Friday Frights – Some Less than Usual Deaths, and One Close Call

We should be glad that most of us are making digital photographs these days. Several years ago I had my own darkroom, but living in the (then) 20th century, I never once thought that self-processing my own photos would “be the death of me.”

On Aug. 31, 1878, The (Wisconsin) Stevens Pt. Daily Journal reported on page 6, that an unidentified Georgia photographer had cut his hand, and while processing his photographs, he somehow got acid in the cut, and he died of the resulting infection.

Of course, we know that 19th century newspaper reports are not exactly accurate, and I did not find this in any Georgia newspaper, but I did find something similar reported in the early 20th century.

In 1913, the death of an Atlanta amateur photographer, Stuart Johnston, Jr. on Feb. 11th was noted in the Atlanta Constitution the next day. He reportedly died of blood poisoning “caused by cutting his finger with a photographic dark plate.” His funeral was held February 16th at Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Johnston, a transplant from Macon in 1907, became the sales manager of the Atlanta branch of the Liquid Carbonic Company. Single and about 24 years old, he “had thrown great enthusiasm into his amateur photography,” and he “had given many flashlight parties.”

Flashlight parties were a very popular thing to do in the early 1900’s, as is evident by this A. K. Hawkes Co.  1906 advertisement.

A.K. Hawkes adv.1906

The ability to take photographs in low light, or at night, used by newspaper photographers, was also available to the amateur. The name comes from the use of the “flashes” of artificial light. Perhaps Mr. Johnston owned the John L. Moore & Sons booklet below “By Flashlight,” produced about 1912, specifically for amateur photographers.

FlashlightBooklet by Moore&Son1912

Photographer Rufus Morgan was the father of North Carolina’s now well-known female photographer, Bayard Wootten. Throughout the 1870’s, Morgan did well enough as a photographer in North Carolina, with studios in three cities in that state.  Possibly to make more money, he also traveled, and he produced many stereographic views of sites in other states. Many of those that he made in Georgia are dated winter 1874; thus far I have seen only those he made in Savannah.

A collection of his photographs, including those made in Georgia, is at the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After becoming the father of two children, Morgan decided he would do better financially elsewhere, and in another profession, and he gave up his photography business.  Another avid interest of his was beekeeping, so Morgan moved out to San Diego, California to work in an apiary.

By the spring of 1880, when she was only five, Bayard’s father was dead.  According to a physician’s letter, he had “suffered untold miseries” after he ate a meal of what apparently included poison mushrooms.

Another interesting bit of trivia is that, before becoming a professional photographer, Bayard Wootten taught art at the Georgia School for the Deaf, at Cave Spring. She taught there from late 1894, through her marriage in late 1897, and until the birth of her first child in 1898.

If you are at all interested in women in photography, a wonderful read is Jerry W. Cotton’s book called Light and Air-The Photography of Bayard Wootten (UNC Press, 1998).  It really is one of my favorite books.

Another photographer who met with an unfortunate accident is Thomasville photographer H. S. Clark, who ran a photography business, Clark’s Gallery, in that city for about ten years. He was there from about  mid-1885 until July 1895, and his son H. M. Clark worked with him briefly in 1887.  He often traveled to Florida to take photographs and “replenish his stock of views for the winter [tourist] business.”

Many of Clark’s images were taken outdoors.  There is a photo taken in Thomasville by H. S. Clark that is now in the Harvard Library (Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute) and part of the Blackwell Family Papers.  It is of  Emma Lawrence Blackwell standing on a lawn with her children.  They will not allow anyone to link to their images within a web post, but you can see the photograph in their VIA (Visual Informtion Access) catalog by searching for “Clark, Thomasville, Georgia”.

In about July 1895, Clark moved to Moultrie, perhaps to set up another studio, but on  September 18, he was instantly killed after a fall out of a second story window.  It was suggested he had heart disease and possibly had a heart attack, but we may never know exactly what the “cause” was.  His body was returned to Thomasville, and he was buried with Masonic honors there in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

G.W. Grice, Jr.,  the son of photographer George W. Grice and his partner in Grice’s Studio in Vidalia, was killed in early June 1916.  With a headline in all caps, the Macon Daily Telegraph of June 6, 1916 page 2, proclaimed, “BOLT KILLS GRICE – Vidalia Photographer Meets Death – but Sister Escapes.”

During a storm, the family’s home was struck by lightning and it immediately killed George W. Grice, Jr.  The young man’s sister, who was unnamed (which is too often the case), was stunned, but unhurt.

G. W. Grice, Sr. had had a photograph studio in Vidalia since about 1910, with his son joining him in about 1913, when he would have been about 16 years old. Prior to that time, Grice elder had studios simultaneously in Barnesville and Forsyth in about 1890, then in Barnesville only until 1910, before opening Grice’s photography studio in Vidalia.

