Friday, September 25, 2020

Pictures from Wonderland

First—thanks to Roxanne C, for your comment last week. Contact me at I know you mentioned you had a copy of the book you won. Let’s see what else I can find you.

The heroine of A Distance Too Grand, Meg Pero, is a photographer, specializing in stereographs, those double pictures that allowed people to approximate three-dimensions in her time. But when I was researching Yellowstone National Park for the second book in my American Wonders Collection, Nothing Short of Wondrous, I discovered another early photographer had made his mark there.

Frank Jay Haynes was born in Michigan in 1853. He didn’t do well at his first profession, traveling salesman, so, when he went to live with family in Wisconsin, he took the opportunity to apprentice as a photographer. F. Jay opened his own studio in 1876 in Moorhead, Minnesota. But he wasn’t content to stay there. It seems that traveling part of his salesman’s job stayed with him throughout his life.

Less than a year later, he started taking his equipment on the road, traveling via stagecoach from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Deadwood, South Dakota, taking pictures of the scenery and the people along the way. The next year, he traveled from Bismarck to the Pacific Ocean and followed that up with a tour down and up the Missouri River. His pictures made excellent prints, postcards, and, yes, stereographs.

Perhaps because his popularity was growing, he won a contract with the Northern Pacific Railroad to take publicity shots along the line to Bismarck. With a free pass to ride any train, he could go where he liked, when he liked. Along the way, he met then Yellowstone superintendent Philetus Norris, who invited him to come tour Wonderland and photograph its scenic beauty. During his two months in the park in 1881, F. Jay shot more than 200 pictures. And he came back the next year to shoot more.

Again, his stature grew, to the point that, in August 1883, he was chosen to accompany President Arthur in touring Yellowstone and serve as the official photographer. He still found time to photograph the golden spike ceremony of the Northern Pacific in Montana. But Yellowstone had so impressed him that he applied for and won a concession to be the park’s first official photographer. His studio opened in 1884.

But Yellowstone was only really accessible from May through September. What do to the rest of the year? F. Jay purchased a Pullman car from the Northern Pacific and refitted it as a traveling studio, calling it the Palace Studio Car. He traveled all over the west for the next 20 years in that car, taking pictures of local places and local folks. He was part of the one of the first winter tours of Yellowstone in 1886 and photographed the journey from my native Tacoma to Glacier Bay, Alaska, in 1891 for the Puget Sound and Alaska Steamship Company.

When he passed away in 1921, his son Jack, who had been helping him, inherited his business and carried on the tradition until his death in 1962.

And if you’d like to experience a little of Yellowstone, hop over the Goodreads, where you can enter a giveaway of a print copy of Nothing Short of Wondrous, due out October 20, 2020. 

Picture perfect!

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