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The Blue Photos

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Society Museum

Have you ever seen a photo album where all the pictures were blue? The Millinocket Historical Society Museum has two such albums in its collection plus several others not in albums. These photographic prints are from the early 1900’s and show amazingly sharp detail for their size.

This photographic process, called cyanotype, was first used in the early 1840’s. Simply stated, it involves sensitizing a paper with two types of iron salts. After drying, the paper is then placed in direct contact with the negative and exposed to sunlight until the image appears. The print is then rinsed with water to draw out the brilliant blue color. This method was originally used to document botanical specimens by placing them on treated papers and then exposing to sunlight. The method was also used to create copies of architectural drawings, thus the name blueprints.

One album at the museum was donated by Mark Lyon of Michigan. It contains fifty-three cyanotypes and has scenes of homes under construction, the mill, Stone Dam, the first jail, a store that appears to be a bakery or candy shop, the Gas House, and ice cutting on Millinocket Stream. Among the homes shown is the George Stearns house on Highland Avenue with a woman, possibly Mrs. Stearns in a long black dress, standing on the porch. One depicts an interesting view of work being done digging into the hill on Central Street. The hill looks to be much higher then. Another view, from the opposite direction shows the hill in the distance and the intersection of Penobscot Avenue and Central Street with several businesses visible. Some photos in this album might possibly be interior views of the GN Hotel. There is a hotel lobby, bedroom views, a barber chair, and an early industrial-type kitchen. Does anyone have interior hotel photos they would share with us?

The second album was donated by Betty Libby. It contains twenty-two cyanotypes including the exteriors of the Great Northern Hotel and the Mountain View Hotel. There are several views of Penobscot Avenue showing various stores and businesses as well as wagon and buggy ruts in the dirt street. Two pictures show a Fourth of July horse and buggy parade. Both albums have been in the museum collection for years.

Cyanotype photos not in an album are part of the Laverty collection and depict several views of Little Italy and Shack Hill. All the photos are on a thin type of paper, almost tissue paper thin. Those in albums show an area where some type of glue was used to adhere the photo to the page.

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