As I mentioned in previous blog entries, my job at the moment isn't to learn the life story of every person who appears in the Folklife Center's Richard M. Bloomer Glass Plate Negative Collection (although that's something I'd certainly love to do). I have 22 boxes of negatives—roughly 3,000 to 4,000 individual photographs—waiting to be cleaned, scanned, described, and rehoused. It is a massive undertaking, and if I stopped to research the story behind every face I come across, the project would never be completed.
Every now and then, though, an image captures my imagination and I have to take a second to see if city directories, old newspapers, or historical records can shed some light on the person staring back at me from across the years. This is what happened with the portrait below, which arrived in an envelope labeled, "Mr Scripture."
So many things about Mr. Scripture's portrait render it particularly striking—his cap and coat; the medals pinned to his chest; his dignified bearing and thoughtful countenance; his advanced age compared to the vast majority of Bloomer's other subjects; the overall quality of the image and its composition. Matted and framed, the portrait wouldn't look out of place in an art gallery. Naturally, then, the question of the day becomes, "Who is Mr. Scripture?"
Occasionally, Richard Bloomer makes things easy on posterity by providing us with the first and last names of a subject. "Simeon Simmons" is infinitely easier to research than "Mr. Simmons" would be (incidentally, I scanned Simeon's portrait the day before I came across Mr. Scripture's). More often than not, though, a surname is all we have to work with. In some cases, this makes a definitive identification nearly impossible. There are plenty of instances where a "Miss Smith" or a "Mr. Stewart" in our collection is destined to remain that way indefinitely.
Thankfully, Scripture is a relatively unique name. In fact, the city directory for 1916—covering Hudson Falls, Fort Edward, Glens Falls, and South Glens Falls—lists only one person bearing it: Jeremie Scripture of 9 Parry Street in Hudson Falls. Census records indicate that he was born in North Hudson in 1841 and died in Hudson Falls in 1929. These dates line up well with what we'd expect from our Mr. Scripture, whose portrait could have been taken at any point between 1905 and 1931, which is when Bloomer operated his studio on Main Street in Hudson Falls.
We obviously can't be certain that our Mr. Scripture and the long-lived Jeremie are one and the same—not without more evidence, anyway. However, after reading Jeremie's obituary in the August 1st, 1929 edition of The Post-Star, I found myself wholeheartedly hoping that he was our guy; his fantastical life story is filled with shipwrecks and Civil War raids, making it seem more like a mashup of Robinson Crusoe, The Killer Angels and Moby Dick than the experiences of a flesh-and-blood Hudson Falls resident! See for yourself:
Did "Uncle Jed" Scripture one day take a break from fishing and spinning yarns to have his portrait taken by Richard M. Bloomer? I certainly like to think he did. I also like to think that he'd be tickled to know the glass plate negative from that session ended up in the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library's archives. Maybe one of his descendants—or a local history buff—will come across this post and definitively answer the question posed in its title, "Who is Mr. Scripture?"