Chris and Andrew and Pierre’s bullet


I was researching my great great grandfather in Louisiana, March, 2000, So lucky to have met two very special Civil War historians, Chris Pena and Andrew Capone, who lived in the area of Pierre’s first battle, an hour up the river from New Orleans in Donaldsonville and Thibodeaux.

By day, they gave us a tour of the area, showing us where Pierre’s camp was, where his first battle was. At night, they treated us to a memorable Louisana home cooked dinner of delicious Sauce Piquant at Andrew and Judy’s house in Donaldsonville.

I told them story of my ancestor, how in 1861, Pierre initially signed up with the Louisiana Militia, but in 1862 refused to join the Confederacy. It was April, and the Colonel led the militia company to Vicksburg from Fort Livingston. Half way to Vicksburg, in the very town of Donaldsonville, Colonel Theard lined up his men and gave them a speech. He told them of his orders to go to Vicksburg, but explained that he had no right to take them outside the state without their consent. He hoped they would go, but he didn’t want to force anyone. The Colonel then offered any man an opportunity to declare if they were against the cause of the Confederacy. If any man had any scruples about it, that man was free to step out of the ranks.

Pierre wrote these words in a letter 50 years later about precisely what that moment felt like:

Then came the time for me when I had to decide at once.  My conscience and pride were struggling; one was saying you ought not accept the cause of slavery; and the shame to appear before my comrades, as if I were afraid because we would have to fight, was a struggle indeed; but I made up my mind now or never whatever happens—I stepped out the first one in my company with cries of coward from the rear.

There I stood for a few long moments until Albert Fest stepped out from the right of the company. A very tall man compared to me, he said, ‘Pierre, I am with you on this!’ Then 30 German men stepped out soon after that. As we were the butt of all insults from behind, the Colonel put a stop to that very quickly, saying ‘None of that, men, it takes more moral courage for those men to step out as they have done than to stay in the ranks’; and closing the few of us near him he spoke kindly, but sadly, saying to leave all our equipments, taking only our personal property—-that New Orleans was so many miles off, in such a direction—-we could get there the best way possible—-that we were free;  and so we left worrying whether or not some of the hot headed ones might shoot at us; but the Colonel kept them in line until we disappeared in the woods.

Andrew and Chris were very nice about it, considering that I was eating dinner at Andrew’s house, telling them how Pierre quit the Confederacy and joined up with the Union. I worried about how polite I was being to tell them that story at their dinner table. But Andrew told story after story after that, maybe to give me some needed Confederate education.

After dinner, Andrew took us into his workroom. He excavated battle grounds, including the site of Pierre’s first battle as a Union soldier. Andrew looked through the baggies of bullets, then handed me a bullet covered in white rust and dust, saying, it was Pierre’s bullet. Pierre dropped it during his first battle. The bullet never hurt anyone, Andrew pointed out, and it was mine now because Pierre wanted me to have it.

I gladly accepted the bullet for all of its poetry and brought it back up north. I arranged it in my studio along with some toy soldiers that I bought in New Orleans, one to represent each of five generations, and a broken brick Chris and Andrew gave me from the ruins of Fort Butler, and some spanish moss. The soldiers were slightly precarious on the brick, because some mornings I would come in to find that the soldiers had fallen on the floor or into the spanish moss, from the vibrations of the Six train that ran through the basement of the Lafayette St. building. But never Pierre, and never the bullet.

Pierre Gentieu’s Camp of the 13th Reg’t Conn. Vols.

My great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, was a Civil War soldier and a Civil War artist. The surviving works that I have, that he made during the Civil War, are a lithograph of a drawing and a watercolor or gouache painting, both of Camp Hubbard in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. I also have a War photo of the same encampment. I think the photo was used as reference. The photograph (a mounted 8×10 albumen print) shows Pierre actually in his tent, on B Street. (A regiment has about 1000 men, divided into about 10 companies, and Pierre was in Company B.)

