Variations On A Theme

The picture above is a photograph, circa 1906, titled “Sunset From the Battery, New York.” In other words, the photographer was in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and looking south and west. I was surprised to learn that it is just barely possible that this was originally a color photograph, as the Autochrome Lumière process was patented in 1903. More likely it was a black and white photo that was hand-tinted. The rays of light coming from the Statue of Liberty’s torch are particularly suspicious. Here’s a likely candidate for the original:

The boat placement and clouds seem identical. It’s possible, of course, that there were two cameras side by side, one taking black and white, and one taking color, but the color version seems modified, even if we forget how the torch’s rays are missing from the black and white version. The angle (of both) also suggests someone standing on the ground in the park.

Here’s a view of Battery Park itself, looking west, with the foot of the Hudson River and New Jersey:

The angle suggests it was taken from a window or roof of a building on State Street, possibly at the (then) new Customs House. Castle Clinton was the Aquarium then, with the now-gone upper floor and roof; and Pier A (the one at a 45-degree angle) is the only other visible structure that still remains. The island at the upper left is Ellis Island before landfill created the south side of the island. The Statue of Liberty is not visible, out of frame off to the left. I didn’t find a likely original for this shot, but here’s a roughly similar view, looking a bit more to the south:

That might have been taken from the Whitehall Building. Here, Ellis Island is out of frame off to the right. For a better contemporaneous view of the Statue of Liberty:

That had to be taken either from a boat or from Brooklyn using a telephoto lens.

The Detroit Publishing Company produced thousands of these touristy photographs of famous landmarks all over the country, as well as thousand of shots of much-less-famous buildings. In an era before the internet, before TV and movie travelogues, before picture magazines, and before newspapers carried many pictures, their catalog was an inexpensive way to see the world.

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