Mr. John Walton, Died in April 1805

Snapshots have typically been records of happy moments. There is an exception to this rule. Tombstones are a common subject of snapshots. In such cases, the photographic print is the connection with the departed. Before photography appeared, only wealthy people knew how their ancestors looked. Ordinary folk could not afford to hire a painter. So when snapshot cameras became available, in lieu of the ancestor, his tombstone was recorded.

In this photograph, the most interesting detail is the headless person standing behind the monument, his hands tenderly caressing the graven stone. The anonymity of the figure emphasizes the importance of the man interred.

So the photograph tells us more than the tombstone. We do not only learn about Mr. John Walton having died in April 1805, but also that there was a descendant who in later years attended the grave, that he was remembered more than a century after his passing.

Charles Burden Research Collection