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On the Ohio: 1910

On the Ohio: 1910

The Ohio River circa 1910. "Nightfall on the Ohio at Cincinnati." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

On the Ohio

Serious contender for best picture on the blog. Any idea of the photographer?

[Mr. Detroit Publishing. - Dave]

Or the Moon Walking in Brightness

Perhaps enough sunlight and moonlight has already been shed on the subject, but a consideration of the location may further illuminate.

The boat appears to be commencing her run down river, approaching the old C&O RR bridge spanning the Ohio. The camera has taken a position a bit upriver, almost certainly the south tower of the Suspension Bridge. Both bridges align slightly to the west of due north. The point of view is roughly WNW, perhaps tending towards NWbW.

A full moon in early winter might take up position as we see, but would necessarily put cameraman and boat on river in the hour or two before dawn. A full moon in other seasons could not occupy the section of sky. The few souls visible on the boat seem dressed for heat, and -- looking far for a bit of vegetation -- the gap in the truss section of the bridge frames a bluff where trees appear in leaf.

The moon appears less likely when we find that the photograph below from Detroit Publishing bears the title Sunset on the Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio. Many details match precisely our photo, including the distant cloud bank low on the horizon. It could easily have been taken just a short while before the boat floated into position.

1910 by moonlight

One of those references is to an article on "real" moonlight photography in American Photography dated 1910, the same year this shot was taken. In discussing exposures using "a long bellows reversible back view camera... exposures will range from ten to thirty minutes on a clear night using stop f8 and fast plates." It also mentions two methods of getting the moon itself in the image without showing the effect of its motion during exposure. One was to double-expose the plate, first a long exposure of the scene when the moon was out of the field of view, then a shorter one after aiming the camera at the moon. The other involved exposing two negatives when making the print, one of just the moonlit scene, the other of the moon itself.

Moonlight Photography

"Moonlight photography" was a discipline of some interest to shutterbugs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A distinction was drawn between "real moonlight photography" and "moonlight photographs" in general -- a stylistic genre that utilised underexposed pictures taken in daylight and then "printed deep" (a technique not available for this particular image, as it is taken from a negative without benefit of a paper print).

The ghostly personages who populate much of the era's daylight photography are a consequence not of slow emulsions but rather of the fact that most large view cameras of the era lacked timed shutters (what were known then as "clockwork shutters" -- most spring shutters lacked a timing mechanism and were opened and closed by the photographer, which necessitated one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi exposures of several seconds' duration), or any shutters at all, exposures being made by removing and then replacing the lens cover.

Photographers with clockwork shutters who wished to avail themselves of "fast plates" had a number of very sensitive emulsions available, as evidenced by the stop-motion photography of the 1890s. These were also utilised for "real moonlight" photographs.

[And indeed we have a number of stop-motion images here, this being one example. Although, after reading your references and tterrace's comment, I do have my doubts as to whether the nighttime photography of a century ago could freeze waves as seen in the Ohio River picture. Then again, one underestimates the capabilities of an 8x10 view camera at one's peril. - Dave]

Sidewheeler City of Cincinnati

The boat appears to be the 1899 sidewheeler City of Cincinnati of the Louisville & Cincinnati Packet Co., seen in previous Shorpy post: Steam Under the Bridge: 1906.

Neither the Island Queen nor Delta Queen

This is the huge sidewheeler City of Cincinnati, built in 1899 at Jeffersonville, Indiana. You are thinking of the Cincinnati, built in 1924, which was supposed to have a twin, the Louisville. The latter boat was never completed, and her hull was sold to the Coney Island Co., who finished her as the Island Queen.

The Delta Queen

The Delta Queen was a sternwheeler, not a sidewheeler like the boat in the Shorpy image.

The Delta Queen (below) is still used for river cruises, but not overnight trips since it doesn't meet the current safety requirements.

Island Queen or Delta Queen

I guess it could be one or the other. The Island Queen used to take passengers from the public landing in Cincy up river to the Coney Island amusement park.

I made that trip many times as a kid in the late 1940's. It was quite a thrill in the summer to sit on deck and listen to the calliope.

The Island Queen caught fire and was destroyed while in the dock at Pittsburgh in the late '40s. The Delta Queen continued to operate and as far as I know still exists.


I'm going to have to differ with Dave on this. I can't imagine that there'd be a photographic emulsion fast enough in 1910 to capture that image by moonlight with no motion blur. It'd be good a trick even today. I mean, look at all the "ghosts" of pedestrians walking in broad daylight in contemporaneous street views we've seen here. Same with their other "moonlight views" in the LOC collection. My bet is that it's the equivalent of "day for night" movie filming, that for their postcards, Detroit Publishing printed it dark and tinted it bluish for a simulated moonlight effect.


And Timeless; one of the best pictures yet! Thank You!

The past is so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Absolutely, one one my all time Shorpy favorites! I love how when I gaze from bottom to top, the sun actually seems glaring.

[That's (ostensibly) the moon. One of many Detroit Publishing moonlight views. - Dave]

Far East

With such air quality, I thought it was a picture of modern Beijing!

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