Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass
by Nelson B. Wadsworth
JAMES H. CROCKWELL
“All Classes of View Work Done”
[p.231] A new photographer emerged on the Utah scene in the 1880s. James Hezekiah Crockwell had tried a number of ways of supporting his growing family, including coloring already extant photographs, when he struck a deal with C. W. Carter in the spring of 1883: “I got an idea to learn photography as many people admired my sample but had no pictures. So with an outfit, I could supply them and get more pictures to enlay. So, I stayed (in Salt Lake City) until spring, went to C. W. Carter, the photographer, and offered to work for him for six months, as necessary, for nothing. He was a poor teacher, but I learned the wet-plate process and how to take tintypes for my enlaying.”1
Crockwell was a photographer with wanderlust. He would miss the capstone laying of the Salt Lake temple because he was traveling in the Tintic Mining District of Utah, photographing miners. But he would take a photographic exhibition representing Utah to the World’s Fair that same year.
Crockwell was born on 21 March 1855 at Woodbury, Iowa, a town which would lose its identity a year later with the laying out of the plat for nearby Sioux City. His father, John D. M. Crockwell (1820-85), had served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army in New Orleans during the war with Mexico (1846-48) and had come [p.232] to Iowa at the urging of his war-time commander. In Iowa the thirty-one-year-old physician met twenty-year-old Dora Logan, a Mormon from Kentucky, and the couple was married in Animosa in 1851. James, their second son, had the distinction of being the first angle child born in Woodbury County. As James grew up the family regularly interacted with local tribes, occasionally boarding native Americans to help with ranch and household chores.
Although the Crockwell cabin was located on the frontier, the family lived comfortably, thanks mainly to the elder Crockwell’s financial success in land speculation. In addition to his medical practice, John Crockwell bought and sold parcels of land. However, the late-1850s crash altered the family’s situation. In the middle of the depression Crockwell joined the Mormon church. His wife had been a member since the age of fifteen, and she had lived in the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois, with her mother, a widow, at the peak of the city’s [p.233] development. Crockwell had been, according to his son’s later account, “a Methodist and a Mormon hater.” But one young Mormon had traded his library to Crockwell for an old bull’s eye watch. Among the books in the library were copies of the Mormon scriptures, which the physician read and accepted.
By 1862 when the economy in Iowa failed to improve, Crockwell decided to move west to Zion. Despite his deteriorating financial condition, the physician was not destitute, and he loaded merchandise, medical supplies, and household goods in some wagons, planning to set himself up in practice in the West. On the way west the Crockwell entourage stopped in Denver and remained there for more than a year. The doctor hung up his shingle in a two-story frame building, which he converted into a miniature hospital and drug store. The Civil War was in progress, and the settlement had a detachment of Union troops. The Crockwell children foraged the backyards and camping spots for cotton rags and tin cans—the rags sold for three cents a pound, the lead melted from the tin cans for thirty-five cents a pound. By the time the family left for Salt Lake the following August, George and James had accumulated twenty dollars which they used to buy calico for their mother and aunt. The Crockwells had planned to stay on in Denver but decided to leave when Southern deserters threatened to torch the town. Crockwell sold his new house, purchased six horses, and rigged three teams for the trip to Utah.
The Crockwells first settled in Salt Lake City, moved to Provo for a time, and finally in the fall of 1867, Crockwell took the advice of Apostle George A. Smith and returned to Salt Lake City to expand his medical practice. James began working as a clerk in various Salt Lake City stores. His fortunes fluctuated with the economy during the next few years, and he worked at various times in Thomas Taylor’s General Merchandise Store, at ZCMI, and at William Jennings’s General Merchandise Store.
