The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, of New Haven, Connecticut (who were white men), employed 300 Native Americans (not the Kickapoo tribe) to put on a “traveling Indian medicine show” while they sold what has been termed “snake oil” in the name of “the Indian way of life.”
The Kickapoo tribe originated in the southern Great Lakes region, mainly the land between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. During the French and Indian War, the Kickapoo tribe was an ally of the French, and settled in the area of Fort Detroit in the early 1700’s. Eventually they were shipped to Oklahoma.
In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 made it illegal for the company to use “Indian” in the name of any product or advertisement.
This image of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show is taken from the original glass plate negative made by the photographer, my ancestor, Pierre Gentieu, c. 1900. I photographed the deteriorating original glass plate negative approximately 100 years later.
It’s Pierre’s bullet, I was told, that never hurt anyone, that fell to the ground, and was given to me by a very nice Louisianan historian about 20 years ago.
This Memorial Day weekend, the Sons of Union Veterans in Wilmington Delaware picked Pierre Gentieu to be the subject of their annual reenactment. But I’m not so thrilled, after being put through the wringer by this group. It turned out to be a plastic and phony event without one bit of heart or soul. They are a self-serving and thoughtless group.
I’m sorry to be stepping back from this so-called “honor” bestowed upon my great great grandfather by calling it fake – but I have to point this out. Where’s the honor in this so-called Memorial Day tribute to my ancestor when the Sons of Union Veterans cause our family so much pain?
My great great grandfather’s entire life was deeply influenced by the Civil War. He was the last living member of his chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic. He helped form his own sons’ and daughters’ chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans and Auxiliary. Called “Sons” in the name, the groups were all about family honor.
The original members have passed on and times have changed. Five or six generations have been born since that time, and we are not a part of it. In 2019, an anachronistic Sons of Union Veterans group exists to collect data on every single Civil War veteran, every tiny detail except for one thing – the very heart of the matter, Pierre’s living family!
I didn’t think it was asking too much for them to write a simple timely email to the list of descendants they had coming in regard to a family get-together I had planned to take place after the formal event. But apparently it was too much to ask.
“Trying to accommodate family personal agendas in a planned group event is always hard to do,” said Civil War reenactor, Kenneth Finlayson, the Vice Commander of the Sons of Union Veterans, after keeping me waiting for two weeks. Hmm. Why would that be so hard?
Pierre helped create the Sons of Union Veterans Appomattox Camp #2 with his real sons 121 years ago, and he also helped create the Auxiliary group with his daughters. How dare this group in 2019 identify with Pierre Gentieu and pretend to honor him after they have treated me so unkindly and so dishonestly.
My great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, was a photographer. He created sharp-focused, sensitive images of the workers and families who worked at the DuPont Powder Company. His photos express the hard life of the workers, many of whom were new immigrants, at the first big industrial company in the United States, which happened to be situated in the most photogenic location there ever could be for a gunpowder corporation, along the banks of the Brandywine River in the rolling hills of northern Delaware.
During my last year of college, I took a photography class, and suddenly everything seemed to fall into place, and I got instant recognition for my photographs.
I became a professional photographer in New York. In 1988, I had a show called “Confabulations” at a gallery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and that show was written up in American Photographer magazine.
A few years after that, I received a letter from a distant cousin Norman Gentieu, Pierre’s 77-year old grandson, saying that he found me from that review in American Photographer, and guessed that I was related to Pierre Gentieu. Did I know that he was a photographer, and that the Hagley Museum in Delaware has a complete set of his photographs?
I had NO idea!
It was an extraordinary letter from my cousin, and it explained why I was so drawn to photography and was kind of good at it, Could it be genetic?
The Hagley Museum told me that the Historical Society of Delaware had Pierre’s entire set of 354 glass plate negatives. The Historical Society let me borrow them to make prints, 10 glass negatives at a time, which was amazing.
I made archival prints from them — not the albumin prints of Pierre’s day, but the equally distinctive, and now-vintage gelatin silver prints of the twentieth century.
Pierre was only 18 years old when he immigrated, alone, to America from Orthez, Lower Pyrenees, France. It was 1860, and he stayed with his aunt and uncle in a room above their Darrigrand French bakery in Brooklyn. When it got cold, Pierre moved to New Orleans, where it was warmer and they spoke French. He joined the Orleans Artillery state militia, then the Civil War broke out, and the militia was absorbed into the Confederacy. Pierre was the first in his company to step out of line.
He joined the 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry because he liked their uniforms. They were dubbed the “Dandy Regiment.” He fought in nine Civil War battles, and after the war, married Sarah Albina Weed, the sister of his tent mate and friend who taught him English. Pierre and Binie had six children — four boys and two girls.
Pierre came from a family of breveted chocolatiers. The family legend was that they made chocolate for the king! So after the Civil War, Pierre and Binie settled down in New York, where Pierre opened two French bakeries and then a restaurant. But he ran into terrible debt, so he had to sell the restaurant.
