Making conversation with a ghost

In the introduction to his book Wheeling Through Europe, young W. E. Garrison implied that prior to his summer trips through England and central Europe he had bicycled from the east coast to the Midwest. Confirmation of these earlier travels can be seen in a letter that the twenty-four year old graduate student wrote to his father, J. H. Garrison, an editor, publisher, and church leader in St. Louis.

In this extensive report of one of the most memorable incidents on young Garrison’s English travels, he refers to cycling trips he had done in previous summers: 1895, New Haven to Terre Haute, Indiana; 1896, tour through Wisconsin; 1897, Boston to Chicago. The heading of this letter can be seen below.

To read the letter, click Letter to Father 8-23-98:

The Garrison papers (deposited in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville, Tennessee) also contain additional examples of his photography. A note in the Garrison files indicates that he not only exposed the film but also developed it. The two prints in this column demonstrate his interest in special effects. Friend and colleague Don Haymes, historian and archivist at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, wrote this comment when he saw these prints:

“Double exposures” are easy enough to make with an older camera—just don’t advance the film or take out the plate and replace it. Most of them were accidents—products of haste—but an artist might make a double exposure deliberately, with some planning and forethought. WEG could have photographed the scene, almost surely with the camera securely mounted on a tripod or some sort of steady base, then increased the shutter speed and set a timer to activate the shutter. He could also have done it in the darkroom, with some artful “dodging” of the human figure or by carefully superimposing two frames.  Nowadays the adept have Photoshop, and can place you in this scene making conversation with a ghost . . . but the learning curve is much more steep.

When we consider the weight of the camera and tripod, not to mention the rest of the gear he likely carried, we renew our respect for WEG’s physical strength and fortitude. We may wonder how many tires he may have mended on that winding road.

As a bicyclist-photographer, Garrison continued a tradition that had been well-established a few years earlier by Frank Lentz who in 1892 embarked upon a trip around the world and then mysteriously disappeared. In his book about Lenz, David V. Herlihy publishes a studio pose of Lenz with bicycle and camera on tripod. The Garrison photos in my column today display his bicycle and gear, both of which will be discussed in later columns.

At this point, it is enough to say that the bicycle probably weighed between twenty-two and twenty-five pounds, which is lighter than many touring bicycles in use today. It can be inferred from the letter that this bicycle was a new model, purchased shortly before the trip. Graduate student that we was, Garrison seemed to have cash on hand not only for the bicycle, but also for the steamer to London and hotels throughout his two-month cycle tour.

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