During this unsettled time, James began admiring a young woman who had moved into the Second Ward. She was Millie Bassett, daughter of C. H. Bassett, a downtown merchant. “I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever [p.234] seen,” James recalled. They were married on 21 September 1877 in the home of a relative, since the Mormon Endowment House in Salt Lake was closed at the time. James intended to have the civil marriage solemnized later by the church, but this never happened. Apparently Millie became embittered toward Mormonism, but even as late as 1932 Crockwell would write, “I still have a desire to have the work done and hope and pray to be able to do so some time.”2
Two years after his marriage, Crockwell resigned his clerkship with Jennings and went south with his father to homestead. The Crockwells eventually settled in Millard County and worked there for the next few years, improving the homestead, building cabins, sheds, and fences, and harvesting crops. It was Crockwell’s brother, George, who first became interested in photography. The brothers soon had a business enhancing already-extant photographs. Crockwell remembered: “A photo curve picture was made with a convex glass oval, and we took the picture off the card and while wet pasted it on the inside of the glass. We smoothed it out until dry. Then we used spermaceti (a yellowish or white waxy substance from the sperm whale) and with a brush put it on the back of the picture, making it quite transparent. Then, with oil paint and small brushes, we painted them over the spermaceti and made a nice, clear-looking, colored print, nicely tinted. If the picture was old, it did not look very good, but in those days it was easy to please the people. If a family had quite a poor picture and the person was dead, why just a little improvement pleased them and it was put in quite a nice frame. We also got a lot of unmounted pictures of the president and Council (Mormon General Authorities) and making them up by the dozen could sell them for $1.”3
George eventually left the business for a job in Butte, Montana. Crockwell would travel throughout small southern Utah towns, often with his physician father, who lectured in the small communities about medicine and gave free physical examinations. Crockwell would take photo orders and promise delivery of the unique pictures within six months. “I did splendidly,” he remembered, “I [p.235] got $1,800 in seven weeks of orders.” Business was so brisk he hired an assistant, James Castleton, from the Twentieth Ward in Salt Lake City.
Finally in 1883 Crockwell decided he could expand his business further if he took his own pictures and spent nearly a year in the studio of C. W. Carter learning photography. In March 1884 he ordered photographic equipment from St. Louis and had it shipped to Nephi. He had learned the wet-plate camera and supply of sensitized dry plates. During the next year he began travelling from Manti to Gunnison and back through Juab County, but he had problems with the unfamiliar technology and most of his pictures came out fogged. He was relieved when he hooked up with William Ottinger, and the two became partners. The son of George Ottinger, William had worked seven years with C. R. Savage, his father’s partner. There he had learned the art of negative developing and albumen printmaking.4
Crockwell retraced his steps and retook the pictures which he had spoiled the previous year because of his lack of familiarity with his new equipment. Apparently he took pictures on the road with a portable tent gallery but returned the developed glass negatives to Salt Lake City for albumen printing. The logo on the back of the surviving prints from this period was made by a rubber stamp: “Crockwell & Ottinger, agent for copying and enlarging pictures. Duplicates at any time. Address Box 2380, Salt Lake City.”5 Sometime during this photo excursion, Crockwell had his own portrait taken. The picture shows a typical north-light tent gallery set up with a posing rock situated on what appears to be a carpet or canvas floor with shrubbery, cactus, and grasses arranged around the subject.
Ottinger brought expertise to the partnership and seems to have done most of the photography himself, along with an assistant, Arch Hyhams. Crockwell did the canvassing. The following year while they were on the road in Kanab, Ottinger came down with rheumatism and wanted to go back home. Crockwell talked him into staying, but Ottinger’s illness prompted Crockwell to learn the technical aspects of developing. He let Hyhams go. “I stayed with the gallery and [p.237] did my first operating,” he remembered.6
On 4 March 1885 Crockwell and Ottinger moved the gallery to Rockville on the Virgin Rim between Kanab and St. George. That evening Crockwell received a telegram that his father was dying. He headed north, arriving in Salt Lake City two days later. The elder Crockwell died eleven days later. He was sixty-four. He had taken a second wife in Utah, Anna, who had given him three children. Thus his father’s death left Crockwell with added responsibilities. After the funeral, Anna returned to the family homestead at Clear Lake, and the rest of the family remained in Salt Lake City.
Four days after his thirtieth birthday, Crockwell retraced his steps south and joined Ottinger in Toquerville. On his return, Crockwell finally began to work in earnest as a photographer. “That day we got busy setting up the tent and I made some views of the place,” he remembered. “I made my first vies and I was successful. From then on I specialized with views. We were there 10 days [p.239] and we made $80, more money than had been made at any town during the past year.”7
In the first part of April, the two photographers moved their gallery to Silver Reef, then a booming mining town just west of Leeds. Crockwell described his success there: “Silver Reef was a mining town getting their silver from the sandstone reef, hence its name. After its discovery, many miners came there from Pioche, Nevada, that was at the time on the down hill pull of Pioche. The Reef was at its zenith then.…In nine weeks I cleared $1,000, got the interest Will owed me, bought a new barn wagon [p.240]…for the ranch, cleared up some obligations. I sold a great many views and the view feature proved quite profitable.”8
From Silver Reef Ottinger and Crockwell went to St. George. Though sales were not as great as they were in the mining town, Crockwell still reported “good wages” and added that he had “filled every frame I had with pictures of various kinds.” During the next two years Crockwell alternated between work on the road and visits to members of his family in Salt Lake City and at Clear Lake. Sometimes during this period Crockwell produced pictures for a booklet titled, Pictures and Biographies of Brigham Young and His Wives, with text written by Harriet E. C. Young and Amelia P. P. Young, wives of the late Mormon leader.9
In 1886 Crockwell bought Ottinger’s interest in the business and changed his logo to read: “James H. Crockwell, traveling photographer.” Crockwell decided to strike into new territory. He shipped his outfit by train to Promontory, Utah, and made plans to make his way west into Nevada and the mining camps. While his gear was being shipped to Promontory, Crockwell went to Salt [p.243] Lake City to visit his family and look for an assistant. He hired Frank Woodmansee, “a good retoucher and good at toning our prints.” Crockwell and Woodmansee picked up the gear at Promontory and headed west.
