It’s a nearly impossible challenge to put names on people in century-old cabinet card photos, but we occasionally try nonetheless. At least in most cases we know the photographer’s name, which can lead in all sorts of directions.
The Minnesota Historical Society’s Directory of Photographers lists only one shutterbug with the last name Ely. Beginning in the mid-1890s, Cook Ely had a studio at 2030 W. Superior St. — the corner where the Anderson Furniture building stands today.
Ely came to Duluth from southeastern Wisconsin, and the Oshkosh Public Museum has a fairly detailed record on him. He’s pictured at left with his wife Lucy and four daughters. The boy standing in the back is listed as Floy Ely, but his relation isn’t clear. Cook and Lucy had a son named Ralph who was born after this photo was taken, according to the record.
A few details from the museum’s Cook Ely record:
- Born June 24, 1844 in Lincolnshire, England
- Son of Ruth Ann Atkinson and Benjamin Ely
- Circa 1960 lived in Ripon, Wis., working for photographer William M. Lockwood
- Enlisted as a private in Company B, 41st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on May 7, 1864
- Served in Civil War until mustered out on Sept. 23, 1864
- Worked for photographer W. E. Bowman in Peru, Ill. for about two years
- Lived in Racine, Wis. in 1870 according to U.S. Census.
- Married Lucy J. Snyder on June 21, 1870, in Fond du Lac County, Wis.
- Had studio at 142 Main Street in Racine in 1872
- Also in partnership with William N. Lockwood in Racine at same location, and possibly later in Ripon during the mid 1870s
- Had partnership in Oshkosh, Wis., with James Paris and with Owen Manzer in 1879
- Operated studios in Oshkosh from 1879-’95
- Also had branch studio in Neenah, Wis., operated by Charles H. Meddins
- Listed in the 1880 U.S. Census with wife Lucy and their four daughters: May, born 1872; Dorthy ‘Dot’, born in 1874; Grace, born 1876; and Florence, born 1878
- Son Ralph born Oct. 23, 1888
- Wife Lucy died in Oshkosh on July 12, 1893
- Last listed in Oshkosh city directories in 1895
- Moved to Duluth in fall of 1895 with his daughters and son and opened studio
- Later worked in St. Paul as a photographer for former associate and brother-in-law Frank Jay Haynes
- Applied for invalid pension in 1909 for his service during Civil War
- Listed in Duluth city directory in 1914 as having a Duluth studio at 7 E. Superior St.
- Lived with Haynes family as late as 1920
- Died in Oshkosh on Sept. 5, 1923
According to the Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections at UMD’s Kathryn A. Martin Library, the photo above is “possibly photographer Cook Ely.”
Below are a few more cabinet cards from the Ely Studio. Any of these mystery faces look familiar?
The final image has a name penned on the front, which appears to be “Siivo Sundin.”
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