Pierre, 18 years old, came to Brooklyn, New York from France in 1860, where he lived for a year. When the next winter came, he moved to New Orleans, where the climate was closer to what he was used to in his homeland of Orthez in the Lower Pyrenees, France. He made some friends who were in the New Orleans Artillery, a state militia, and so he joined for the fun of it. They were learning heavy artillery drill at Fort Livingston, at Baratiara Bay, when the war broke out and when Farrugut came up the Mississippi. The order soon came to the colonel for them to spike their guns and go to Vicksburg, and so they left.

At the first stopping point, in Donaldsonville, up the Mississippi, Colonel Theard lined up his men in dress parade, and gave a speech. He told them of his orders, but that he had no right to take them across the state line without their consent because they were enlisted as militia for the state of Louisiana only. The Colonel said, of course he himself would go to the uttermost, and he hoped his men would too, but if any man was against the cause of the Confederacy, and if he had any scruples about it, that he was free at that time to step out of the ranks.

In regard to this moment of decision, here are Pierre’s own words, written in a letter to his nephew, Willie Weed, in 1915:

Then came the time for me when I had to decide at once. My conscience and pride were struggling; one was saying, you ought not accept the cause of slavery; and the shame to appear before my comrades, as if I were afraid because we would have to fight, was a struggle indeed; but I made up my mind now or never whatever happens — I stepped out the first one in my company, with cries of coward in my rear.

So I stood for a few seconds when Albert Fest, whom you know, stepped out from the right of the company, as he was a tall man, and turning towards me, said, “Pierre, I am with you on this.” Then three more came out, and several Germans in the company next to us. As we were the butt of all insults from behind, the Colonel put a stop to that very quickly, saying, “none of that, men; it takes more moral courage for those men to step out as they have done, then to stay in the ranks,” and closing the few of us near him he spoke kindly, but sadly, saying to leave all of our equipments, taking only our personal property— that New Orleans was so many miles off, in such a direction—we could get there the best way possible—that we were free; and so we left worrying whether or not some of the hot-headed ones might shoot at us; but the Colonel kept them in line until we disappeared in the woods.

What I think is really interesting about what has survived of Pierre’s Civil War artwork is that it was all created in Thibodeaux, the location of Camp Hubbard, which was only a few miles down the bayou from Donaldsonville, the stopping place where Colonel Theard lined up his men and gave them the opportunity to step out of the ranks. The camp was the home-base of the 13th Connecticut for several months, while the regiment swept down the Bayou Lafourche, liberating hundreds, maybe thousands of slaves from plantations.

Here’s the poster that was made to sell the lithograph edition of Pierre’s Camp of the 13th Reg’t Conn. Vols., in 1870, issued by Francis Weed:

Here’s a picture of Pierre’s friend, Albert Fest, who was the first to step out of line with him in Donaldsonville. It is from around the turn of the century and Fest is posing on his stoop with his family in Brooklyn, a large American flag flying above them. Perhaps it was Memorial Day.

Here’s a picture of my first get-together with newly-discovered cousins, at my New York City, Lafayette Street studio in 1994, cousins I met through my discovery of Pierre’s photography: Elizabeth is holding a photo of Pierre, Vivian is holding a photo of Francis Weed, Jeanne Duff is holding a mural of the Pyrenees; all these cousins were/are keepers of Pierre’s family memories; I’m holding a hand-made album I just completed of 50 silver gelatin prints I had just printed from Pierre’s original glass plate negatives, and my daughter, Anna Friemoth, age 4, is holding a French postcard of a French cousin.

Happy Memorial Day, cousins!

Remember magazines?

Newsstand magazines. On paper.

I did a lot of work for print magazines over the past 30 years. I recently compiled five volumes of my favorite tearsheets. There are about 1,200 pages total in the five volumes, and I put them in chronological order. It makes a pretty good snapshot of my career.

It was the golden age of magazines. I was lucky to have done this work when I did, because many magazines that I worked with are now defunct or published online only — famous magazines such as Child, Parenting, Baby Talk, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, USA Weekend, American Health, Mademoiselle, McCall’s, Healthy Kids, Epoca (Italy), Life, Ladies Home Journal, Metropolitan Home and Smart Money. Gone!

I also worked with these magazines that are still on the newsstand: New York, Self, Glamour, Esquire, Fortune, Psychology Today, American Baby, Cosmopolitan, and more.