Their first stop was Carlin. Most of their work, Crockwell recalled, was of railroad engines “since every engineer had a pride in getting a picture of his engine. This is where I learned to photograph ‘iron horses.’ They were very black, and in good light it took three seconds, whicle a white horse was 1/2 second. On plates it did not work as quick as now , but we thought it was pretty quick, since the old wet-plates would have taken about 20 seconds.”10 The railroaders sent word ahead on the line that the photographer was coming and business was brisk.
Photography was not the only source of Crockwell’s income. He had brought a set of dental tools he had inherited from his father. At Wells, Nevada, he hung out a sign that said, “Dental Work Done” and began extracting teeth and doing simple fillings in his tent gallery. In towns where there was already a dentist, he did not hang up the sign. Sometimes, as in Ruby Valley, he made more money from dentistry than photography: “I was gone three days and picked up $150, nearly all profit. Amalgam at $2 an ounce will fill lots of teeth. I charge $1 to $2 a tooth for a filling and $1 for extracting, except children 50-cents. Those I just picked out easily. The child had to cry whether I hurt them or not.”11
In Elko Crockwell pitched his gallery next to the Pacific Hotel, where he secured board and room. He learned of another photographer staying there named Al Smith and decided to call. The two photographers struck up a friendship even though they were competing for the same business. Crockwell noted Smith was “a very broadminded, good fellow” and added his views attracted more attention and got him more business. Smith and Crockwell would later decide to join forces in Virginia City. Smith eventually moved his gallery to Tanapah. After some years, the city decided to straighten the street and planned to tear down his gallery: “He would not listen to it, so they came one [p.244] day to tear it down and Smith stepped out in front of his crowd and said, ‘Gentlemen, I have got much but need what I have to make my living, and the first man that comes on my land to take away my home and business I’ll shoot him down!’ And then he stood there with his pistol, a very cool fellow. They decided he meant what he said, so they went away and left him alone and never bothered him afterwards. He was a man, every inch of him…”12
In the fall of 1886, Crockwell and Woodmansee freighted their outfit to Tuscarora, which the photographer remembered as “quite a mining camp…the largest since I left Silver Reef.” Crockwell found a house which had already been used as a gallery. With winter coming on, he decided to set up shop. In Tuscarora he was “rather successful, more so than Elko.” While in Tuscarora Crockwell and his assistant attended a masquerade ball, which they turned into an advertising opportunity. They had a girl wear a dress covered with their photographs. Another incident that brought their gallery before the public happened just before Christmas. Crockwell had piled freshly cut wood behind [p.245] his gallery and found tracks in the fresh snow, where someone had taken wood. The footsteps measured nine inches—a size five shoe—and obviously belonged to a woman. “It made news for the paper,” Crockwell recalled, “giving me more advertising, so I was glad it happened.”
Crockwell went home to Salt Lake City for Christmas and left Woodmansee in charge. When he returned Woodmansee was eager himself to return home to Salt Lake City. Crockwell let his assistant go and hired “a Mr. Rothi” to take his place. They returned to the road, first to Battle Mountain and then to Austin. Crockwell lowered his prices and in eleven weeks reported “the best average business I have ever done anywhere in my travels!” He moved on to Ophir Canyon and then to Belmont. In Belmont the gallery caught fire, and Crockwell burned his hands putting out the blaze. His outfit was insured, however, and he was able to collect $84. After repairing the first damage, he did $300 worth of business in a town with a population of only one hundred people.
While on the road in Nevada, the Crockwell’s tenth wedding anniversary came and went: “Sept. 20, 1887—I was on the road somewhere between Belmont [p.246] and Reno, possibly in Candelaria, so our tin wedding anniversary was not celebrated. I wrote mother with all the love I had, and when she met me in October in Reno, we went on the San Francisco and I made up for my absence on Sept. 20. It was a very happy time for us, mother, Ada, Earl and Lula.”13 “I’ll never forget that trip if I live to be 100,” Crockwell wrote. They spent three weeks in the bay area, visiting Golden Gate Park, Seal Rocks, Sutro Heights, the harbor, the Presidio, and staying and dining in the famous hotel and restaurants.
