Poltergeist: Huguenot Street

By Jessica Dow

This week’s object is a little old stereograph. It’s a rather spooky little thing – when I looked through it, I saw a haunting in action!  The image shows two women in a sitting room, and between them is a half-transparent third woman who seems to be trying to interact with them.  As a bit of a horror buff, I loved the vintage scariness of this object.

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Since stereographs are very much novelty objects which aren’t exactly commonplace any longer, here is a brief overview of what a stereograph actually is:

In the early 19th century, the invention of photography and the market industry which arose around the medium led to a desire for innovation in the field.  The stereograph arose from the desire to immerse oneself more fully into a photograph, which was at this time generally small and colorless.  This new invention used a simple combination of lenses and duplicate images carefully placed so that when a user looked through the lenses as if they were looking into binoculars, they would see an illusion of a 3D image.  An individual could purchase a Stereograph for personal use or for their family, and then could get a number of interchangeable slides to fit into the viewing slot so that one could look at whatever they chose, and feel as if they were “in” the image.

Many popular photographers produced 3D slides for stereographs, such as Timothy O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, and Eadweard Muybridge.  Images which were used for journalism, education, and entertainment were translated into stereograph slides so that the public could learn from and enjoy a wide variety of scenes and images.  The buying and selling of stereograph slides became a very profitable business.

Despite the fact that Huguenot Street’s stereograph is currently filled with the image which I have been fondly referring to as “the Huguenot Horror,” our archives also hold a larger selection of slides with a variety of images which must have been a source of great entertainment when they were used (including a scene of Satan’s marriage amongst local Hudson Valley scenery).

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