Not sure if this is a post mortem or not, though I am leaning towards yes, mostly because of her eyes. I have seen photos of blind people and photos of dead people and on close-up, hers appear to be the latter.


Thoughts and opinions welcome.

  • 2namod 7y

    Funny, I thought that was YOUR blog! I discovered it the other day right after commenting on here....

    I did find two items of interest - one being this photo of the "Buch Family". See if you can find the connection (hint - the above photo is probably a reverse image....)

    Second - since the photo was apparently taken in Dubuque, it's also interesting to note that there was a very large, very infamous insane asylum there - St. Joseph's Sanitarium - run by the Sisters of Mercy Convent. I bet it was home to many poor blind souls wearing battered old dresses....:)
    Postcard photo of asylum
  • jack_mord 7y

    Ha ha. Hmm, that asylum opened in 1885, so it definitely fits the time-frame of the photo (1885-1890), but surely there were asylums in cities everywhere back then...

    I am not an expert on asylum inmate photography, but I have seen my share and I do not recall ever seeing photos of inmates taken in studio settings like this - they usually looked more like mugshots.

    So, to me, believing that this young woman suffered from the double whammy of blindness AND insanity (what are the odds?), and (assuming she was insane), had a photo taken in a studio (and not an in-house mugshot type shot) is maybe even less probable than the possibility that she is simply, just... dead. Of course, maybe this was her last photo taken BEFORE going into the "bin", or her first after being released!

    Maybe I'M blind (and crazy) but I do not see the connection in the photo above! What am I supposed to look for? I... must... know!
  • 2namod 7y

    If you flip one or the other of the images it makes it a bit easier - and right-click and "view" the family photo will make it larger.....

    It's the wicker chair.... or an exact replica.... but this photo was taken in Dubuque as well! The one the matriarch is sitting in.... very little of it visible, but if you look really close.... plus, you can see part of a backrest that is not visible in the "dead?" photo, which helps to explain her posture a bit.

    The "sanitarium" changed names, and I believe it was opened in 1870.... such places were quite common, but this one was considered "novel" for its time, and the nuns who established helped establish another similar asylum in Michigan.

    The Catholic Archdiocese operated a vast "campus" of institutions in Dubuque - including several orphanages, schools for young women, a large home for "derilect women"..... and, of course, a large convent school (all girls, of course.)

    A sanitarium, or asylum was a place for all types - basically if you had a family member with a "defect" and you were sick of having to take care of them, you just dropped 'em off at the sanitarium....many didn't bother to keep contact either. I read some obituaries from that place.... very sad.

    And about 40 miles out of Dubuque was the Vinton College for the Blind - the school that Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister, Mary, attended....which was also a large, well-known "boarding school" and is still in existence..... but.... who knows, ha ha.
  • frgetmenot 7y

    The chair...I saw that too! 2namodlin, your research is amazing. You are definatley prepared to fight for your opinion....LOL. So, where is this family portrait taken home, studio, asylum? Is it possible that it was taken at the same studio? In the blog metioned, it is already discussed that people did in fact bring the deceased to a studio for pictures. Would it seem so odd that two pictures of the same era, in the same area, are taken at the same studio?? Also, is it typical to take individual portraits at a sanitarium? My understanding was that they were so cheap, there was barely food to eat. I would be very surprised if they had staged portraits taken of unwanted people. The picture although odd, is artsy in a way. Some thought went into it. I have to admit, there is a huge coincidence with all of these asylums in the area.....but I don't buy it :) I have not seen any pictures from the blind school, but,having read the Little House books waaaaay to many times, it seems to me that families went to GREAT pains to send someone to the school. They were very expensive. Wouldn't it make more sense if a pic was going to be taken of them at the school that it would show them learning braille, or doing needlework....something that the school had taught them? Rather than sitting limp and pale in a chair???
    I think we will NEVER come to tems on the picture unless a long lost family memeber happens upon it and says, "ya, that's my great aunt so and so and this is what the pic is all about" I keep hoping for that to happen! As far as theory's, I could come up with a million.....maybe the chair is local to the area! Maybe some backwoods family sold them cheap and everyone had one in their parlor. The chair is a GREAT catch, but for me it only creates more questions. Especially since there are three wicher chairs shown in this one picture. They must have been popular in the area, or a particular photographer really liked how they read and used them often.
    The glass remains half-dead for me! ;)
  • hipchickindc 7y

    I don't agree that it's the same chair. The one in the subject picture has completely different angles and proportions that I do not believe can be explained away from how the chair is turned.