While there Crockwell visited a printing concern and was introduced to Josie Bonnington, a girl skilled in watercolors, charcoals, and retouching. Crockwell hired her for $50 a month for six months, board and room, and railroad fare to accompany the family to Bishop’s Creek in Inyo County, California. Crockwell was planning to set his gallery up there after the vacation. But this time he was planning to take his family. The Crockwells first made their way back to Hawthorne, where Rothi had remained with the gallery. Rothi’s work in Crock-[p.247]well’s absence “was disappointing.” Crockwell let him go, paying his fare to Salt Lake City. According to Crockwell, Rothi later moved to Seattle, went into business there, became despondent about life, and committed suicide. “He was a nice, quiet fellow and a good worker, but he was no hustler,” Crockwell recalled.
At Bishop’s Creek, Crockwell located a vacant photo gallery, rented it, and found room and board for the three adults and three children in his party. From this headquarters, Crockwell canvassed the surrounding towns of Round Valley, Lone Pine, Independence, Keeler, Darwin, and Panamint Springs, sending work back to the main gallery for processing, retouching, and printing.
After six months Crockwell sent his retoucher back to California and in May 1888 moved to Virginia City. He described the move: “I rented rooms over a grocery store run by Crosby Brothers on C Street.…I got carpenters and opened up the side of the building for a skylight. I patterned it after the C. R. Savage Gallery in Salt Lake City, but I really made it too large, but when Al Smith, who I had met in Elko, joined us June 1st, we shaded it in pretty well and done some fine work.”14 At the time Virginia City, near the zenith of the silver boom, boasted a population of some 20,000 people. On 7 July 1888 the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise announced: “J. H. Crockwell, the new photographer, will be open for business Monday, July 9, at 28 1/2 C Street, and will be prepared to do all classes of work. Photographic cabinets $6 per dozen. Other sizes in proportion. No extra charge for groups.”
Crockwell began making views of the area. He photographed the mines, dumps, schools, main buildings, mills, and groups of miners above and below ground. He also made portraits in his north-light gallery of the people of Virginia City. Sometime in last summer he carried his view camera up the slopes of Cedar Hill north of town and made views from the top and also part way down the side of the mountain. The second view resulted in a classic photograph of Virginia City, the most popular picture ever taken of the book town on the Comstock Lode.15
[p.249] Fire was a constant problem in the mining camp. Wood frame buildings were thrown up quickly in narrow, congested streets, and fire codes were virtually unknown. In 1875 the entire town was practically destroyed by fire, but it had been rebuilt by the time Crockwell set up his gallery twelve years later. One day fire broke out in Young’s Furniture Stores across the street from Crockwell’s gallery, and he took his camera out on the porch and photographed the blaze in its various stages. He claimed his pictures of the “backlit rolling smoke” were the best he had ever seen of a fire, but unfortunately these do not seem to have survived.
While the Crockwells were in Virginia City a son was born on 6 September 1888. They named him Lawrence. About six weeks later, Crockwell bought Millie a new black dress and bonnet, and for the first time since the baby was born, [p.252] she went out on the streets of Virginia City. “I have never seen her look so fine,” the photographer said. “She was flushed and beautiful.…I had paid $14 for it (the dress and bonnet), which was considered a big price in those days. But nothing but the good stuff would suit her character. God bless her, she was always beautiful to me!” Crockwell ushered her into the gallery for a portrait.
In the fall and winter of 1888-89 Crockwell left Smith in charge of his Virginia City operation and went to Carson City to open up a second gallery. While there he made an album which included all Nevada legislators. He had Smith shoot those from Virginia City in the gallery there. He sold the album to legislators for twenty dollars per album. Returning to Virginia City, Crockwell discovered that Smith was eager to strike out on his own. “He could not draw people like I could, but alone and without me, he felt he could do better,” Crockwell recalled. “He was a mighty good man, but he could not make money, yet he did good [p.254] work and was honest to a fault.”
The spring of 1889 Crockwell hired two new operators. A disagreement with one led to a tragedy for the Crockwells. Crockwell let one of the operators go because, the photographer wrote, he had been “flirting with the female customers” and was no longer needed. As the operator left, he took some coal oil and placed it in a saucepan on Crockwell’s kitchen stove. As Crockwell walked by the stove, he saw the saucepan sitting there. Thinking it was water, he moved it to the back of the stove and then went to the door to call his daughter to come in from playing. As Crockwell returned to the kitchen, he heard a crackling noise and saw the coal oil burst into flames. An assistant seized the flaming saucepan with his bare hands and ran outside. As he raced out the kitchen door, he ran [p.255] into Crockwell and his two daughters, Ada and Lula. Most of the burning fluid splashed onto nine-year-old Ada. Enveloped in flames, the child ran screaming into the street. Two neighbors were able to catch the child and smother the flames with coat and a quilt, but she was burned over more than half of her body and died twenty-two hours later.16 Crockwell had photographed Ada in his gallery the day before.17 Lula required skin grafts and would suffer from the burn and shock for the rest of her life, always walking with a slight limp.
