Monday, March 2, 2015

Like a Train Wreck

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

             If you’ve ever rubbernecked at a car crash, you’re probably not alone.  Curiosity and schadenfreude are, after all, perfectly natural human emotions.  It’s not even that weird to whip out your cell phone, take photos and tweet all about it.  Tacky?  Yes, but weird? No.  After all, people have been taking and sharing disaster photos for over a hundred years.

            In 1903, the Eastman Kodak company came out with the No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, a camera which used special postcard-sized film so that photographers could print their own postcards without having to crop the image.  In 1907, Kodak began offering ‘real photo postcards.’  This allowed anyone to have any of their photos printed on a mail-able card.   Now, people could easily mail baby photos to grandparents.   Now they could share their awesome disaster photographs.

            On May 8, 1911, a Lehigh Valley Railroad train derailed in Breeseport.  Locals flocked to the site to provide assistance and gawk.  Some enterprising soul took and sold real photo postcards of the wreck.   Sarah of Horseheads wrote to her cousin in Missouri in June on the back of one, catching her up on family news and sharing the details of the crash. 
Postcards sent by Sarah of the May 8, 1911 wreck
Another postcard of the May 8, 1911 wreck

            It was a similar story when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Express No. 11 collided with a passenger train just outside Corning on July 4, 1912.  41 people were killed in the crash and for days after people swarmed the site looking for victims and souvenirs.  And taking photos. 


1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that the collection of old photos is among the most valuable in the whole museum collection. Thank you.