Reenactors

Not our tribe

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.

A fake honor

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.

The group on the left are my grandparents at Pierre’s funeral on June 25, 1930, standing with aunts Celeste and Jessie, cousins Norman, Oscar, Frank and Betty and uncle Frank . All three branches of the Gentieu family stood together in 1930, but in 1990 the three branches of the Gentieu family were entirely estranged. And so they remain.  Thanks so much for your help, Sons of Union Veterans. Yay.

More photos here:

Joe Schneider, photographer and baby handler

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!

Joe Schneider in his studio doing his thing, 1954. Photo by Peter Stackpole for Life Magazine.
Joe Schneider, 1986, on my lightbox posing as a well-behaved baby should.
Joe Schneider directing the baby as I photographed for Baby Fresh, 1986.
One of the Baby Fresh ads we did that day.
Photo by Joe Schneider, on the Ivory Snow box, 1972, with photo of Marilyn Chambers on right. The models in the two ads, his and mine, are kind of similar! Casting for my photo was chosen by the ad agency, J. Walter Thompson. Guess Marilyn Chambers as mother model was still an inspiration 14 years later, in 1986.
Marilyn Chambers, porn star, and the Ivory Snow box on which she was a young mother model, Google Images screenshot, 2019. (click to enlarge)

Defending the Great Lake Erie

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.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights

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.

Corporate Greed: we are but laboratory rats in their experiment
I am the lake, the lake is me. Ouch! They chopped my head off.

Le Monde:  In summer, from space, large portions of Lake Erie take on fluorescent tints. This is not particularly good sign….

https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2019/02/22/les-habitants-de-toledo-dans-l-ohio-appeles-a-donner-un-statut-juridique-au-lac-erie-pour-sa-survie_5426743_3244.html

Happy Birthday, Pierre

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!

A coincidental cannon, Civil War style, c. 1863. So close in the universe; so far across the world.

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.

Pierre in 1863

9/11 seventeen years ago


Seventeen years ago

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and we were living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was working from home that morning, making arrangements for a big shoot scheduled for the next week. Clients would be flying in from San Francisco for the shoot. Tom came in from outside and said that he saw the super, who said that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We lived about five miles east of downtown Manhattan. We ran up to the roof to see it. It was unbelievable to see a tower up in smoke. Later on, we witnessed the actual collapse of one of the towers.

Anna, who was 11 at the time, was safely at school in our neighborhood, so before noon that fateful morning, being in a bit of shock, we walked up to 7th Avenue, to the Rite Aid store. The air on our street was permeated with dust and smelled like burnt metal. At the store, the shelves that had medicine and first aid supplies were completely empty. The clerk said that people had been buying things up to donate to first aid centers.

We then walked to the nearby hospital to see if we could donate blood. They already had more people donate than they could handle, but we could check again later.


It was the worst moment in history that we have ever witnessed. The city was in mourning that week and the week after, and all work stopped.

My photo shoot had been postponed to the week after that. The clients told me that under the circumstances, they would not be flying to the shoot after all. The first day back in the studio, we had the casting for the shoot, and it was a record turn-out. We were all overwhelmed with grief and sadness, but we were all ready to get back to work.