After recovering from the fire, Crockwell decided to go to Los Angeles to promote a “picture scheme” similar to one he had seen centered around a series of photographs of the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania. Apparently he and another photographer had plans to produce souvenir booklets of various towns on the west coast.18 Finally Crockwell sold out at a loss and began selling subscriptions to Colliers Magazines to finance his return trip to Virginia City. Unknown to Crockwell, his wife had reopened the Virginia City gallery and with her mother, Dora, was running it on a profitable basis. Unable to do the finishing work herself, she sent negatives to another photographer for the albumen printing. The winter was a particularly harsh one in Virginia City. Snow piled up on the gallery’s north skylight, blocking the light and threatening to cave in the roof. Millie was unable to get anyone to climb up and brush it off, so she did it herself.
Crockwell finally arrived back in May 1890 and resumed work in the gallery. Millie had an idea to keep the business going—a contest with a prize awarded to the “finest baby in Virginia City.” Millie made dresses for the babies to wear while they were photographed. Mothers were given free pictures, but getting them into the gallery generated interest and brought new business to the studio.19
During this time Crockwell also produced Souvenir of the Comstock, a booklet “embracing the principal views of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City and Sutro.” The booklet was similar to the one Crockwell had done in Salt Lake City on Brigham Young and his three years earlier. His introduction observed: [p.257] “The views are made by sun-light, electric light, flash light, all of my own work, and I trust that the parties interested in the various views presented will overlook any part that does not fully conform to what they might have preferred in the album.”20 Crockwell printed 1,000 booklets, selling them for $25 a dozen.
By the winter of 1890-91, Virginia City was in the middle of increasing mining costs and decreasing silver prices. Crockwell wanted to return to Salt Lake City, but a “Mr. Marston,” an old photographer in Carson City, convinced him to go into partnership with him to photograph the legislators again. On 15 February 1891 Millie gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Clara Nevada and nicknamed “Polly Wampus.” Crockwell described the task of shooting the portraits of the lawmakers: “Was no trouble getting new members but the older [p.258] members, some of several years standing, it was more of a task. Just at the close of a session one day, five of the senators came in and said they could not wait more than two minutes. Alright, I said, I’ll get through with all five of you in two minutes. One man pulled out his watch. I first got my plates ready. Bust pictures are easier to pose. After my first one, I did not need to move the camera or chair. I did turn the chair for different lighting on some faces, but it was all fixed for them. I beat my time by a few seconds and did not have any better five pictures in the whole lot.”21
While in Carson City, Crockwell also put in his bid to produce an oil painting of Nevada governor Charles C. Stevenson, who had died suddenly in office in 1890. Crockwell decided to gamble on being able to get the bid if he produced the painting. Gathering all photographs he could find of the late governor, Crockwell went to San Francisco and found a “good photo painter,” Oscar Kunath, and commissioned him to make an oil painting. The governor’s widow went to San Francisco several times to consult with Kunath. One of Crockwell’s [p.259]friends had introduced a $500 appropriations bill for the portrait. Crockwell produced the painting for $250. The oil painting of Governor Stevenson still hangs in the capitol building in Carson City.
The Crockwells delayed their departure for Salt Lake City until June 1891 in order to give the photographer a chance to make views of Genoa, the original capital of Nevada which was thirteen miles from Carson City. In three days Crockwell made 300 negatives. It took him another month to finish the work. Then he packed up his family and sent them by train to Utah. He returned to Virginia City and picked up his family and sent them by train to Utah. He returned to Virginia City and picked up Ada’s coffin, to be buried at the Crockwell family plot in Salt Lake City.
