Pictures of … ?

Multnomah Station Audubon Society Making a Bird Bath, May, 1915.

Multnomah Station Audubon Society Making a Bird Bath, May, 1915.


One of the biggest issues historians face wen it comes to old photos is context – who is in the photo, what are they doing, when was the photo taken, where was the photo taken. The more contextual information we have about the photo, the more historically valuable it is. Historians call photos without context “pictures of dead people.” That’s not a tasteless joke, it’s really what we call them, because without context, that’s all they are. Not much makes an historian happier than discovering context for an old photo.

In 2011 Mary Beamer was kind enough to let us scan some photos that belonged to her grandfather, Multnomah pioneer Tom Hawley, lumberyard owner and postmaster. One of the photos was the one above, a bunch of people looking into the top of a stump. It was totally without context, we didn’t know who the people were, what they were doing, where or when the picture was taken.

Monday, I was looking through old Oregonian newspaper articles mentioning “Multnomah Station” at University of Oregon’s Historic Oregon Newspapers website, when I came across a familiar photo in the May 6, 1915 Sunday Oregonian:

Oregonian Article, May 6, 1915: Multnomah Station Audubon Society Making a Bird Bath.

Oregonian Article, May 6, 1915: Multnomah Station Audubon Society Making a Bird Bath.


As an Historian, this is really exciting, because it’s the kind of thing you occasionally hear about, but that never happens to you.

The text of the article:

An Audubon Society was organized April 26 at Multnomah Station by Mamie E. Campbell, under the auspices of the Parent-Teacher Circle. The pupils had become much interested in the study of birds from hearing Dr. C. F. Hodge’s lecture Friday night. April 23, on “Making the Most of Our Bird Life.”

Dr. Hodge helped some of the children make a concrete bird bath in the top of a large stump on the school grounds. The birds will enjoy this water supply during the warm weather.
Superintendent Alderman Wednesday morning gave the pupils an Interesting talk about the birds. The purple finch, rusty song sparrow, chickadee, chipping sparrow and several others could be heard singing in the trees on the grounds.

One meeting a month will be held and tramps will be taken through the country to study the birds, plants, and trees.

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