    Perhaps there was a common maker of Victorian wicker chairs in Dubuque? As frgetmenot mentioned, they were probably popular chairs then.
  • Abbeon 7y

    My understanding is that those who were locked up in asylums had barely any identity left. Sad to say, but the families did not acknowledge them in fear that they themselves would be accused of being insane because they were related. You have to remember that during that period, individuals were put into asylums for basically ridiculous reasons, and as a consequence, asylums were popping up everywhere to accommodate the overpopulation of supposedly "mentally instable" individuals (a lot were not). The dead bodies of patients were never claimed, and if you visit some of these asylums today, you can visit the graveyards. Most of the gravestones have only numbers imprinted which I suppose was the number issued to that patient.

    As for the chair, I really don't see the similarity. I agree with frgetmenot, these chairs were probably popular at the time, and everyone had one.
  • adeldas 7y

    Hi, I am new to your forum and very pleased to have found you. I would like to add my 2c worth on this very interesting photo. Yes I do believe she is dead. It is a lovely photo, some of these early photographers did such a great job on postmortem photos that you can not tell, if you did not know better as in this one (as I believe).

    Someone mentioned earlier that they believed that answer to the riddle is in the fold in her dress, well so do I. No lady rich or poor would be caught with their legs apart like that especially in a photo. I believe the photo was taken after rigger had passed (12 or so hours after death) and the dress is actually tucked under to prevent her legs falling apart even more.
  • hipchickindc 7y

    That, to me, is a very practical explanation for the dress.
  • Latoia Patton 7y

    her neck looks weird. i say this without reading ALL of your responses, but i am aborbing like a sponge, thanks for all the info!
  • moggierocket 7y

    I am not at all an expert on photos of that era or potmortem photos. But I don't think there's the possiibility of blinking. I would have to look it up but around that time I think exposures were still rather long. Maybe 30 seconds? Just guessing. If she had blinked, you wouldn't have been able to see that. If the exposure was much shorter an she had blinked, you would have seent he movement of the eyelid. You can't now.
    Just a gut feeling, think she was dead.
  • rhokit1 6y

    That's an open-toed, not scuffed, shoe peeping from beneath her skirts...also--crusty eyelashes, firmly-closed lips with no sign of muscular stress to hold them shut, left (her) eye slightly slitted...AND did anyone ID the star on her dress?
  • ::michelleprovince:: 6y

    Dead. "Ladies" don't sit like drunks dozing upright. Check how her weight is balanced, she was ready to tip over.
  • Art and Ghosts 6y

    i cant invest any expert opinion here, but i have chosen to opt with my intuition:

    I feel that she is dead, simply because she unsettles me, there is something vacant, not present about her. And the mouth reminds me of similar PM images.
    I just sense that she is not with us, but i could be wrong...
  • Abby Mae 6y

    Although this topic has been discussed over and over - and, I don't actually have a final thought re: whether she is dead or not.

    But, I thought I would at least throw out a few things that I noticed - after reading the comments here, and a site linked to the "Shades of the Departed" blog also carrying on the same debate...

    1) In addition to the dress being only loosely held closed (as several mentioned) - it actually has two pins holding it down - the top pin, but also a second right below the belt.

