The Great Snowball Fight of 1916 — (Maybe)!

This month’s image is an enlarged detail from a glass plate negative, measuring 4 by 5 inches, that came tucked in a strip of folded scrap paper with the handwritten title “School children at play.” It was included in a box with 37 other negatives, a list of titles, and stored in the Snohomish Historical Society Archives with no other information. The image of the Gorham home and family, shared with you last month, was included, and it may be a clue linking the collection of photographic plates to the first publisher/owner of the Snohomish County Tribune.

Kodak ContestThe Eastman Dry Plate Company began manufacturing prepared plates in 1880 and they were still available into the 1920s when finally overwhelmed by the ease of using a Kodak Camera: “You press the button – we do the rest.” Photographic plates remained in use for astronomical photography into the 1980s when replaced by “charge-coupled devices” – better known as CCD cameras.

Today, any point-and-shoot camera can freeze a playground snowball fight without a trace of the motion. Fortunately, for most of us, no snow has fallen before going to press in order to make my point. Besides, who knows where this historic snowball battle took place?

As to the when, the image may be further photographic evidence of the excitement around documenting the record snowstorm of 1916, that I have written about in the past. Even today, a snowfall of any amount brings out our urge to capture this living metaphor of nature, especially of our children showing us how to enjoy it fully.

In any event, I am taking a holiday from doing a repeat shot this month to share with you this historic image of captured motion – and the joy of the season. Looking closely you may hear the loud, excited din of children at play.

And I am interested in your reactions to this blurry snapshot, that would be impossible to tag on Facebook — please leave a comment below.

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, December 18, 2013

Gorham House, circa 1915

This month’s historic image emerged from a slowly decaying glass plate negative at this time because of an inspired initiative by the Sno-Isle Libraries to “Digitize Our Community’s History.”

The Snohomish Historical Society was selected as a partner along with our local library branch to select historic images from our collection for a featured online presence at As volunteer archivists for the Society, Kathleen Lince and I jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of the libraries’ expertise and equipment to finally scan our extensive collection of glass plate negatives.

The number scanned reached 135. A few we recognized from existing prints, but most are mini-mysteries to be solved. One thought is to publish an interesting selection of these unknown images online in a quest for information, perhaps even identification.

snohomishthenandnow imageOur favorite finds will be featured in this column for the next several months, beginning with this month’s knockout image of the Gorham House, 404 Avenue D, taken around 1915, most likely by a hobbyist photographer. (Prepared glass plates for the “prosumer,” to use a modern word, were available into the 1920s.)

Charles Wesley Gorham, born in New York City, worked with his father as a printer in South Dakota. Moving west on his own, Charles purchased the Index Miner and the Snohomish Tribune in 1893. He was only 27 years old. Around this time, he was one of the leaders organizing a company of the Washington National Guard. Yet, in a confusing combination of events, he withdraws his name when nominated as a 1st Lieutenant, thus “ending the first bloodless battle of the Snohomish militia,” reported his own newspaper, June 13, 1895.

Moving on to a more longer lasting adventure in his life, Charles married Elsie E. West in a June wedding in 1901, the same year that he gave the presentation speech when the Woman’s Book Club transferred the public library to the Snohomish City Council.

Their gracious home was built in 1902 by the popular contractor, Nels Hansen. They raised three children in the home, Harlan West, Helen Margaret, and Elaine Standish — who must be the children pictured in our image — making its discovery a true historic treasure.

Charles, who served three terms as a Republican in the state legislature suffered a stroke while in Olympia, was paralyzed, and died a year later, October 22, 1919, at home. His wife, Elsie, shared the grand home with her grown children off and on, until her death in 1946. The couple are buried side-by-side in the G.A.R Cemetery.

Then and Now animation
Then: The Gorham House, c.1915 | Now: The Mester Home, 404 Avenue D

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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, November 20, 2013