Friday, July 27, 2007

Searching for the past in the fog of the present

Foggy Night on the Square
Time blurs in the fog. In the right setting, modern details drop away, and you could be walking in the same place 100 years ago or more. Old photographs also bring the past closer. You've probably had the experience of looking at an old photo and thinking that if you just concentrated a bit more and really reached out with your imagination, you could walk right into the photograph. In novelist Jack Finney's 1970 classic Time and Again -- part science fiction, part history -- this nearly universal sensation of temporal displacement was transformed into a method of literally traveling in time.

Most of us travel in time vicariously, not literally, and old photos and postcards like vfm4's Madison 1915 set are our time machine. This is the cover of the postcard folder that her grandfather mailed back to Holland from Madison. As you can see, the Capitol still looks much the same, aside from the modern version's dome being lost in the fog. The trees are much older these days, and taller. Some are now being cut down to be replaced with younger trees.

This was the fourth Wisconsin State Capitol, the third one on this site (in fact, it wasn't quite finished when the postcard folder was made -- maybe that's why the picture on the cover was cropped so vertically -- they would have still been working on the side wings). Check out these fascinating photos of what came before at the Wisconsin Historical Society website. There are thumbnails and links to more than 100 photos, some of them quite extraordinary.

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