The books are a snapshot of an era, about child-rearing, the big issues of the day, and how graphics and art direction styles changed over the 30 year period. In 1985, when I started photographing babies, times were changing. My photos of babies were completely different from what had been the norm. They were unsentimental and free of adornment, focused on the personality of the baby itself rather than on adult projections… this shift in approach was all it took to make my photos popular with art directors, and I’m proud to have put a fresh face on the millennial generation.


Here are a few highlights:

Babies in pinstripe suits, and that typeface! Definitely 1988! These were McGraw Hill ads that appeared in the New York Times.

My all-time favorite cloth diaper photo in Metropolitan Home, 1989, and a Whittle publication, Special Report, of a toddler making a peace sign. (a shoot that took three redo castings, each call for a little older baby… now we know that they don’t make peace signs until they are 2 1/2)

Remember photo labs? (Definitely more rare now than magazines.) Duggal was a big one in New York, and I assume it probably still is big, and maybe it’s the only one, but don’t quote me. They gave me the “Image Maker Award” and ran my photo in their ad on the back cover of Photo District News.

I shot covers for Baby Talk and American Baby for a few years. I felt very lucky to be chosen for their cover photographer since they were competing magazines by different publishers.

This spread, American Baby on the left, and New York Magazine on the right, just happened to fall that way chronologically, but it works! Nathan Lane was intensely crazy to photograph — I don’t know why he put his fingers in his ears — the babies went home!

It was easier to get babies to play musical instruments than to get them to make a peace sign…This was for Similac, we rented a baby grand piano, violin, drums, trumpet, saxophone, xylophone, and we had a conductor. My mom made the outfits.

Linocolor gave me their high-end scanner to use, and they never wanted it back! It was the only time I ever asked a company for such a favor. On the opposite page, magazines would sometimes write about me. There I am with Anna, telling the story about the peace sign shoot.

This photo of Tom and Anna was used a lot, upside down, sideways, whatever way they wanted.

Newsweek Japan often picked up U.S. Newsweek stories and I loved collecting those tearsheets.

Another Newsweek Japan spread. They were beautifully designed. They had special editions where they would use 10-20 pages of my photos. Beautiful magazines!
I had to throw in this Amazon webpage from 2000, it’s so strange to see in a book! This is when the board book edition of Baby! Talk! first came out. Ranked 2,100 and 5 stars! Just this February, Random House reissued it.
This Time cover came out at just the right time, during a family reunion (explaining a lot of things…) You and Me Baby is my tenth book.
This was a fun project with the Biography Channel — besides Jimi Hendrix and Donald Trump (that little bugger!), there is Salvador Dali, Imelda Marcos and Josephine Baker.
This is part of one of those slick leave-behinds that pharmaceutical reps leave with the doctors after a lunch or weekend in the Bahamas. As all photographers knew, that was where the money is at!
I didn’t just do babies.

Curiosity and Inspiration — a dedication to Norman Gentieu

I really ought to dedicate this Pierrepenny blog to Norman Gentieu (1915-2009). Norman totally changed my life. He was a distant cousin I had never known about, until December, 1991, when I received a letter from him. Norman was searching the Gentieu name at the Philadelphia Library when he found a review of a show of my photos in American Photographer. The photos that were featured were the old found slides from the 50’s — the series called “Confabulations.”

Norman wrote to me that he thought I was related to his grandfather Pierre Gentieu, who came to the United States from France in 1860 at the age of 18, and did I know he was a photographer, and that his photos are in the collection of a museum in Wilmington, Delaware?  What!! I knew Pierre was my great great grandfather and that he came to America, and I thought he was an artist, but nobody ever told me he was a photographer, and here I was many years into my photography career.

I could go on about this forever. Norman really did change my life. It meant a lot to find out that my ancestor was a photographer. I became a believer, of some sort, as if knowing, even more so, that I truly was on the right path in pursuit of my destiny.

At that time, I had been sharing a studio with another photographer for three years. I wanted to get my own studio, but wasn’t sure I could make it. After reading that letter, I went out looking for my own place. On January 13, 1992, I moved into the corner space of the fifth floor of 380 Lafayette St., corner of Great Jones St., New York City, a beautiful 19th century industrial building. The loft was 2,000 open square feet and had 12 windows with sun streaming in all morning and until 3 in the afternoon.

