5 Wacky Panoramas Details Hiding in Plain Sight

28, November 2017

Thanks to their large widths, historic panoramic photos are able to cram lots of details into one space—often they aren’t even things the photographers meant to capture! They’re small snippets that live in the margins, details that, in the case of our Panoramas of the City exhibit, reveal the everyday lives of the people who called St. Louis home in the first half of the 20th century.

You may catch a sign in a store window that talks about a sale happening the day a photo was taken, or perhaps you see someone who reminds you of an old family friend. Details like these can bring the past to life in unexpected ways. They might make you laugh or send you down a research rabbit hole to try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Regardless of the specifics, often such details are destined to stick in your mind long after you view a particular panorama for the first time.

Here are five of my favorite details from images within Panoramas of the City. They aren’t necessarily the best or most important details, but they are ones I know I’ll remember for years to come. Maybe now you will too.

1. Digging for Gold at a Jubilee Celebration

Black-and-white crop of panoramic photo showing a boy picking his nose at the Jubilee celebration for Rev. Ferdinand MoellerPortion of a panorama showing a young boy picking his nose during the Jubilee celebration for Rev. Ferdinand Moeller, August 1921. Photo by Isaac Sievers. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

In August 1921, Rev. Ferdinand Moeller celebrated his 50th anniversary in the Jesuit order of priests with a multiday celebration at the Shrine of St. Joseph. When Isaac Sievers took this photo, he didn’t mean to capture a shot of one young man picking his nose—and this kid surely never expected a picture of himself with his finger in his nostril would one day hang in a museum!

2. Killing Time at Rehearsal

Sepia-toned panoramic photo of the Pageant and Masque castPortion of a panorama showing the cast of the 1914 Pageant and Masque. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis, residents staged a massive play about the history of the city in 1914. The cast included hundreds of local performers, many of whom posed for a panorama on the stage. A few of the actors really mugged for the camera, but my favorite detail is of these two castmates pretending to fight as their picture was taken. At least, I hope they were just pretending!

3. Monkeying Around at the Saint Louis Zoo

Black-and-white crop of panoramic photo showing the Saint Louis Zoo, ca. 1921Portion of a panorama showing the Saint Louis Zoo bear pits, ca. 1921. Courtesy of the Saint Louis Zoo.

The Saint Louis Zoo has long been a favorite attraction, but it looked quite a bit different in the early 20th century. In a panorama taken at the Zoo in the 1920s, you can see several large animals out on the paths with the visitors, including an orangutan on a bicycle.

4. Waving Hello from Soldiers Memorial

Black-and-white crop of panoramic photo showing Townsendites standing on Soldiers Memorial statuePortion of a panorama showing the 5th Townsend National Convention, June 10–July 4, 1940. Photo by Eugene Taylor. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

In 1940 the Townsendites held their national convention in St. Louis. As advocates for greater rights for the elderly and instrumental players in pushing through the Social Security Act of 1935, they were by and large a serious group. But that didn’t stop several members of the organization from climbing up the statues at Soliders Memorial to get a better view of the camera.

5. Sporting a Man Bun . . . in the 1930s?

Black-and-white crop of panoramic photo showing 1930s man with a man bunPortion of a panorama showing the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, 1930. Photo by the Sievers Studio. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

In recent years, more and more men with long hair have gathered their flowing locks and twisted them into a knot, fully embracing the man bun. Yet the hairstyle’s roots seem to go back much further—or perhaps the 1930s gentleman pictured here with a similar hairstyle was just ahead of his time.

—Adam Kloppe, Public Historian

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