To identify just one random person in an old photograph is an accomplishment. Through facial recognition technology and hours of cross-referencing, 40 people out of 47 in a group photo from 1899 have been positively identified.
Likely taken by 25-year-old amateur photographer Charles Walline, the group photo is one of several of young people – possibly pre-congregated for a formal photography shoot.
I previously identified the venue as Chattanooga High School, located on 8th Street between 1897 and 1904. Early graduation class photos were compared from various sources. These were popular at the time - with numbers overlaid on each person – matching names in a key list. Printed school annuals did not include individual photos until years later.
Individuals from the glass plate were then compared to several years of graduation photos. Soon matches pointed to the class of 1899. Each match was then confirmed by two additional services (Amazon AWS Rekognition, and Microsoft Azure Face).
Be sure to explore the full resolution photo below - where you can see the names of 40 of 47 students. Additional research revealed interesting details on some individuals, including Alice Fletcher, who married Spencer J. McCallie – co-founder of the McCallie School. . She was the mother 5 children including Dr. Spencer Jarnagin McCallie Jr. (1909 – 2001). Alice died at age 38, in 1918 of ‘Spanish Flu’.
Classmate Will Shepherd later became publisher of the Hamilton County Herald in 1919 until his death in 1947. He married Bess Trimby. Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School is named for her. The Shepherd Hills community is named for Will's family – his father was the respected judge Lewis Shepherd.
Also present - Miss May Y. Roberts, a prominent business woman and assistant trust officer at American National Bank.
The positive identifications were not limited to 1899 – as some individuals appeared in later photos. In 1959, surviving class members were honored at a school luncheon. Lillian Condra appeared in a group photo of Chattanooga High School teachers just 3-years after graduating.
A database of ‘known persons’ from this period in Chattanooga’s history is being assembled and will be used for ongoing research.
Before film, specially coated glass plates were used to capture photos. By the 1890s, photography was affordable and popular. Unlike film, glass doesn't shrink and curl. If stored properly, glass plates like this one will likely survive another 100 years.
Tragically, relatively few glass plate images remain accessible to the public. Privately owned plates may be stored away, only to be tossed out by a relative while settling the deceased owner’s estate.
In recent years, smaller museums, libraries, and other non-profit organizations have been slow to digitize or poorly digitized glass plates at low resolutions. Today’s digital archivists are faced with complex options – images are withheld from public view – embargoed by overcomplicating the management and tagging of archives ‘metadata’.
Enjoy this rare publicly accessible view.