By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager
1919–1920 proved an adventurous year for Francis Kelsey and his team, and we have been sharing those adventures over the past few months through this blog. Last month, we saw how the adventure began, with a train ride from Detroit to New York City, followed by a sea voyage to England. For the month of September, the team stayed in those locations, wandering from Edinburgh to London.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we continue this journey. In early October 1919, the team was still in England, finishing up some travels there. On October 10, they are in London, and they move south to Folkestone, near Dover. From there, Kelsey, Swain, and others board ships to cross the Channel. They arrive in Boulogne, France, and quickly make their way to Paris. While in Paris, we get glimpses of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Arc de Triomphe, and of life on the streets. Swain captured a garbage wagon, a woman sweeping, a fish stand on the street, and a flower pushcart. Daily life as it happened in Paris 1919. And time for sightseeing.
After a few days in Paris, they move on to Meaux, Chateau-Thierry, Rheims. They see through cathedrals, bridges, and various structures along the way. And they get reminders of the recent past. Ruined houses and debris. Homes “pitted with bullets.” Wrecked towns, wrecked factories, a wrecked armored car, wrecked forests and trees. Swain sees French soldiers, German prisoners eating soup and clearing rubbish, a war cemetery, a German prisoner’s camp, a shell dump, German headquarters.
From Rheims (or Reims), they move to Berry-au-Bac and onto Soissons. In Berry-au-Bac, Swain captures Kelsey and a French officer standing by a German trench. The photo appears odd, as Swain accidentally double-exposed the frame. We see trees superimposed on the photo, and Kelsey’s face is distorted. The hat, the build, and the beard are definitely Kelsey, even without being able to see the face.
Once they have seen the vicinity, the team returns to Paris, where they visit the Louvre and see other monuments throughout the city. While outside Paris, Swain used the Cirkut camera to capture Berry-au-Bac. The Cirkut camera was designed to use special film, and had a spring mechanism that would render panoramic photographs. An earlier “From the Archives” blog entry highlighted a number of these panoramics, as it was used throughout North Africa, Turkey, and Europe.
Throughout it all, Swain took notes on his photographs so he could remember and document them later. He was using several cameras: the Cirkut, a handheld Kodak camera, and a view camera. He had to keep track of all these images somehow. And it is those notes that led to our archival photographs database.
It must have been shocking to see the remains of war and the destruction from the Great War. Due to the ongoing conflict, it was difficult for Americans to visit Europe. And when they did, they found a very different Europe from what they remembered. As noted numerous times in previous blog entries, Swain captured life returning to a new normal. People in the streets making a living. Clearing up the debris. Getting on to new business.
From France, the team would carry on to other parts of Europe. The last entry for October is the 20th, so our next photos will be from November 1919. Those will be presented next month, so be sure to return to see where our adventurers rode off to next!