Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mystery of Woodburn Photo Albums has Bike Mystery

Since they are lost photo albums, it seems all too likely that there is some element of tragedy behind an otherwise pleasant mystery in the paper today.

Capi Lynn writes:
Val Springer rediscovered the box in her garage not long ago. Inside were five large photo albums.

She intended to track down the family whose lives are chronicled on the pages, but didn’t know where to begin and never got around to it.

So she asked for my help.

I’ve had success reuniting people with family keepsakes — some 1930s letters between a father and daughter, a World War II service flag with the names of three brothers handwritten on it, and a World War II veteran’s wallet with precious family snapshots inside.

These albums deserve a home, too.
You can find more images and clues in the article. What is most interesting here are the bikes.

Two of the images they reproduce show bikes identified as circa 1897. They both show a woman, and even though she has a skirt, she appears to have a bike with a top tube, not a step-through. In one of them a man on her left does have a step-through.

Is this evidence of a moment before frame geometry was gendered? Is this evidence that the family or group didn't ride the bikes and instead were using them as props to show a kind of up-to-dateness? Bikes were expensive at this time, and still represented advanced transportation technology.

(click to enlarge for detail)
Are two of these in the photo below?

(detail of a photo of a photo on an angle in an album)
If these are the same two people, they've switched bikes
The bikes and seats also look rather tall. So what is going on?

"The Scorcher" sheet music - step-through
by George Rosey, via Johns Hopkins Library
Most of the representation of women with bikes at this time show step-through frames. (See Francis E. Willard's book, for example. More on scorching here.) Especially when skirts are involved. Bloomers seemed to be necessary to ride with a frame having a top tube.

Cosmopolitan, August 1895 with step-through
(more conveniently extracted here)
Maybe this is nothing, or maybe it's a detail of significance. Maybe others have written about it, and I've missed it, having uncritically accepted a gendered narrative about the step-through. (The gear/technology side of bike history has not been of great interest.) It's a question and there might be more to say later!

Hopefully also there will be a happy ending to the mystery of the albums' ownership.

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