    2) The photo on this site: - of three women dressed in mourning during Victorian times - I believe 1837 - aren't those dresses a hell of a lot like this dress? The low shoulders, and what seems like (after reading the notes next to the photo at the site I just mentioned and linked) - and, in addition to that, let me throw this out there, which is what is written next to that fashion photo on the site:

    "The material most associated with mourning was black silk crepe, which was almost exclusively manufactured by one company, Courtauld's. Crepe had a flat, lifeless quality - lustrous materials like furs, satin and velvet were forbidden. Wearing colourful or flattering clothes was considered callous and even immoral. It was considered unlucky to have crepe in the house after the proscribed period had ended - making each subsequent bereavement an extravagant, expensive occasion."
    -Taken from (link above - I left all spelling, etc. exactly as written on the site.)

    3) Does it seem to anyone else to appear that her left leg (photo right) is going two different directions? Her foot doesn't seem to match the direction of the knee. It could totally just be the fabric laying strangely, but I thought I would point it out.

    4) There has been discussion about that tear in the dress that was repaired - let me say this as a seamstress - that is a shabby-ass looking dress with a gigantic tear/seam to fix in it. I guess that would be the easiest way to fix a tear - but that is HUGE.

    Granted - I know that fabric isn't cheap, and that not everybody could afford a new dress, etc. - but, you wouldn't have to buy a new dress to fix it.

    Removing the entire portion with the tear - all the way around - and then replacing it with the same type of seam actually used in the photo - it would just look like a purposeful section of the dress design. UNLESS - that tear happened on the spot before the photo, in which case they may have done a quick job to fix it.

    5) Last thing I promise - I totally agree that the dress must be tucked under the leg to hold the leg up from opening her legs wider.

    But, here is kind of a morbid thought - if she was dead, couldn't you just like, tie the top of her legs together? Morbid, I know - but couldn't you?

    Okay - that's my 2 cents - if it is worth that much at all. :)
  • B0FF0 5y

    I vote 'dead'. Sometimes the clothes would be open at the back for easy removal. All kinds of braces and props were used to hold a corpse up, but a real giveaway for me, is the way her left arm is in that unnatural looking position. Surely she wouldn't be sitting so slouchy-like if she were alive. Her mouth looks stiff. And if she were alive and blind, that wouldn't necessarily affect her posture. Check out photos of Helen Keller! Love these posts!
  • JuJuBean1999 5y

    I think she's dead. First, the eyes...the sunken look of the eyes. You mentioned "dead eyes" and that was what they looked like to me. It's hard to describe but I think it has to do with the fluid in the eyes diminishing. Her eyes look almost flat, if that makes sense.

    Then, the fold in her dress. The first thing I thought -- before I read the comments -- was "Someone has tucked that dress under her leg to keep her leg in position" -- then someone said the very same thing in the comments.

    There are other things. The fact that she is so uniformly pale and her eyes look almost bruised; that's a characteristic you see in post-mortem pictures a lot. Her body position is oddly sprawled for a woman of that era. Women tended to sit very straight for pictures, or lean on their hand, but they didn't sprawl like that.

    I vote dead.
  • flippantfox 5y

    Fascinating comments from everyone...for the record, my vote is that she is dead. As a special education teacher, I can attest to the fact that in that era, the disabled or those committed to an asylum would NOT have had posed photographs taken in a studio, particularly not an individual photo. I also agree that the tucking of her dress is a huge clue that she was dead. My guess would be that this photo was hastily taken to preserve the memory of a loved one who died suddenly, and that just getting an image before burial was more important than meeting the standards of the day.
  • Joy Northrop 4y

    This whole thread was such a fascinating and educational read. 30 months later, I cast my vote that she's dead. It was my initial impression due to the way her left arm is posed as well as her legs, not to mention the bunched-up dress.
  • bettieleetwo 3y

    wow - what an interesting comment stream! The strangest thing I find is the dress. It just doesn't fit right. And they were so particular about dress and appearance during this era. And the pose is odd. We'll never know 100%. What a pretty girl. I do think she is dead.
  • mystiqually 2y

    In reference to "Dead?" above, it looks like it was taken awhile after death. If they took it too late, it wouldn't be hard for them to place a napkin in her hand. It's also quite obvious to me that she is propped but leaning to the right somewhat. They probably had a very hard and arduous time posing her, which is probably why her dress is ruffled on the left, trying to hide part of what's keeping her from leaning left?
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