Mystery Photo No. 9

Photo 9: An unknown man and woman pose with a child. One would presume it is a family. The photo was taken around 1895.

MOUNT VERNON -- Once a month, we feature a pair of vintage cabinet card photographs taken in Knox County which do not have names identifying the people in the pictures. They were all taken by photographers who had studios in Mount Vernon. Cabinet cards were a popular format for sharing photos in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

We've recently been featuring some photographs taken at an establishment called the Star & Crescent Art Gallery, but have not been able to identify just who this mystery photographer was. This month we get at least one step closer by identifying who it was not, thanks to a tip from my old Mount Vernon News colleague Terry Gardner.

After last month's pictures were posted, Terry noted that the Star & Crescent's stated address rang a distant bell in his memory about the Guy E. Lipps photography studio, which used to be at the corner of West Gambier and Mulberry Streets. Terry recommended that I go in search of a Looking Glass article that the News published. After some digging, I found the article in question, from the 1998 edition of the Looking Glass, an annual publication of local history articles that the Mount Vernon News did for many years.

The article, by Christopher Blackburn, concerns the studio. It traced the history of this family business back to an interesting character named Fannie Simmonds. Her father, George Simmonds, was born in England and emigrated to the United States in 1872, according to the 1880 census. He first located himself in Martinsburg, working as a house painter, and married a local woman. Fannie was born in 1875, along with three siblings, though only her brother Johnnie survived into adulthood. The family moved to Mount Vernon by 1880.

According to the Looking Glass article, which was based on interviews with relatives, Fannie's father announced when she was 13 that she needed to choose a career. He recommended that she either become a seamstress or that she investigate the new technology of photography. She chose the later.

Mystery Photo No. 10

Photo 10: A washed out photograph of a middle-aged woman and three children, taken around 1895 at the Star & Crescent Art Gallery in downtown Mount Vernon.

Her father purchased her some equipment, and she began practicing. By the time she was 19 or 20, she was ready to go into business professionally, so George Simmonds moved the family to 102 Gambier Street, right on the corner with Mulberry Street, and opened a shop where Fannie was the resident photographer, and George and John could operate the father's house painting business, which also sold paint retail.

A funny family story is that Fannie was notoriously feisty. One time a customer entered the studio with a complaint about the photograph Fannie had taken of her. Fannie took the photo out of the customer's hand and flung it into the fireplace! She married a man named William Lucas, but he eventually disappears from the picture. Fannie never had any kids, so when she was ready to retire in 1952, she handed it off to her neice, Nina, who was married to Guy E. Lipps. The business name was changed from Simmonds Studio to Guy E. Lipps Photographers, which remained the official moniker as it was passed down through the family. Today known as Lipps Studio, the business is still in operation on Granville Road.

Knowing that a long-running photographer was established at 102 Gambier Street, we had a definite hit with the Star & Crescent Art Gallery, which shows that same address on some of its cabinet cards. But the problem that quickly emerged is that not all of the Star & Crescent's card show that address. Some show 137 S Main, as well, which was never the location of Fannie Simmonds studio. And considering that Fannie must have been a good photographer to make her business work even in spite of her feisty personality, that doesn't seem to be a good fit with the Star & Crescent photos, which are tentative in technique.

As discussed in earlier installments of this series, we know that the well-established Armer Elliott was a successful early photographer in Mount Vernon. His studio was on South Main Street, but he retired in the 1890s. His successor at that address was not J. H. Burkholder nor his partner E. E. Shoemaker, who both worked out of a studio on the square. So, it may be that our mystery photographer purchased Armer Elliott's studio operation on South Main Street and jumped into the business without much experience or technique. Having trouble making a success of it, this photographer moved his or her operation to what was probably cheaper rent at 102 Gambier Street, but continued to struggle.

It was most likely this mystery photographer who soon decided to get out of the business entirely and sold his studio — already adapted with a skylight for lighting pictures without requiring the use of flash powder — to George Simmonds. Fannie Simmonds was able to make the business one which would last until the present day. We'll have to keep searching for the mystery photographer's identity.

So, without any identifications of last month's people, we move on to two more mystery photographs, this time featuring family groups. Please share these photos far and wide, in hopes that someone will recognize them.

Photo #9 features what is presumably a pair of parents and their child. The man looks feisty, though not without humor. The woman has a grimly bemused half-smile with pursed lips. The little girl looks resigned to enduring the adults' lively personalities as best she can.

Photo #10, one of the most poorly executed pictures of the collection, shows a woman with three children. The backdrop details are completely washed out, and the children's faces only fared slightly better. Best is the face of the little girl, who looks a little skeptical about this whole photo sitting process.

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