Just a moment to write to you before I fall down from exhaustion.
Who ever said that Florida was warm and comfortable in the winter time never
slept in an 1857 photographer's "What's It Wagon." The temperature slipped to
38 degrees Fahrenheit one of the nights this past weekend and duplicated it
several times more over the three days I was "out standing in my field" so to
I have learned several techniques for keeping as warm as possible. One,
maintain an oil light throughout the evening in the wagon and pray that one
doesn't immolate one's self. Two, put a gum blanket underone's feather
mattress to keep out the dampness, place two wool blankets over one's body
and another gum blanket on top to again avoid settling dampness. Wear a night
shirt and cap, plus stockings. Pray that nature doesn't call to cause one to
have to get out of the wagon in the middle of the night to water the trees.
Business was brisk from first light to "can't see" in the afternoon. I was
graciously treated to fresh farm eggs and grits for two mornings by a fine
fellow named Ray Eanes who also loaned me his banjo to entertain the
passersby and I acted as my own "drummer" as salesmen of the period were
My apprentice, Doug Tittle set up the camp each morning with the 18"x20"
banquet camera and the 6.5"x8.5" camera with the French rack and pinion brass
housed lens with waterhouse stops. Finished pictures were set out to show off
our wares. The most marvelous one to be seen at this event was one I took
recently of "Three Ladies of Easy Virtue." They appeared only in their
underpinnings and would have been a scandal to be blatantly shown to the
general public. The gold framed image was discreetly covered with a black
cloth and tantalizingly revealed to gents willing to part with a dime for the
Meals throughout the day were catch as catch can. Fortunately we had some
chocolate chip cookies to munch on. There were several sutlers selling
saspirilla so our thirst was quenched. We did not touch the hard stuff that
can cause a photographer to lose his focus so to speak.
As troops headed towards the battle I stood on the side lines and hollered
out, "Get your image struck before you die! Last chance this side the pearly
gates!" I have used this hawking cry for years and it never fails to make the
men think and those that can always find time to stand in front of my lens,
providing they survive the battle to search me out later.
There were about a thousand soldiers on hand. The Rebels far out numbered the
Yankees as per usual so in an attempt to make the battle appear more
realistic a number of Confederates "galvanized" to Union blue. Fifty or more
cavalry engaged in sword to sword attack before skirmishers emerged on both
sides from the woods. The battle on Saturday and Sunday lasted about an hour
and a half. The Union remained in charge of the field on Saturday and the
Rebels were victorious Sunday.
As I have friends on both sides I walked through both camps calling out,
"Preserve the image, err the flesh doth fade! Life is transitory and we are
all like shadows upon the stage." Business was steady and all agreed that a
picture for the home would be a good idea. Even British observer Lt. Col
Fremantle of His Majesty's Royal Army had friends sit for an image.
Today I spent mostly recovering from my previous three days efforts and
working with my negatives. I will write more as soon as I am able.
Sincerely, your correspondent on the trail, Fritz Kirsch