Auction Finds

1917 Army camp photo by Henry M. Beach

The black and white photo was magnificent in both its expansiveness and the history it captured. Through the dirty and dusty glass frame, I could see long rows of horses tied to wooden fences. Just beyond the animals, stretching from one end of the panoramic view to the other, were even more rows of Army tents that from a distance looked like teepees.

In one single shot, a photographer had documented a seemingly calm moment in the life of a U.S. military camp just past the dawn of the 20th century. It was a photo of the “15th U.S. Field Artillery. Pine Camp, NY,” according to an inscription written at the bottom, and was shot by “H.M. Beach, Fort Plain, NY.”

Henry M. Beach 1917 Army camp photo

An up-close view of the center of the photo of the 15th Artillery camp by Henry M. Beach.

The photo had no date, but I learned that the Army’s 15th Field Artillery Regiment was organized in June 1917 in Syracuse, NY. The soldiers were assigned to Pine Camp in September 1917, where they trained, and were shipped out to Europe in December 1917. So the image was likely shot in late 1917.

The framed 38″ long photo was propped against a wall behind several other prints at the auction house. It was newly placed in that spot because I had previewed the sale the day before, and it was not there. It stood behind another photo I actually had seen the day before – a group shot of men in military uniforms with the inscription “York Convention, June 9, 10, 11, 12 – 1920.”

Henry M. Beach 1917 Army photo

An up-close view of the left side of Henry M. Beach's photo of the 15th Field Artillery camp.

The photos were sold as a pair at the auction, probably because they both were filthy and may have had some damage. I went tit-for-tat with another auction-goer for them, but he finally backed down. He apparently knew, too, that the crème de la crème of the lot was the photo by Beach. I did not recognize the photographer’s name but I understood the significance of the image.

Born in 1863 in Lowville, NY, Henry M. Beach had been a photographer for 20 years before he shifted his focus to producing real-photo postcards. During the early 20th century, he recorded life in the Adirondack Mountains area in upstate New York primarily as a post-card photographer.

Henry M. Beach 1917 Army photo

An up-close view of the right side of Henry M. Beach's photo of the 15th Field Artillery camp.

He and others like him took pictures of people, places, buildings, community events and news stories, and printed them on postcards to sell. Beach was said to be one of the most prolific, producing thousands of postcards. He sold most of them in bulk to such retail outlets as hotels and tourist shops. He also sold to private citizens, who paid a little more for his custom-made cards.

“Beach photographed dandy visitors at play as well as manual laborers sweating in the forest, logging camps, factories, mines, and construction sites. Images of ‘great camps’ sit next to modest abodes, small stores, and family-owned resorts. Pictures of trains in scenic surroundings give way to mangled wrecks after tragic railroad accidents,” according to an amazon.com synopsis of a 2003 book “Vernacular: The Photography of Henry M. Beach” by Robert Bogdan.

Henry M. Beach 1917 Army photo

A full view of Henry M. Beach's panoramic photo of the 15th Field Artillery camp.

A collection of 53 of Beach’s photographs of campsites in the Adirondacks are in the Syracuse University Library. He also shot studio portraits.

Beach apparently was not as well known as another Adirondacks photographer who preceded him, Seneca Ray Stoddard, who shot most of his works during the 19th century.

I found a Beach photo on the web similar to the one from the auction. Located in the Library of Congress, it showed a scene of soldiers shooting at targets at the U.S. Rifle Range on Glassy Mountain, circa 1918. You can see others of Beach’s works here and here.

 

 

 

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