It was 1877 and Pierre was 35, with a five-year old boy, a crawling baby, and a pregnant wife. Pierre was in deep trouble! But alas, he found employment at the DuPont Powder Company in Delaware. The company, being French, making gunpowder, and wanting to help out Civil War veterans, gave Pierre his second chance.
He started as a powder worker, a very dangerous job. But the du Ponts soon recognized his talent when they saw a goauche painting he made of the Lower Yard, and he was promoted to work in the office. You could say that art saved Pierre’s life from the many explosions that were occurring in the powder yards.
Pierre sometimes brought his camera to work with him, and for a long time was the only person allowed in the yards with a camera.
To quote from a clipping from the book, Corporate Images: Photography and the Du Pont Company 1865 – 1972, which the Hagley Museum and Library sent me in 1992 as an introduction to Pierre’s photography:
“Gentieu’s photography was very straight forward, with simple camera angles and poses dictated not only by his equipment, but also by his clear minded approach. He was a gifted amateur photographer who desired to show things distinctly in his pictures. For this he was encouraged by the officers of the DuPont Company, and we can be thankful that he has left us the benefit of his vision. His photography was to leave a mark in the history of the company he worked for so faithfully for so long.”
To have found this connection to my roots has been so profound. If it hadn’t been for a photo credit, if it hadn’t been for Norman looking me up, if it hadn’t been for the Hagley keeping Pierre’s collection with his name on it, I never would have known.
The other night at a party I mentioned that I used to photograph babies in New York. (When pushed, I will admit it.) The man I was talking to said that he lived in New York when he was a baby, and that he was photographed for a baby product ad in 1972. I made a wild guess that the photographer was Joe Schneider, which he later confirmed, after texting his mother. (And she remembered! To think, that a baby photographer could make such an impression on a mother as to be remembered more than 40 years later!)
Joe Schneider was the go-to baby photographer from the 1940’s to the 70’s. When he stopped photographing in the 1980’s, he continued to work as a baby handler. I landed my first big commercial shoot in 1986, which was for Baby Fresh, and having a big advertising budget, I hired Joe Schneider as a baby handler. I learned a few things from him too — most notably, the magic of Cherrios, which forever remained a staple in my studio and was often the secret ingredient to a successful shoot!
I was oblivious then to what Joe Schneider seems now to be most famous for — using Marilyn Chambers as a mother model on the package of Ivory Snow, when right after that, she went on to become a famous porn star! You have to start somewhere!
It’s a sad day when we the citizens of Toledo have to take it upon ourselves to vote on whether or not we should protect our huge wonderful life-giving nurturing Great Lake Erie from poisonous nitrogen and phosphorus dumping. But that is our task on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. Our elected representatives won’t do it.
Toledo had a national emergency in August 2014 when the city of Toledo admitted that the water was so toxic, we couldn’t drink it for three days. Four and a half years later, we drink water we buy at Aldi’s to hedge our bets for living in this cesspool, hoping we won’t get cancer or some other dreaded disease from the toxic environment that nobody seems to want to take care of.
Believe it or not, Toledoans are voting on whether we have the right to defend our Great Lake Erie from harmful, poisonous dumping. Which is one way of saying enough is enough to the harmful effects of corporate greed, industrial dumping and fertilizer run off into our lake and the water we drink. We are water too. We are the lake, the lake is us.
Photo by Anonymous: Felix Nadar’s second ascension of Le’ Geant in Paris on October 18, 1863 (my mother’s birthday), shown aside a regular size balloon to contrast its gigantic size, on the ground where the Eiffel Tower now stands, Champ de Mars. Le’ Geant floated all night, but in the morning, it infamously landed (by crashing across the countryside in a high wind for 30 minutes, no one escaped injury) in Hanover, Germany (where King George V took them in). Nadar’s efforts to advance aviation were praised by Jules Verne, who in his next novel, modeled the main character Ardan after Nadar in Journey From The Earth To The Moon, where he was sent to the Moon in a cannon!
I’m probably not the only one wishing Pierre Gentieu (1842-1930) a Happy Birthday today, January 26 – as if I knew him personally – he would be 177 years old! After all, Pierre owned the entire set of Jules Verne’s approximately 30 science fiction novels, translated into English (when you just know he read the books in French!) so it’s no wonder to find him projected in our hearts a hundred years later.
Consider this 1863 Parisian balloon scene and how different it is from the photo of the firing of the cannon, happening concurrently across the ocean. Imagine Pierre in 1863, age 21, as a carefree bohemian in Paris drawing satirical cartoons for underground papers, writing poetry, hanging out in salons, exploring his creativity, and perhaps he went ballooning. But instead he sailed to America, fought in the war to abolish slavery, married Binie Weed from New Canaan Connecticut, and Voila! Here we Are!
So Happy Birthday to Pierre, who spoke French (and English), stood up for his principles, fought in nine Civil War battles, and knew quite well that there was a more progressive use for the cannon than as exemplified in the photo above. At 177, he may or may not have gone to the Moon (who can really say), but astrologically, he is definitely completing his sixth Saturn return. (I checked his chart!) That is one wise old great great grandfather.