Monday, June 23, 2008

Strange Pictures Found in Strange Places

When you browse through collections of old family photos, you don't usually expect to find this......which looks for all the world to me like a gallows tree. But why would it be in with my mother's old photos? or did it belong with my father's mother's photos? Is it a gallows tree or something else? (Note: it is indeed something else--the Caxton gibbet)

Then there is this photo, carefully pasted in my grandmother's (my father's mother) photo album from the early 1920's.

Hunh? What in the world...
There is fine pencil writing on the back, but it is indecipherable--the photo was glued or pasted down, so when we peeled it sooooo carefully from the black page, a lot of black came with it, and the pencil inscription is so faint that even when I enlarge and darken it I cannot read what my grandmother had to say about the surreal scene above.
If anyone has some suggestions or ideas about either of these photos, I'd love to hear them. I assume, since it was with Mom's stuff, that the first photo was taken in England.
The second is probably from New Orleans, since that's where Grandma lived-- or it could be somewhere else in the South. Beyond that I have no information but a very 'satiable curiosity.
The first picture reminds me of the ballad The Prickly Bush (Child Ballad #95, also known as The Maid Freed from the Gallows-- and by about a dozen other titles).
Hangman, hold you hand,
and hold it for a while
I think I see my own dear mother
coming over the yonder stile

Oh the prickly bush
That pricks my heart so sore
If I ever get out of the prickly bush
I'll never get in it no more
Oh have you brought me gold,
and come to set me free
or have you come to see me hanged
all on the gallows tree?
No, I've not brought you gold,
or come to set you free
I have come to see you hanged
upon the gallows tree

The ballad goes on, with the father, brother and sister coming but unable or refusing to set the girl free. Then her true love comes with gold, and heroically sets her free. For the tune to this ballad, visit
So, a gallows tree and a few skulls. Care to hazard a guess, or make up a story about these old photos?


Anonymous said...

Happy Belated Birthday Sue,
I found a picture similar to this, its St Louis Cemetery New Orleans. And it is on the CD of Dad's family photos. I always had the impression that our Uncle Joe was buried there, mainly because like you, I saw no other reason for them to have photos of a cemetery. I tried to zoom and darken the names in the photo to see Connelly, no luck though. The hangmans tree...not a clue. Unless its a very interesting maypole?
Love you and see you soon, Julie

Jason Burns said...

The top "gallows" picture looks like an old timey sign post - like one that would have a sign hanging from it.

The bottom picture certainly looks like the cemeteries in New Orleans- I think I saw somewhere that they do occassionally empty out the giant mausoleums in order to put a new body in, because the older bodies actually bake to dust inside, so they just shove the new one in. Sounds morbid, but I swear I saw it someplace.

City Mouse said...

I was thinking the exact same that Jason mentioned - maybe a sign post (although, why would someone take a picture of it, especially when photos were more expensive and more of a bother), and one of those above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans.

They surely are super-creepy and awesome images though. So evocative.

Granny Sue said...

Well darn. It could be a signpost. Since it was in my mother's photos, it may have been a sign to a place they once lived, or a road that was important? It seems such a lonely photo though. I cropped a little of it to get it straight; there is more lonesome gorse-y looking country around the post. The photo was only 1 by 1 1/2 inches, and when I enlarged it the tubular arcs showed to the right of the post. I don't know what those are either.

Julie, I looked up St. James cemetery. It's a very old cemetery in New Orleans, and in the photos I found was in beautiful condition. The articles did mention that the old church had to be rebuilt because of the road and the river, and that parts of it were lost in the river. I wonder if that is what's in the photo--the "lost" part that was no longer cared for. Guess I need someone from New Orleans to see the photos to get an answer to that.

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