Friday, August 19, 2011


It's a conceit that we're smarter than generations past.  Sure, the store of knowledge is bigger (typically no thanks to ourselves), but there's nothing that suggests we think better, or more deeply, than those long gone.

But Gerard Van der Leun shows why deep thinking is not dead, with a beautiful and moving post about photographs from a summer's day at the beach, a century ago:

That was the moment, less than a second, in the midst of that summer now more than a century gone. All, each and every one, of those nearly 300 souls are now gone as well, even the children held on the shoulders or standing in the shallows, all gone -- all perhaps, maybe, save one now almost silent centenarian.

Well, what of it? That’s the way of the world and the way of the waves of the world and our lives. What we have is this moment snatched out of time on the Jersey shore one afternoon in August before the last century went smash. Who is there? What were they like? It can’t be known, but it can be seen and what can be seen, at least in this one moment, is that these people had what anyone would recognize as that thing we call happiness.
This is the most beautiful thing that you will see today, except for those of you lucky enough to be surrounded by your families. 
In the middle of the splash we can see the young man, full of life and ready for anything, held up high by his father, shouting out and waving down the years as if to say hello from a great summer day in 1910.
It's a tale well told, and well illustrated, by a master of both.


Stephen said...

The little girl high on her father's (I suppose)shoulders with doll in arm, hand high throwing a wave to us over a century Nice piece, thank you.

Paladin said...

This is why I'm hopelessly addicted to I visit there every day to see what new pictures from the Library of Congress archives have been posted.

I could literally spend hours looking at the old pictures. Especially the scenes with people going about their daily lives.

NotClauswitz said...

If you went back to ancient Greece a thousand years ago you'd seen the same beach-scene and faces, but you don't have to go so far. Down the east-coast of India a hundred miles from Calcutta and the beach and people haven't changed in a thousand years either...

ASM826 said...

I've had this discussion with a couple of friends. What happens to the old pictures we took after we are gone? The context is gone. Scenes like this one still tell a story. Good find.

Quizikle said...

Paladin: ditto
I opened up the Comments here to mention Shorpy.

"The past is a foreign country"
I think I'd like to visit pre-WWI.
Maybe pack a few things and prepare to move...