A month after moving into the studio, Tom and I drove to Philadelphia to meet Norman. This is when the photos were taken with Norman, shown above. Norman had Pierre’s banjo, his camera (which he generously gave me two years later) and a lot of Pierre’s documents and photos. He showed me a photo of Pierre, the first one I ever saw. Pierre was wearing some sort of uniform with a big LG on the front. Norman said it stood for “Lafayette Guard,” a Civil War veteran’s group of Pierre’s.

That’s when I found out Pierre was my guardian angel. At least that’s what I want to believe. My career really took off after that. My Lafayette Street studio was very special, and I kept it for 10 years, until the rent went sky high, after which I rented space by the day.

Curiosity, Norman’s wife said about Norman contacting me — curiosity and taking a chance, she said were two of his most distinctive attributes. Through Norman’s search of the Gentieu name, and through my use of the old found photos of an anonymous family, I found my own family, and so much inspiration. Thank you Norman — I dedicate this blog to you.

Anna Hale Buckingham’s engagement valentine

This valentine was created in 1819 by Anna Hale when she was 24, for her fiance, Alvah Buckingham. Somehow the delicate folded paper snowflake cut-out has survived all these years — almost 200 years. I acquired it from Uncle George. It was tucked away in a plastic sleeve in his family history notebook. A poem with 18 verses is written within each fold, front and back.

Young Alvah Buckingham, pioneer settler in southeastern Ohio, took a trip to Glastonbury, Connecticut in 1819 and met Anna Hale, leader of the village choir. Romance ensued along with a hurried wedding, and one week later they rode horseback together to Ohio to start their new life.

The Powers above cannot pretend
To say I’ve a false story pen’d

In the inside sweet turtle dove
I’ve wrote a Moral of my love

These pretty hearts which you behold
Will break where these leaves unfold

Like a lovesick lover full of pain
Love wounded is and breaks on twain

My dearest dear and blest devine
Those pretty hearts like yours and mine

‘But Cupid has between us set a Cross
Which makes me to lament my love

The little birds sing on each tree
To show happiness and how blest they be

Each one chase his own mate
What pleasure they in such a state

But now to let our hearts have ease
Let them both be joined like these

For mine as true as is the Sun
Set both our hearts be joined in one

When very birds did grace the spring
And tune Alphra Buchanham they sing

Liked these sweet birds let us agree
Nor be so cruel unto me

Blessed the day happy the time
That should cause you to be mine

When first my eyes did you behold
I prized you more than precious gold

If you take it in good part
I shall be glad with all my heart

But if you do the same refuse
The paper burn and me excuse

Marriage

Alvah and Anna Buckingham of Putnam, Muskingham County, Ohio

Many Springfield Twp. Farms Became Part of the City
Zanesville Sunday Times Signal, Sept. 28, 1958
Dinner at my grandparents, Sherwood and Helen Pinkerton’s house on Richmond Road in Toledo, Ohio, 1954. Baby is me. Woman on left is Aunt Elise Pinkerton Stewart. (see blog post, The Tea-Dyed Brown Dress.)  Paintings of Anna and Alvah Buckingham on the wall.
I never thought of my ancestors as being activists by looking at these two in the paintings that I grew up with in my grandparents dining room. But now I see them in an entirely different way! They came from fierce New England Puritan stock who believed that the laws of God trumped the law of the land that allowed slavery. Putnam was a small village across the river from Zanesville Ohio, and my New England ancestors were among the original settlers. Zanesville, on the other hand, was settled by folks from Kentucky and West Virginia. And there were fights.

Putnam Presbyterian Church was active with abolitionist activities. Photo ©1999 Penny Gentieu
Part of the Underground Railroad, this house has several hideaways. The owner, Major Horace Nye (veteran of the War of 1812) was threatened so many times by his foes that he slept with a pitchfork next to him for protection. Photo ©1999 Penny Gentieu 

My ancestors’ names are Alvah and Anna Buckingham. Alvah helped build the Putnam Presbyterian Church in 1835, which was actively involved in the abolitionist movement. William Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the first minister of the church. Frederick Douglass spoke there in 1852. For many years, the church held a monthly prayer service for the abolition of slavery. The first Ohio Anti-Slavery Convention took place in Putnam, as well as the first publication of the abolitionist newspaper, The Philanthropist. What a great community!

