Preserving History – Presenting Art
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Photographs Give a View into the Past

The museum owns a large number of photographs. While many are identified, there are hundreds more of people and places whose names have been lost to time. Are these photos of any value? In most cases, the answer is “yes!” Let’s look at one of the museum’s “mystery photos” and see what we might be able to learn.

This image is part of the large Craig Family Collection that came to the museum in 1988 from the estate of Miss Sherwood Flagg; the last of the Craig family to own Hans Meadow. It is a “cartes de viste” photograph, meaning that it is a thin paper photograph (sepia tone) mounted on 2 ½” x 4” cardboard. Cartes de viste were very popular from the 1860s into the 1870s, when they began to be supplanted by “cabinet cards” which measured 4 ½” x 6 ½”.

The photograph shows an Asian woman carrying a young girl on her back. The cardboard mat is embossed with English and Asian characters and carries a lily design on the reverse making it similar to the later cabinet cards, which often carried ornamental logos. The image is dated and is partially identified: “For Wm. Sydner 2. J.1. Flagg from his friend, Kinar [?] George, June 29 ’94, age 13 mos.” The date is probably 1894; the meaning of the superscript numbers is unknown. We know the William C. Flagg, Jr. family owned and resided at Hans Meadow, but this name does match any of those known. We also do not know who George was. The interaction of East and West during the late-nineteenth century is well-known however. For example, Christiansburg native Rev. William M. Junkin traveled to Korea as a missionary in 1892 remaining there until his death in 1908. Is this photograph related to Junkin in some way? Or is this yet another example of an American missionary working in Asia? It would be easy to think that the woman and child were merely posing for tourist souvenirs, but the girl’s age is given suggesting that she was part of George’s family. The child also seems to be wearing Western-style clothes. Was the woman a servant? We may never understand the story this photograph is showing, but our ideas about local communication with far-away places during this historic period are significantly expanded when we look at this photo.