Crowdsourcing the Mystery of the Sunrise Ladies

by Larissa Glasser, Library Assistant
October 22, 2014


Crowdsourcing the Mystery of the Sunrise Ladies

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Metadata is a crucial component for the over 65,000 images curated by the Archives of the Arnold Arboretum. Knowledge is power when harvesting background information about a photograph or a series of photographs. Archivists and artists can never be too careful when we record and curate metadata for an associated visual object for copyright purposes and historical accuracy. This practice enabled us to systematically digitize our Botanical and Cultural Images of Eastern Asia, Ernest Wilson’s New England Trees, and over 130 choice selections from our Map Collection.

And yet individual curiosities may remain hidden. Following an office renovation, this unmounted photograph popped out from behind a filing cabinet and immediately intrigued our library staff. A group of about 35 women pose before a large rooming house or school. They are dressed in the height of mid-nineteenth century fashion and some appear to be musicians. Leaning against a huge sycamore, a young lady cradles a cat. A parrot is on display at the other end of the lawn.

But who are these ladies and where is this house? Who produced the photograph?

Close inspection of various elements captured on that temperate day reveal small clues: the most reliable is the sheet music for J.N. Pattison’s Le lever du Soleil (Sunrise), a mazurka caprice for solo piano published by Firth, Son & Co. [New York] in 1854, and O. Ditson & Co. [Boston] in 1864 and 1892. The second group from the left holds this item. The clothing fashions of the ladies appear to reflect that era of the American Civil War.

As for location, we think this house may be located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Many similar historic houses can be seen up Brattle and Mt. Auburn streets, within and beyond Harvard Square.

We invite you to click on the image, examine the photograph and gallery of close-ups, and if you can enlighten us, please contact us at Happy House Hunting!

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