Vintage Snapshots

the wondrous world of vernacular photography

Category: Water



circa 1960s (click to enlarge)

Light Waves

Odd vintage photo with strange light effect over people pictured in surf

1920s beach scene (click to enlarge)

Summer is about here.

East of Los Angeles: Early Hiking in the San Gabriels

Vintage snapshot of a group of men and women in the San Gabriel Mountains, east of L.A.

A day in the San Gabriel Mountains, c 1908 (click to enlarge)

The San Gabriel Mountains begin north and east of the city of Los Angeles and range for over 60 miles, reaching a height of just over 10,000 feet at their highest point, Mt. San Antonio (better known as Mt. Baldy). Living in L.A. I often come across images taken on Mt. Wilson — the nearest large peak to the city and home to an Observatory as early as 1908 — and in the various nearby canyons, which have long attracted hikers. This circa 1908 shot shows one well-dressed group, and also has a rather charming approach to its border that I have not seen very often.

The San Gabriel Mountains are still quite rugged if you venture far enough into them, and are notable for remaining geologically active: they actually are said to be growing at a rate of 2 inches per year. As Wikipedia points out, “various faults crisscross the range, making it one of the steepest and fastest-growing ranges in the world. Plate tectonic activity breaks up most rock, making it unsuitable for rock climbing.”

Indeed, an interesting article on the history of the mountains on local public TV station KCET’s website observes that “although they don’t soar as high as the Sierra Nevada nor offer the same diversity of flora and fauna, the San Gabriels’ steep escarpments and deep ravines can challenge experienced adventurers. Even such a tireless trekker as John Muir met his match in the mountains. After an 1877 hike above Eaton Canyon, Muir described the San Gabriels as the place where ‘Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage.’ Chaparral provided the greatest nuisance — the prickly brush reduced Muir to crawling on his hands and knees for at least a mile — but the rugged terrain also merited a complaint. ‘The slopes are exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot of the explorer, however great his strength or skill may be,’ he wrote.”

Given the way the group in the photo is dressed, one can only assume they avoided sampling too much of that aspect of the mountains.

Into the Void

Fantastic vintage snapshot of two people at Laguna Beach, California, 1944

Beach reverie, 1944

This is labeled “Laguna ’44” on the back, for Laguna Beach, CA. Thanks to the keen-eyed Mike Conger for gifting this amazing shot — an estate sale find, I believe — to me yesterday.

City Views: The 1937 Cincinnati Flood

Vintage photo of the 1937 Cincinnati flood, when the water was at a level of 72.8 feet

Cincinnati flood waters just short of their maximum height, January 1937

In what has been called the “worst natural disaster ever to strike Cincinnati–and the Ohio River Valley,” the Ohio River flooded (from about Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois) for ten days in 1937, causing a loss of almost 400 lives (though only one in Cincinnati itself) – as well as, in today’s dollars, $7.8 billion of property damage. published an absorbing article on the event in January of this year – the flood’s 75th anniversary. The piece recounts the local library’s request for photos of the disaster, and says that they expected about 200 photos, but ended up receiving more than 700.

“Families that weathered this disaster squirreled away images of the rampaging river, of houses upturned, of people waiting in line for hours for some safe water to drink. They preserved these memories in their mind’s eye and on film. Some could only save the mental images. Not everyone could afford a camera in the middle of the Great Depression. But, they could remember. And, as these stories have been passed down from generation to generation, they have not been forgotten.”

Inscription on rear of vintage snapshot detailing how far the Cincinnati flood waters had risen

The inscription on the rear; the water would eventually reach 79.99 feet

Indeed, the article contains several eye-witness accounts from people still alive who retain vivid memories of the ice-cold water (it even snowed during the flood), months spent living elsewhere while homes and businesses dried out, and the fire that occurred on what is called “Black Sunday,” when gasoline storage tanks were knocked over by rushing water and a fire was ignited by a spark from a short circuit.

“Black, toxic smoke choked the air. Factories and houses in the beleaguered neighborhood burned to the water level. Telephone service and electricity stopped. The water works shut down. Natural gas lines were turned off. The city want dark, except for the flames burning into the night. More than 100,000 Greater Cincinnatians were homeless.”

As 79-year-old Lou Jacobs recalled, “It was miserable in Northside during the flood. The water was a filthy mix of oil and sewage and dead carcasses. It stunk. But that did not stop people from coming down to get their feet wet to take pictures.”

98-year-old Dan Henry lives in California and is another who remembers the flood – and may have had a better view of it than just about anybody. He was a pilot who took to the air to capture images for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and was shocked at the devastation he saw. He took the photo below of Crosley Field, the baseball stadium of the Reds at the time. The field had had sand placed on it before the waters came, and was rather amazingly ready for the start of the season a little over two months later.

Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds, during the 1937 flood

Crosley Field filled with water during the 1937 flood (Photo: Dan Henry)

Lou Jacobs remembered his parents returning to their clothing store some time after the waters receded. The shop would stay open for another fifty years, and “from time to time we tried painting the walls…But every time we did, the paint would peel off. Those walls got so wet in The Flood, they never dried.”

And in a reminder of how times have changed, Jacobs also recalls that drinking water was rationed for months afterwards, so he and other kids were sent down to the river each day to collect water in bottles to use to flush the toilet. “Nobody worried about us little kids being kidnapped…It was the Great Depression. People had too many kids of their own.”


Vintage photo of a person diving into a lake, circa 1905

Diver, circa 1905 (click to enlarge)

Vintage photos of people diving (or sometimes just jumping) into pools or lakes or other bodies of water are not all that uncommon, but the last post’s sort of poetic, distant view, and the one above, are a little more interesting than most, I think. Also note the person at right watching.

The Waning Days of Summer

Vintage photo of person leaping from New Jersey bridge, circa 1910s, while their friends look on

Township Bridge, Palmyra, New Jersey (circa 1918)

City Views: Corpus Christi, Texas

Vintage photo of Corpus Christi, Texas in 1930

Peoples and Schatzel Streets, Corpus Christi, 1930 (click to enlarge)

This shot is dated February 11, 1930, notes the streets on the back and also mentions “Bay in background” – and you can indeed see it if you enlarge the photo enough. A quick check online reveals that unfortunately nothing in this photo seems to exist today. The block in the middle is open space, and the surrounding streets are occupied by the typical contemporary mishmash of larger buildings. Another step “forward” in American urban planning.


Vintage photo of a young boy and girl leaping over a sprinkler

…and the livin’ is easy.

Given how hot it has been in a lot of places recently, I thought this was an appropriate shot – and quite beautiful in several respects, including how their front legs match up almost perfectly.

And since we are talking about summertime:

A Happy Mistake

Vintage photo of a dog jumping out of the frame, circa 1920s

Up in the Air, circa 1920s

Or at least I assume this result was not exactly what they were trying to achieve. If they were, more power to them. It is sort of a particularly well-composed shot as it stands, and is one of my favorite images at the moment. It makes me at least wonder, though, how many digital photos today may end up being deleted should they at first glance appear something of a mistake.

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