initial struggle as they were undressing him, the man remained quiet until Pauline moved him on his side. As she began to roll him over he moaned, expelling a loud breath. A deep knife cut ran across his left side from mid-back to just about three inches in the front. There was also a bullet crease across his shoulder. Rolling him onto his stomach she located another smaller cut was on his right side, closer to the front under the ribs. Neither were necessarily life-threatening, although both cuts had begun to fester, a pungent odor emanating from both. Moving to check the shoulders she breathed a sigh when she found no additional bullet or knife wounds. Calling over her shoulder Pauline said, "Caleb, bring the kettle from the stove and fill the basin."

Rushing to do as his mother bid, Caleb returned with the hot water and poured it into the enamel bowl on the stand near the table. Pauline watched as her son carried it toward her. “Set it on the stand, then move the water and stand closer”

Continuing her exam, she found two additional cuts, and a stab wound on the left front shoulder. These cuts were also starting to fester. The only wound that seemed to be healing was the bullet crease.

Shaking her head at the plethora of wounds and healed scars, Pauline continued looking at the man as he lay quiet. She studied the taut stomach muscles, the breadth of the shoulders, and strong arms. She could just hear the gossip about her staring at a semi-naked man. Instead, Pauline was intrigued. Since he was still alive, he must have won the fight. Her question was where and when had it happened? What trick of fate had brought him to her house?

“How long ago did this happen? What happened?” Pauline whispered, knowing the man wouldn’t answer. That he’d lasted as long as he had was a miracle and a testament to strength, both physical and mental.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet


Julie Lence said...

Fascinating photos, Doris! I enjoy looking at the oldies as well, to see what folks were wearing, hair styles, jewelry, etc. I imagine both the 2nd girl and guy are like me when posing for a photo, as in, 'Are we done yet?" lol. Thank you for sharing!

Renaissance Women said...

Thank you, Julie. I found them on a recent trip to Florence. I always look for portrait photos and old postcards then on to other things.

Loved your comment about the second set of photos. It made me smile. I don't like having my photo taken either, but I've had careers that required just that. Doris

Elizabeth Clements said...

I love old photos and sometimes get to wondering about the lives of the people in the photos. The lower pics of the man and woman are lovely and give the impression of kindness. But we also know a pleasant smile or handsome face can hide a less than stellar heart. Years ago while going through a mining museum, I paused before a life-size cutout of four immigrants. As I looked at their faces, the eyes of one woman held my gaze and time slipped away. I ended up writing a book about that mining disaster. And even close to thirty years later, I still remember that face and that moment. As always, an interesting post, Doris.

Renaissance Women said...

Elizabeth, the photos can say so much to a person if they look and listen. Much like your inspiration for your story, those nudges mean so much.

Thank you for your kind words and I love your reaction to the photos. Doris

Caroline Clemmons said...

I loved the excerpt. I collect family photos and have several cabinet cards such as you used to illustrate your post. Photographs fascinate me, especially those of the 19th and early 20th centuries. I should have known as diligent historian like you would feel the same way.

Renaissance Women said...

Caroline, thank you so much for your kind words about the excerpt. The story has been with me for some time and I'm excited that I'm close to finishing it.

Photographs are so exciting and studying them is such a joy. To be a fly on the wall when you look at your collection would be heaven. You are correct, I love the history and stories these photos tell. Doris