The Stilson photo collection spans ages, races and economic spheres. His journal records photographs of “J J Gill Board of Health City Hall Leigh St School” and giving 25 cents “to help bury a colored man.” His Ida Cauthorn, 1207 Brook” series reflects the lifestyle of a wealthy woman in contrast to barefooted children and one man whose photo Harry labeled straight from the Bible: “Take up thy bed and walk.” The man, evicted, or simply moving without benefit of wagon, alongside shots of professionals, black and white, illustrate the various income levels and races of Harry Stilson’s subjects.

Ida Cauthorn's drawing room, 1207 Brook Ave/Rd

Ida Cauthorn’s drawing room, 1207 Brook Ave/Rd

Take Up Thy Bed and Walk

      I spent countless hours researching this obviously non-Caucasian man (below)  in several images wearing a streetcar conductor’s uniform. My sources were sure that African Americans didn’t have streetcar jobs so who was he? Finally, I read a post card that Harry sent his sister describing life as a single dad. He ends by saying “Don and Nita are away to visit an Indian woman who did live second door (sic), her husband a street car man and good neighbors. Wish I could say same of all whites.” Harry’s reference to his children’s visit solved the ethnic question of the dark-skinned man but I still can’t find his name. Hopefully my Nancy Drew efforts will succeed and one day I will know his identity.

Indian streetcar conductor & Stilson neighbor

Harry captured all ages in his images, from “grandma Morris” to “pictures of Willie and Sadie Alberson with baby boy 22 days old.” His collection includes several hundred unidentified babies and his journal notes sales to proud parents whose children HARRY knew but I will never be able to match with their pictures. He was really intrigued by twins. These little girls on Marshall Street posed with Harry’s grandchildren but also showed off their riding skills. His collection included blonde twins, Jewish twins, African-American twins. He obviously liked multiples.

Twins on Marshall Street, Jackson Ward

In my first book, I stated that Harry would have “loved the technology” of today. It’s true. His early “Photo-shopping” versions are evidence of that. His self-portraits, “miniatures” and other work are also proof. The ability to see babies BEFORE they’re born, utilizing ultrasounds, would had thrilled him. He photographed his children and grandchildren obsessively. Knowing his interest in twins, I can only imagine his excitement if somehow (time travel?) he could see his great-great- granddaughter’s ultrasound from a few weeks ago. My daughter Anne and her husband David are expecting TRIPLETS. What an amazing photographic opportunity! Think of the possibilities! Like I said, Harry would be over the moon. As am I. I only hope my feeble efforts to capture our triplets as they grow will be up to Harry’s standards. Nah…give him a digital camera and he’d do better. But that won’t stop me. You think the Harry Stilson collection of over 3,000 photos is impressive? Wait ‘til you see mine.

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