Widowed, G. W. Grice, Sr. had relocated by 1920, and opened a studio in Dublin.  By 1930 he was living in Durango, Colorado working as a photographer, with a wife thirty years his junior who was his studio assistant. It seems he was compensating for his losses.

Both photographer William H. Hoffman of Savannah and Atlanta architect and amateur photograph Walter T. Downing, were struck by automobiles and each died of their injuries.

Hoffman (Hofmann), a German immigrant, worked in Savannah as a professional photographer; first as the partner to N.I. Gottlieb, 1890-1891, as Gottlieb & Hoffman, then, as of 1892, alone in a photo studio later known as Hoffman’s Art Studio.  That studio advertised until about 1915, when Hoffman formed the Dixie Engraving Co. He was president of that company at the time of his death.

Hoffman was hit by a car on Dec. 30, 1919, and passed away on January 4, 1920. He was buried in Elizabeth City, New Jersey.  Hoffman’s nephew and son continued his engraving business until 1973.

Here is an cabinet card I have by Hofman, I think made shortly after Gottlieb & Hoffman ended their partnership.

Hoffman 4 men cab

Walter T. Downing, architect, was well known for his book highlighting his residential architecture, Domestic Architecture (Atlanta: Franklin Printing & Publishing Co., 1897).  Before its publication, he was the designer of the Fine Arts Building for the 1895 International Cotton States Exposition, and he helped form the Art Students’ League of Atlanta.  There is more on W. T. Downing’s career here:

Not well known is that Downing was an amateur photographer, and he belonged to the Atlanta Camera Club from 1888 to at least 1890, serving on the club’s executive committee, 1888 – 1889. He did his own photograph developing & printing, and I have seen one of his signed photographs, a home interior hearth area from about 1890.  Here is a newspaper cut made from a Downing portrait photograph reproduced in an article about the Atlanta Camera Club’s “Amateurs in Photography” (Atlanta Con. 29 June 1890 page 7).

Downing, WT photo cut1890

Downing was in Philadelphia with his family when he was struck by car on Oct. 23, 1918.  He was hospitalized in Philadelphia for several days and died there on Nov. 1st (if he died late on Thursday, he died Oct. 31).  His body was then brought back to Atlanta, and his funeral was held on Nov. 3rd at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

And our One Close Call goes to a Cuthbert photographer, J. H. Farmer. A tornado hit the Cuthbert area on the evening of March 10, 1909. It was reported by the Columbus and Macon newspapers with this headline “FARMER’S DEATH HOURLY EXPECTED – Photographer Injured in Cuthbert Tornado Cannot Survive”.

This headline certainly intrigued me, and I wanted to know about this photographer I had never before run across. I found that he indeed had survived the tornado, and was recorded in both the 1910 and 1920 Federal census in Cuthbert.  His initials were J. H. and not J. A. as reported by the newspapers, and his full name was Joseph H. Farmer.  He was noted by the 1910 census taker as a “photographer – general line,” and in 1920 simply as “Photographer.” I have seen a ca. 1895 cabinet card marked “J. H. Farmer” which suggests he had worked in Greenville, prior to his arrival in Cuthbert.

But I haven’t done any more research on him. I never mean to do any of this “extra” research, most of which is beyond the period of my current 1862-1885 biographical checklist time-period, which just won’t complete itself.  I have decided I need a keeper – someone to tell me to stop getting caught up in these details!


  1. I have a couple of unidentified photos that were made at Gottlieb and Hoffman. Knowing the time frame of their business will help, I hope. I have another couple that were made at Hoffman (underlined) W H that I am also hoping to identify Two other Savannah studios where (probably) unidentified family pictures were taken are Launey (sp?) and Gorbel and J.N. Wilson. I will research these next.

  2. Sandy Valvo · · Reply

    On a whim, I just picked up a very old looking picture by “J.H. Farmer” from a Savannah Estate Sale. I wonder if this could be the same J.H. Farmer that you mention! It appears to be a photograph from the late 1800’s. I was looking for more information on my photograph and soon intend to sell it. Thank you for this article, very interesting.

    1. Thanks for reading! It could well be the same photographer although it is not a very unusual name. Since it was found in GA perhaps it is he!

  3. I am looking at a photo of my mother’s father and his mother. The photo was taken in 1899 by J. H. Talbotton, GA. The little boy in the photo is 10 years old. My mother’s handwriting on the back confirms this. The lady in the photo is Bettie Elizabeth Willis and her son, my mother’s father , Walter Joseph Willis. Could J.H. Farmer have been a traveling photographer? I hope this thread is still open. I will give only my email at this time.

    1. I will get back to you on Mr. Farmer, yes I am familiar with him.

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