By MARY GALES ASKREN, Editor of the Madison Daily
MADISON, SD (AP) — DeLon Mork and John Hess joke like they’ve known each other their whole lives.
“I haven’t seen the ‘picture’ I bought yet,” Mork said. “I think he’s holding me hostage.”
Mork says this while looking at a black-and-white computer printout of a photograph. Hess saw the picture of the cabinet advertised on eBay and couldn’t match the $250 sale price. His lower offer was rejected.
“Then he came crawling towards me,” Mork continued, in the same teasing vein.
“We slept on it, then I bought it. All the story nerds are excited,” Hess said, continuing the story.
The pair were talking about a photo of Madison they believe was taken around 1900. Smudged and mottled with torn edges, measuring approximately 4 x 6 inches, the photo shows a nearly treeless community with a scattering of homes. SD-34 is nothing more than a one-lane track, the Madison Daily Leader reported.
“It’s almost like the birth of a city. We see the very beginning,” Hess said.
Looking at the grainy print, Mork first teases Hess about practicing this line, then asks where the Dairy Queen would be. Hess points to an area that appears to be nothing more than muddy ground in the photo.
“We’ve been at this place for 58 years and seen a lot of changes,” Mork said. “Nice to see Madison before that.”
In the background, against a hazy horizon, stands Beadle Hall. This building and a men’s dormitory located near the current site of the Tunheim classroom building were used to date the cabinet photo.
Pulling out the book published by Dakota State University to celebrate the 125th anniversary, Hess explained his deductive process. Beadle Hall was built in 1886. East Hall, not pictured, was built in 1901.
“We know it’s between 1886 and 1901,” he said. “The men’s dormitory disappeared and the women’s gymnasium was built in 1910.”
The nature of the photo, as well as the image, also helps date the image. Cabinet pictures were introduced in the 1860s and were already losing popularity by the 1890s. They eventually died out before World War I.
Typically, cabinet photos consisted of a sepia photograph—the tone resulting from the process used to produce a print from a negative—on paper affixed to cardboard. They were called cabinet pictures because they were frequently displayed in cabinets. Initially, Hess did not know where the photograph was taken. However, working backwards from Beadle Hall, he was able to locate several other houses that are still standing.
“What I think is interesting is how many of them are gone,” he said.
In doing so, he was able to determine that the photograph was taken from the top of the Lake County Courthouse. Since the current courthouse was not built until 1934, the photo of the cabinet would have been taken from the original courthouse, a two-story structure with a brick veneer, cut stone foundation and a large cupola on the roof.
Hess did not just make this inference. He wanted a contemporary photo to show how Madison has changed in the decades since.
In order to get this into much the same perspective, Hess reached out to Lake County Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Dave Hare. Hess reports that Hare intends to ask Chief Deputy Sarina Talich, a professional photographer, to get a photo of the same sighting site.
Still buoyed by the excitement of having found the photograph and locating where it was taken from, Hess knocked on the door of one of the historic homes visible in the photograph. He didn’t know the owner and can’t remember the owner’s name, but wanted to show him the photo.
“It’s probably the oldest photo of this house you’ll ever see,” Hess told the retired farmer. The man now wants a copy of the photo to display at his home.
Meanwhile, Mork also plans to post an enlargement of the cabinet photo in the DQ, where he and Hess met. Hess was 15 and worked for Mork’s father, and Mork was 13 and just beginning to learn the ropes.
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