 
Alvah and Anna Buckingham house, 405 Moxahala Avenue, built 1821. Photo ©1999 Penny Gentieu

In 1799, when Alvah Buckingham was 8, his family moved to southeast Ohio, on horseback. In 1819 Alvah met Anna Hale of Glastonbury, Connecticut on a trip back east and married her. They built a house on Moxahala Avenue in 1821. (Three generations have subsequently lived in the house.) He was in the mercantile business with his brother and brother-in-law and later, opened a lumber trade. In 1852, he built the first grain elevator in Chicago, and owned the first grain elevator in Toledo.

In 1865 when Alvah was 74, he and Anna moved to New York City to be closer to their two daughters who also lived in New York City. They owned a home at 13 East 12th St.

In 1866, Alvah took a trip out west with his youngest son, James in a spring wagon over rough roads, “without any apparent fatigue.” (James is my GG Grandfather and grandfather of Elise Pinkerton, born 1904, see blog post, The Tea-Dyed Brown Dress.)

Anna Buckingham died of pneumonia on September 23, 1867, and her remains were brought back to Ohio. Alvah Buckingham died 11 days later, on October 4, 1867.

In 1639, Alvah Buckingham’s Puritan ancestors settled the farthest most reaches of America – Milford, Connecticut. Alvah was descended from immigrant ancestor, Thomas Buckingham, born in Minsden, Herts, England. Alvah’s father, Ebenezer Buckingham, fought in the Revolutionary War.

My grandfather, Sherwood Pinkerton Jr. later to be president of the family business, The Pinkerton Tobacco Company in Toledo, Ohio, is sitting in lower right corner. His mother, Julia Buckingham Pinkerton is standing behind him, next to her father, James Buckingham.  James’ wife, Jane Wills Buckingham is in the center. The room they are in is the front right side of the 405 Moxahala Avenue house, shown above. Photo circa 1905.
Sherwood Pinkerton with the paintings of his great grandparents, in his Central Avenue apartment in Toledo, November 1979, six weeks before he passed away.
Paintings of Anna and Alvah Buckingham, inherited by my mother, were donated to the Zanesville Art Institute in 1980. The museum gave them to the Pioneer and Historical Society of Muskingham County. The paintings now hang in the Increase Mathews house in Putnam, owned by the historical society. Photo ©1999 Penny Gentieu
Increase Mathews house in Putnam, where the portraits of Alvah and Anna Buckingham hang. 

Photo ©1999 Penny Gentieu

The Tea-Dyed Brown Dress

I recently found these photos in my inherited family albums. The first one, from 1908, is of my grandfather’s only sister, Elise. I never knew anything about her, but learned that she died at age 4 of typhoid fever, the year this photo was taken. The second photo is my Aunt Elise in 1925. I realized that she was named after this little girl. The third is my Aunt Julia in 1933, who was named after my grandfather’s mother, Julia Buckingham Pinkerton.

About 20 years ago, when my daughter was five, Aunt Elise gave me the dress. It wasn’t in any condition to put on my daughter. I didn’t know the story of the dress, but it seemed spooky. I kept it in a drawer, wrapped in tissue paper. I took it out last week when I discovered these photos.

Imbued with the mystery of the child who died in 1908 and my aunts who wore the dress for formal portraits by the famous studios of Bachrach in 1925 and CL Lewis in 1933, it is disintegrating at the sleeves, having been hand-patched in various places apparently long ago.

There was a lump in the fabric, something in the pocket — I was a little afraid to see what it was! I pulled it out, and the message from my female ancestors, going all the way back to my great grandmother Julia Buckingham Pinkerton, who probably sewed it, couldn’t have been sweeter. It was a century-old hand-crocheted hankie with a girl with a bow in her hair and bounce in her step, and the words, Tuesday’s child is full of grace.