Photo Mystery Monday: February 1, 2016

How much information can you extract from a single photograph? In this photo, some things seem obvious at first glance. But what else can you infer by looking at the smaller details in the photo?

  1. What objects do you see?
    • Which details seem important to understanding what is going on?
    • What is the main activity that you notice?
  2. What do you notice about WHERE this photo was taken?
    • What kind of building do you think this is?
    • Can you make any inferences about the surrounding area?
  3. Do you have a guess as to WHEN it might be?
    • What details give you clues as to the time period of this photo?
    • Can you make any inferences about the season, temperature or time?
  4. What is odd or unexpected?
    • What seems irrelevant or unrelated to the main activity?
    • Do any details seem to contradict or undermine your first analysis of the photo?
    • Are there any mysteries within the photo? What questions do you have?

This week we challenge you to wring the maximum amount of information from this image! Look closely and share what this photograph tells about you about the time and place in which it was taken by leaving us a comment below.

Come back on Friday when we will update the post with more identifying information!


UPDATED: Woman at telephone switchboard in Coleman, Florida (1906)
J.O. Fleece’s telephone company had exchanges in Wildwood and Coleman and served the central Sumter County area. Mr. Fleece sold the service to Peninsular Telephone Company about 1914.


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8 thoughts on “Photo Mystery Monday: February 1, 2016

  1. This week’s photo shows a young woman sitting at a very early telephone switchboard. She was probably the switchboard operator, connecting calls as they came in. She isn’t working at this time, because her headset is on the microphone, instead of her head. Because the wood switchboard is small, there must not be many customers indicating the location is a small town.

    Switchboards were usually placed in existing structures, and it appears that this one has been placed in a home. A hole has been cut in the wall to run the phone wires in. Due to the floral wallpaper, the fashion pictures on the wall, and the treadle sewing machine, a woman lives in this house, maybe the woman in the photo. Looking out the window gives me the impression that this is on the first floor of the home. There is a porch outside the window on the right. This might be a bedroom that was converted into the switchboard room. The window on the left has a shade that is partially down, and both windows have “cafe” curtains. The windows are very large and it appears that the room has a high ceiling. The floors are wood and it looks like there is a deep, maybe 12 inches, baseboard visible to the right of the switchboard.

    The illustration of the woman in a hat, the photo of a woman in white, and the clothing of the operator look Victorian or of the Gibson Girl period in the early 20th century, so I’m going to guess that the photo was taken about 1900-1910. Because she has short sleeves on her shirtwaist top, and the window on the right side is open, it is probably warm in the room. Since this photo was taken in Florida, the warmth could indicate any time of year. But, since her clothing is white, and women usually didn’t wear white before Easter and after Labor Day, I’m going to guess that it is summer.

    The third illustration on the wall appears to be depicting baseball, so perhaps there is a child in the house. There is a blur on the lower left of the photo and I wonder if it is a child.

    Lastly, it looks like the two chairs are the same style, so they were probably dining chairs. They have turned spindles and cane seats. These types of chairs usually had pressed backs.

  2. Debra mentioned switchboards were originally placed in existing structures. In Harrisonburg, VA where I have family, there is an old wooden two-story farmhouse out on one of the country roads known as “the switchboard house”.

  3. Looked it up on Florida Memory. There she was. It was the only photo of a woman at a switchboard. Go get the details there.

  4. The young woman seems to be waiting for a call to come in, maybe daydreaming a little as she gazes out the open window. The sun is either high in the sky or its a little overcast. The shade is not pulled down low to block strong sunlight. There is something out the window that I can’t quite make out. It looks kind of like some kind of cage.

  5. Wow, you all really brought this photo to life. Debra, I can feel the warm breeze coming through the window! Kim, I was wondering what is outside too. Does anyone else have an idea of what that grid pattern might be?

  6. The grid pattern is wire fencing that people use to put on around the crawl space of raised homes. It kept dogs (looking for shade) and probably kids (looking for mischief or a place to hide from momma) from crawling under the house.

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