Within a few days of his return to Utah, Crockwell decided to go to Park City to begin photographing Utah’s largest mining camp. He rented a room at the Park City Hotel and arranged to build a darkroom in a nearby barn. He [p.261] photographed everything he thought might sell—“schools, buildings, business houses, mines, the various hoisting works, machine shops, tunnels, underground stokes, the miners, streets, panoramas of the town, and also views of Brighton and other lakes, also the Hot Pots over at Midway near Heber City.” By the fall of 1891, Crockwell had pulled together a set of “50 or 60 views” of Park City and its vicinity and began taking orders for albums which would contain his original, gold-toned, albumen prints. These albums were handsomely bound with a printed title set in ornate type: Souvenir of Park City, Her Mines, Mining and Pleasure Reports…J. H. Crockwell, View Photographer, Salt Lake City, Mining Contract Viewing a Specialty.22 Crockwell produced the album for less than $3 and sold each for $10 or $12. He spent one week taking orders and the remainder of 1891 at home in Salt Lake City printing, mounting, and binding the albums. He also had a souvenir booklet of his Park City views published.23
[p.262] The following spring the capstone was being lowered into place on the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, but Crockwell was scrambling through the mines and mining towns of the Tintic District in Juab County, trying to repeat the financial success of the Park City album. Business was not as booming in Eureka as Park City, and he decided to spend only a couple of months. But he missed photographing the festivities in Salt Lake City, probably because that event was already well covered by photographers and he didn’t see much money in the resulting views.
While in Eureka, however, he noticed in the newspapers a World’s Fair Commission had been appointed in Utah to work up exhibits for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He also noticed he knew two members of the commission, Nelson A. Empey and Robert C. Chambers from Park City. “I knew them all,” wrote Crockwell. “So, I went to C. R. Savage with my plan to do their work. He approved at once and helped me in getting the appointment. I soon…got the mining work and anthropology, Indians, Indian relics, hieroglyphics, cliff dwellings, mound builders, etc.”24
Crockwell had been named official photographer at $60 a month. He was assigned to work with Don McGuire, chief of the departments of mining, ethnology, and archaeology at the proposed Utah Building for the fair. Commissioners surmised that a combination of photographs and an array of artifacts and minerals would be a good way to tell the story of the state’s ancient history and its mineral resources.
Crockwell and McGuire were given railroad passes to travel with their equipment to sites throughout Utah. Meanwhile, the photographer built a photographic printing shop and hired his younger brother, John, and Tom Mair to do his technical lab work. Mair had learned the business with Crockwell at C. W. Carter’s establishment. In later years Mair would work for Fox and Symons Photo Studio, but that summer he was out of work and assisted in printing the World’s Fair views.
Although Crockwell was paid only $60 a month by the state, with the [p.263] freedom to travel all over Utah, he was able to take photographs for his own business as well as for the state. “I would make my views and then arrange with someone in most districts to sell them for me,” Crockwell recalled. “The exterior points were most profitable to me.”
The most exotic of Crockwell’s travels were to southern Utah with McGuire. In a mound near Paragonah they discovered a deposit of human skeletons.25 In San Juan County they “obtained four mummies of the extinct race.” “These were in a good state of preservation,” McGuire wrote, “and with these there was a large quantity of cloth, corn, pottery, cotton, implements of stone, bone, horn and wood owned, made and used by the lost race.”26 The mummies were destined to be among the chief attractions in Chicago in 1893, helping to attract more than 1.5 million people to the popular Utah exhibit.27
As 1892 drew to a close, Crockwell completed his prints and shipped them to Chicago. Before going to Chicago, he took time out to photograph some scenes surrounding the dedication of the Great Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City in April 1893. That he was in Salt Lake City making views during the dedication is attested by one surviving photograph in the archives. It’s a view of a wagon train of people from Wallsburg, Utah, arriving in Salt Lake City to attend one of the repeated dedication services.28
Crockwell and his brother made it to the fair on 1 May 1893, the opening day of the exposition. The photographer had been given the concession of photographing people in the Utah Pavilion, but he found that visitors wanted postcards rather than portraits. “The cliff dwellings, mummies, hieroglyphical writings were about the only views I sold,” he wrote.29
Finally a “Mr. Witteman” from Albertype Company of New York, who had previously worked with Crockwell on his Virginia City and Park City souvenir books, suggested that Crockwell produce souvenir booklets of some of the state exhibits at the fair. Crockwell secured work from Iowa, Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York, in addition to Utah. He also secured the position of staff photographer for the Illustrated World’s Fair Publications: “They paid me $50 a [p.264] week and 15-cents for each print I gave them of views made. They also bought my plates. So [John] had a part of this, developing, and all the views to print.” One of the fair’s vice presidents accompanied Crockwell on each picture-taking excursion as he made hundreds, perhaps thousands of pictures of the fair. Many of his panoramic views were made from the tops of the buildings. In his agreement with the vice president, Crockwell was allowed to make views for himself in addition to those he made for the fair.
