“Double, double, toil and trouble…”

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is E. Van Patten of Toulon, Illinois.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


“…fire burn and cauldron bubble.”  Sorry, I know the Shakespeare reference is a little rude, but it pops into my head every time I look at this photo.   What especially struck me this time was the setting.  I often note the backdrops in these old photos, but for some reason today my mind wandered off on that topic.  I had to look up the city name since the font is frilly enough I wasn’t sure if it was Toulon or Foulon.  So I learned that Toulon is a small town of about 1300-1400 people, about an hour outside of Peoria.  With respect, it’s not exactly the center of culture and industry these days, and I can only imagine what it was like when this photo was taken (the biggest claim to fame on the town’s website is that Abraham Lincoln passed through in 1858).  And yet there’s that backdrop, suggesting a setting I feel it’s safe to assume has never existed in Toulon.  So why use it?  Why did the photographer offer it, and why did these women choose it?  The world was in the latter part of its thrall to Romanticism, of which this lushly idealized backdrop would seem a prime example, and as such it wouldn’t seem odd since it was in vogue.  (It’s tempting to note that Toulon, Illinois, was named after a town in Tennessee, which was itself named after the town in France.  But to suggest that the photographer was trying to evoke a setting in France is probably over-reaching, especially since such backdrops were common everywhere.)  So why did the women choose it?  Why did these three rather severe looking women decide to portray themselves in this setting of almost sensual beauty?  Perhaps they viewed it as a place of charmed innocence?  Perhaps (and here maybe a costume expert can chime in) they are in mourning, and the setting seemed sufficiently reverent?  Or, of course, perhaps it was the only decent backdrop the photographer had.  I’m not sure why this one particularly stood out to me today.  I could, in theory, go off like this every time I encounter such a backdrop.  Fortunately for you, Gentle Reader, I do not.  🙂

16 comments on ““Double, double, toil and trouble…””

  1. What a somber looking group! Funny how we all look at things differently. I became curious about the relationship of these women – three generations, two, one or not related? The mouths make me think there are common genes. Guess we will never know for certain.

    • Yes, I thought about that, too. I assumed the were relatives, though I couldn’t be certain about their relationships. It almost looks like a demonstration of age progression, what happens to you as you get older, though, of course, it’s three different people, not one.

  2. Yes there is a huge contrast between the backdrop and the witches… oops I meant ladies, maybe they were romantic spinsters..?

  3. Reblogged this on Static Instants and commented:
    Pretty nice, love it Matt!

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