Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

They Peered into the Lens - and the Future

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

They Peered into the Lens - and the Future

Article excerpt

The sunlight in the old photo looks as it does today on a spring or early autumn afternoon. The facade of the white clapboard school shines, and the shadows cling to the posed figures, the shade line close to where we would see it now, more than 130 years later.

There is even a familiar casualness and relaxed demeanor to this group of teachers and students gathered in Castine, Maine, for the Adams School photo circa 1875.

The two boys in the third-floor window project a surprisingly jaunty posture, although it must have been a little harrowing perching way up there. Perhaps they were assigned the task of ringing the bell in the cupola, the same bell that we still ring on the first and last days of school.

And that shadowy man in the stovepipe hat! Who was he? The principal? How stiff and dour!

As all-school photo day comes around again, version 2007, I am looking at a gilt-framed photograph that hangs in the front hall of the Adams School, of which I'm the current principal. I like to imagine that it was taken on photo day, and that the Adams corps has been herded to the front steps - and windows and doors - to stand still, smile, and peer into the camera ... and the future. They seem somewhat less practiced at taking part in group photos. It must have been a rare occasion. Little did they know they were gazing at us.

Today, the wide-brimmed felt hats on the boys and the stovepipe hats on the men would be replaced by baseball caps. We don't see many dresses and petticoats, vests, long suit coats, and ties during school hours either. Fashion changes.

Yet today's students and teachers probably have much in common with those in 1875. We live on their land, in their houses, and attend their school as the heirs and stewards of this place. Too bad we weren't able to see them in their Halloween costumes!

I wonder: What were the hot-button town issues of the day - parking downtown, as it is now? Or perhaps horse manure? The price of fuel? No, that was the era of schooners and Maine-built downeasters. Who did they vote for: Ulysses Grant in 1872, Rutherford Hayes in 1876? I wonder if any of the adults in the old photo actually heard Lincoln's voice at Gettysburg. …

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