After six weeks, Crockwell was approached by a representative from Rand McNally. The publishing firm was putting together an illustrated book on the fair and wanted to include his pictures. He agreed to provide them eight-by-ten-inch plates at $3 each. Crockwell wrote of his wheeling and dealing at the fair: “I remember one Sunday I made 60 plates. I sold them, however,…at $3 each. These plates cost me about 25-cents each.…All in all, I did pretty well…”30
One of the highlights during the fair at the Utah Building was the visit of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir had come to participate in the Welch Eisteddfod, popularly known as “the Great Choral Contest.” Three other choirs competed with the Mormon choir, which placed second. The “Scene in Festival Hall, Columbian World’s Fair, Chicago, Sept. 8th, 1893” was Crockwell’s view of the extravaganza. He produced an eight-by-ten-inch bromide print, bordered and mounted on matte board, showing all four choral groups on stage at once. Crockwell, enterprising as always, seems to have produced souvenir prints for choir members.31
For some reason photographer C. R. Savage did not travel with the choir to Chicago but did come a month later to photograph views. George Edward Anderson and possibly Charles Ellis Johnson traveled with the choir.32 Anderson showed up at the Utah Building one day and asked Crockwell if he could stay. Crockwell recorded his reaction, “George E. Anderson, an old photo competition, came to the Fair and wanted to stay if he could do anything, so I let him sell my Utah stuff. He did for about two months.”33 After Anderson left the fair, Crockwell had his mother sell these views of Utah. “It gave her a chance,” he [p.265] wrote, “to preach the Gospel to people of enquiring minds.” When Savage finally arrived at the fair in September, he also stayed with Crockwell.
The Utah World’s Fair Commission approved of Crockwell’s work. McDaniel noted in his report to the territorial governor: “Mr. J. H. Crockwell, the official photographer, made many hundreds views which attracted a great deal of attention, and today thousands of views of Utah scenery may be found in almost every civilized country of the globe.”34 But despite his volume of work, Crockwell still had trouble making financial ends meet. His expenses had been nearly $250 per month. Before leaving Utah Crockwell had sold his Juab County homestead, but the buyer defaulted on his payments which Crockwell was away.35 In the spring of 1894, just before the fair closed, Millie became ill, and there were expensive medical bills. “With all this work I had to borrow $100 to go home on,” Crockwell wrote.36
Before returning to Utah, Millie’s condition worsened, and the photographer went to three doctors before he found one he thought could help. Then Lula came down with a rash her parents mistook for small pox. In desperation they had the other three children vaccinated, but the serum was faulty and each child developed a huge lesion or pox which took three months to heal. “Their arms had great holes fully an inch across and one could see the bone,” Crockwell recalled. “Their suffering was very severe for three or four months.”37
So Crockwell returned to Salt Lake City penniless, settled his family, and immediately headed for San Francisco and the Midwinter Fair. Portions of the Chicago exhibits already had been shipped there, and Crockwell began making souvenir booklets. He later explained the process he followed in cities such as San Jose, Salinas, Stockton, Marysville, and Yuba City: “I would in those towns make up a couple of sets of views and then show samples of the other souvenirs…and get orders from the businessmen to support the plan. I did fairly well and sold 1,000 of each size. As a clean-up, I sold what I could not sell to the news dealers at wholesale. Had times been good, I could have made money. As it was, I just made a living.”38
[p.266] Crockwell was back in Salt Lake City by the spring of 1895 and set up a gallery near First West and Second South streets. He rented the rear of the building to an assayer and one side of the main room to the Salt Lake Stamp Company. With these tenants, his rent was “very low.” He also installed a small printing plant “and got a young fellow to run it on shares.” He made another set of views in Park City. He also got work in the Park City school system, making expensively-framed enlargements of the various schools.
But things were not going well. “I made some money and renewed my work in Utah and Park City and Salt Lake City as a view photographer,” he recalled. “Finally C. R. Savage rather discouraged me. He said the view business was all shot to pieces by the Kodak. I believed him.…”39 From then on Crockwell’s photographic business declined, and by the turn of the century he was out of photography. The logo, “James H. Crockwell, Traveling Photographer…Mining and Contract Viewing a Specialty,” was printed for the last time in the 1899 Salt Lake City Directory.40
After the turn of the century, Crockwell started selling real estate, stocks and bonds, a variety of merchandise which kept him on the road. In the next three decades he would travel through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Utah, and Nevada hawking everything from printing services to cheap novels. Many of his descendants were only vaguely aware he had ever been a pioneer photographer.
Crockwell grew old on the road. He and his wife and children lived in Salt Lake City, Boise, Spokane, Vancouver, and Portland. They never stayed in one place long but always called Salt Lake City home. Right after Christmas 1916 Millie died. Crockwell was temporarily settled in Salt Lake City when World War I broke out in 1917. But as he wrote in his autobiography, “In the spring of 1920 we sold out the business and I went back out on the road.”
