Forgotten Faces of Walhalla
Have you ever gone to some place like the Cracker Barrel for dinner only to be seated beneath or near a framed antique portrait of some long forgotten person? I've often commented that it's a shame that such photographs have not been regarded as heirlooms by the descendants of those whose likenesses now merely contribute to the nostalgic ambience of a restaurant. As a collector and dealer of antiques, however, I do understand a differing point of view. Usually, the old frames are worth more money than the photographs they contain, and there is definitely a market for them. Though, it is too bad that, somewhere along the way, someone inevitably decided that an old picture of Uncle Ben or Great-Grandma Mary no longer has sentimental value.
Since the passing of my grandmother, Mary Etta Marcengill (1915-2006) I have taken time to reflect on her life and reminisce of the stories she shared from her childhood. I also cherish the gifts I received from her. Among the handful of items Grandma gave me are some old hymnals and several photographs that belonged to her mother, Louise Hendrix Cox (1873-1948). These portraits depict individuals who, according to what my grandmother had been told, were her mother's co-workers at the Walhalla Mill in Walhalla, South Carolina. Only one photograph has a name penciled on the back. And at least one of the boys appears too young to have been an employee of the cotton mill, but he might have been the son of a mill worker. I suppose it's anyone's guess.
Since these photographs had been in my great grandmother's possession prior to her marrying and having children, it is safe to say the pictures are around a hundred years old or slightly older.
Obviously, these are proofs, and are believed to be the work of one photographer (because of the similar backgrounds), but only one picture bears the stamp of Walhalla-based J. W. Eaton Studio.
Unidentified Young Man
On the back of this photo, the following has been penciled: "Remember love, Remember true, Remember me and I will [you]"
I find myself clinging to items like these photographs for preservation's sake, if nothing else. It is doubtful that either of these supposed Walhalla Mill employees are ancestors of mine, but I wouldn't think of selling the images. For whatever reasons, my great-grandmother was compelled to retain the pictures and pass them on to her daughter, my Granny Marcengill. Now they are in my possession and perhaps some day their mystery will be unlocked.
This kid looked a little scared, if you ask me! Surely, this boy was not my great-grandmother's co-worker! Of course, we are talking about a different era and different views on child labor. The only photograph out of the group that is stamped "J. W. Eaton Studio, Walhalla, S.C."
Another Unidentified Young Man
This boy's age is hard to guess, but he does appear to have been old enough to work in the mill---especially when you consider that young people could find employment at much younger ages than today's teenagers.
F. J. Russell
The only photograph of the batch with its subject identified, this image was obviously captured in the same studio as one of the earlier photos.
"Walhalla Mill, 8 x 10 full size," presumably indicating the photo size purchased, is also written in pencil on the back.
Perhaps her attire was quite fashionable at the time, but today this woman would stop traffic for all the wrong reasons! Typical of most old portraits, she appeared very serious---almost solemn. Evidently, smiling for photos was not yet in vogue.
Two Unidentified Young Men
While the previous photographs were gifts from my grandmother, Mrs. Mary Etta Marcengill, this one came into my possession from her estate. Following the death of my grandmother, her children began distributing her old photographs to family members, and this one wound up in my hands. I am convinced---because of the studio background---that it was taken by the same photographer as the previous photographs and belongs with this collection.
Mary Cherry Doyle, Historic Oconee in South Carolina (Seneca, South Carolina: independently published, 1935).
Charles Sloan Reid and Marguerite Brennecke, Persons, Places and Happenings in Old Walhalla (Walhalla, South Carolina: Walhalla Historical Society, 1960).
Conversation with Mary Etta Marcengill (1916-2006), Westminster, South Carolina, in 2004
Author: Greg Freeman. Published August 24, 2006. Revised June 17, 2008.
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