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Lighthouse keeper's turn of century photos called priceless
A discovery of century-old photos by an Apostle Islands lighthouse keeper is being called one of the most significant historical finds in that region’s history. Mike Simonson reports.
There’s the picture of an unknown big-hatted Victorian-dressed woman standing on a rock ledge next to Lake Superior waving to photographer Emmanuel Luick. There’s one of stern-looking mustachioed men mending fishing nets in Bayfield. Apostle Islands History Conservancy’s Bob Mackreth says there are 220 glass plate negatives in all.
“There’s others where he kind of let his artistic side come out. There’s a picture he took, it’s probably in Iron River (Wis.), of a little girl on a swing in front of a house and it really has an Andrew Wyeth feeling to it, the way it’s composed.”
Wyeth is the American realist painter who used hometown scenes and made them into classic art. Luick was a lighthouse keeper on Sand Island for 28 years and was a professional photographer who lived in Iron River during the winter.
He and his wife kept meticulous logs and the negatives all had specific dates. So one seemingly mundane shot of two men pushing wheelbarrows full of clothing turned out to be about the 1905 sinking of the steamship Sevona when seven men perished.
“So you put the picture with the lighthouse records and say “Holy smokes. That’s what he’s doing there. Those are things in that wheelbarrow, he’s not pushing laundry, he’s got the stuff that washed ashore from the ship.”
Mackreth says they’re raising money to develop the negatives and display them at the Bayfield Heritage Association.
“I wish I could talk to Mr. Luick and say “Hey, we got your stuff back out in public for you. I kind of feel like the ghost of Emmanuel Luick is looking over my shoulder.”
The pictures, taken between 1900 and 1906, were discovered at an estate sale. He won’t say how much they paid to get them.
“(laughs) It’s priceless. It’s priceless.”
You can view the pictures by going to www.wpr.org.
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