Ten years later, now an old man, Crockwell was living with his daughter Clara. She had married Albert C. “Bert” Carrington, a native Utahn who had [p.267] moved to Alameda, California, and become a prominent business and civic leader. Between 1932 and 1933 Crockwell wrote his detailed autobiography while living at the Carringtons’ home. On 16 September 1940 from causes incident to old age, the photographer died. He was buried in Salt Lake City next to Millie and Ada and two sons who had preceded him in death.
1. James Crockwell, untitled autobiography, 110 pages handwritten, 24-page typescript (1932-33), formerly in possession of Justin Crockwell. Since I began work on this book, Mr. Crockwell died and his wife donated it and some family photographs to Special Collections, Merrill Library, Utah State University.
5. Crockwell collection of family photographs, formerly in possession of Justin Crockwell, now at Special Collections, Merrill Library. Among these photographs are some of the earliest family portraits, including pictures taken in 1884 when the Crockwell and Ottinger partnership was in operation.
8. Ibid., 42. Several albumen prints he made in April 1885 at Silver Reef have survived in the photographic collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. The pictures are contained in the Mark H. Pendleton Collection donated by William H. Behle. Pendleton was living in Silver Reef when Crockwell was there in 1885. He may have bought the pictures directly from the photographer or collected them later. They included an overall view of Silver Reef “taken from below, looking toward Leeds, looking west. The Pine Valley Mountains are in the background, the cemetery in the foreground.” Other views include a street scene of Silver Reef, Buckeye Mine, Storm Mountain Mill Office, and the Harrison Hotel.
9. James H. Crockwell, Pictures and Biographies of Brigham Young and His Wives (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1887),3. A second edition of 10,000 copies was copyrighted in 1896 by Crockwell. It was printed by the F. W. Gardiner Co., Salt Lake City.
10. Crockwell, “Autobiography,” 56. This is the first confirmation that Crockwell was using the new dry plates, even though he had learned the old wet-plate process from Carter [p.268] during his apprenticeship in 1883.
15. In January 1991 some associates and I retraced Crockwell’s steps up the slopes of Cedar Mountain and located the exact spot where he stood to make his famous picture, a small level spot at the side of the unimproved road which afforded a panoramic view of Virginia City. In the mid-morning light, similar to the time Crockwell’s photograph was taken, we made an eight-by-ten-inch negative in an attempt to replicate Crockwell’s view. The changes documented by the two pictures are striking. When Crockwell made his picture, the town was near the zenith of its silver boom. Today, mining is at a standstill, and the few thousand people there make their living primarily from the tourist trade.
18. One such booklet on Marysville and Yuba City—“in photogravure, from recent negatives compiled by J. H. Crockwell, photographer,” published by the Albertype Company of New York—was produced some years later in 1895. See James H. Crockwell, Souvenir of Marysville and Yuba City; no date is specified, but Crockwell dates it as 1895 in his autobiography.
19. A large number of cabinet-sized photographs of babies under the age of one were submitted to a panel of judges, and number 371, the seven-month-old child of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Oliver, judged the winner. The judges were John McDonald, George Brodigan, and Alfred Doten. Territorial Enterprise, 8 July 1869. The clipping is pasted to the back of a cabinet-sized, albumen print of the three members of the committee found in the Alfred Doten Collection, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno.
22. An original album of Crockwell’s Park City albumen prints is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Rognon of Salt Lake City. The albumen was handed down from Mrs. Rognon’s grandfather, George Groo. A bookkeeper at the Ontario Mine and friend of Crockwell, Groo had opened doors for Crockwell in the mining community.
The albums included a wide selection of views of all the mines, panoramic view of Park City and its mining offices, hotels and boarding houses, exquisite underground, “flash light” photographs of the miners at work on the ore faces, as well as a series of photographs of the [p.269] mining executives and their wives on a horseback pleasure ride over the mountain into the Brighton lakes. One picture was somewhat puzzling: a view of the Cornish miners from the Comstock mines in Virginia City, not from the Park City mines. He labeled the picture, “Cornishmen stripped for work,” but in small letters in the left hand corner, it read, “Virginia miners.”
26. The two men got many of their San Juan artifacts from Platt D. Lyman of Bluff, but they had to agree to return them at the close of the fair (ibid., 111). McGuire proposed in his report to the commission that the state purchase Platt’s artifacts after they had been exhibited and turn them over to James E. Talmage at the Deseret Museum in Salt Lake City. This apparently happened because the mummies eventually ended up there. Today they are held in storage at Brigham Young University, with one on loan to the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah. The mummies and artifacts are not on exhibition because of increased sensitivity and federal law regarding the display of native American burials.