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Mystery Photo #60: Duluth Baby on Scale

The date on this image appears to be Oct. 4, 1896. Just about everything else is a mystery. Who is the baby? Who is the adult? Where are they? What does the note “5 win + 6 days” mean?

The back of the photo offers an additional clue. A Duluth photographer has stamped the back.

The name isn’t easy to read … something like Fred L Farruer. Whatever structure at 409 Ninth Ave. E. the photographer was working out of is long gone. The land it occupied is now the location of Portland Manor, a five-story apartment complex built in 1973.

12 Comments

Paul Lundgren

about 1 week ago


 
Angela Ponder mentioned a couple leads on Facebook. She found a similar-looking nursery scale on the Edward Hand Medical Heritage Foundation website that would indicate the baby above might be weighing in at about 12 lbs. Angela suggests maybe I misread "5 win" and the baby is five months and six days old. 
 
The scale Angela links to was manufactured from 1940 to 1960, according to the EHMHF, so either the scale isn't the same, the heritage foundation is wrong, or I misread the "96" and the photo is actually from 1946.

Bridgette Baker

about 1 week ago

I know that Duluth is sometimes behind the times with fashion trends, but the woman in the background doesn't appear to be wearing mid-twentieth century apparel.

maestro710

about 1 week ago

I think it's actually 5 weeks.  It looks like the "K" in "WK" has been split.  I think I've been reading too many census records lately.
 
I realize that's not doing much to solve the mystery, though ... sorry.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 1 week ago

What is the paper backing that the wording is written on? Where did you find it? I read it as "Gel A "96" (like a photographer's note). 
 
"In 1884 George Eastman developed a method of developing dry gel on paper, replacing the need for bulky photographic plates."
 
The background shows multiple photos on a credenza, so maybe it was the photographer's studio? There are also odd glass jars in the background, which makes me wonder about it being a doctor's office or baby care clinic. In those days, most babies were born at home and doctors or midwives would visit homes, but they did start some checkup clinics, maybe more in the early 1900s than late 1800s.

Bridgette Baker

about 1 week ago

October 4, 1896 was a Sunday, and that baby (12 pounds would be about right for an almost 6 week old baby) could be wearing a baptismal or christening gown.  Maybe this is the post-baptism celebration shindig back at the house?

Matthijs

about 1 week ago

On the way home from work yesterday, I showed a friend of mine the name on the back of the photo, and he was so insistent that it was “Fred L. Farmer” that he spent the rest of the evening sending me links about the man.
 
According to various sources (with screenshots in the image below), Fred L. Farmer was born in 1878, which means that he was a professional photographer at the age of 18 (his age is confirmed by a listing in an 1897 Duluth High School Yearbook). Or he may have been an amateur photographer who bought a stamp with his name and address (a professional may have made other choices that would have led to a sharper and better lit photograph). 
 
Mr. Farmer seems to have gone on to become a prominent Duluth business man, including being one of the three founders of the company that built Duluth’s Holland Hotel:

Matthijs

about 1 week ago

The address on the back of the card was interesting for me because I grew up on that block. I always thought that Portland Manor had been built by tearing down older homes in the neighborhood. However, a 1939 aerial photograph clearly shows a vacant lot at the future location of Portland Manor. 
 
A 1912 Duluth Atlas does show a single property on the lot that was probably Fred Farmer’s (childhood?) home. The atlas also gives a clue as to why the lot was not fully developed until much later. The stream that runs between 8th and 9th avenues, and that has now been mostly moved underground, seems to have been running above ground through the property, which may have made development expensive. What happened to the single house on the lot between 1912 and 1939 is not clear.
 
One of the current homes across the alley from the address was built in 1891, which again makes the 1896 date entirely plausible.
 

hbh1

about 1 week ago

Yes, 409 Ninth Ave. E. was Fred L. Farmer's home, according to 1895 census. His father Charles Farmer was a Duluth pioneer and conductor on the Northern Pacific RR and that was their house. In the 1896 directory, it says Fred's a clerk (he worked at Freimuth's) living with his family at that address so you are probably correct that he was essentially an amateur or aspiring professional photog. Fred died in 1941.

Paul Lundgren

about 1 week ago



This is what the uncropped scan of the photo looks like, so you can see the edges of the paper backing. I don't have any notes on where it might have came from or went. History hording is messy.

Matthijs

about 1 week ago

I originally thought it would be impossible to identify the baby in the photo, but if the writing on the left is indeed 5 weeks and 6 days, and the writing in the middle is Oct-4-96, we know the birthday of the baby: August 24, 1896. And if that is a gown, how many baby girls were born on August 24, 1896 in Duluth? At least one - Elizabeth L. Hewins.
 
There's no way to be certain, but a brief search on the internet suggests that she came from a wealthy family that would most likely have lived in a house with well made furniture and had the money to pay for all the photographs in the background.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 1 week ago

Wow! Impressive! I saw one reference yesterday saying it could be Fred Farmer, but just didn't see it myself in that script. 
 
Fun to imagine who the baby is, but we probably can't assume for sure that it's a girl; boys were dressed in dresses until they were older.

Matthijs

about 6 days ago

I acknowledge that whether the baby is a boy or a girl can’t be determined from the photo -- and it seems as though there was at least one other baby born in Duluth on Aug. 24, 1896 (Ethel P. Roff), but an at least plausible circumstantial case exists for the baby in the photo being Elizabeth Hewins.
 
Her father was Parke Woodbury Hewins, still known today as the composer of "America the Beautiful." He was also a Harvard graduate and medical doctor. In an alumni update in 1901, he wrote about his time in Duluth:
 
"In 1894 I was occupied as in 1893, until the 20th of October, when I took up my residence in Duluth, Minn. In 1895 I came east, and was married June 6 to Miss Jessie Maria Warner, at Union Church, Columbus Avenue, Boston, by the Rev. Nehemiah Boynton. In order to look after business interests in the Northwest, we settled in Duluth, Minn., where we lived till June, 1898. August 24, 1896, in Duluth, a daughter, Elizabeth Lottie Hewins, was born, who is still living. 
 
"In 1897 and 1898 I had opportunities to inspect the whole northern region of the State of Minnesota ; visited the mining towns of Tower, Ely, McKinley, Ribbing, Virginia City, all in the Lake Vermillion district and on the Mesaba Range ; also made a few interesting hunting and fishing trips to camps at Deerwood, Minn., and Gordon, Wis. Four years' life in Duluth had its many lessons and experiences: mercantile, religious, political, and ethnological. My business took me to St. Paul and Minneapolis, and occasionally as far south as Sioux City, la., where our company still has large interests. In 1899 I again resumed my residence in the East, satisfied to remain in New England, although my relations with the western country were very pleasant and profitable."
 
Elizabeth Hewins never married and passed away in 1987 in Massachusetts. Her estate made a donation to the local historical society consisting mainly of a large collection of photographs, including photos of the Congdon family from the time her father lived in Duluth. 
 
Collection of Hewins Estate Materials Wellesley Historical Society 
 
So Parke Hewins was a medical doctor (who would be likely to have access to a scale designed specifically for weighing babies) with an extensive photography collection and a child born on the exact date that seems to be indicated by the photograph. He had connections to the most prominent of Duluth families and the photo in question was taken by the son of a Duluth pioneer. 
 
I may not be entirely convinced myself, but this photo having been a part of the Hewins photography collection seems like a pretty likely possibility.

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