The Victorians loved to use descriptive, poetic language. Many of them who had the money for a really nice house even named their homes. They also named photographs, and the first picture here was taken by B.W. Kilburn.

He called it “The Surging Sea of Humanity“. This is a stereoscope, which is a really neat invention that was peculiar to the Victorian era. You need a stereoscope viewer to combine the two photos and get the full 3D effect.

The picture is an oddity for many reasons. Most photographs from this era are posed, formal, and serious.

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The Barrymore siblings – Ethel, John, and Lionel – were renowned actors in the early days of film. Even today, there are a lot of people who are familiar with their names and movies.

I know very little about their lives. Mostly, I’ve read about John Barrymore, because of his relationship with Evelyn Nesbit in the early 1900s.

John was the youngest of three children born to Maurice and Georgie Drew, who were successful stage actors. The Barrymore family was very successful on the stage but John, Lionel, and Ethel made the leap into early film.

John met Evelyn before his film days; at the time, he was attempting a career as a cartoonist. Back then, everyone called him Jack. He and and Evelyn were nearly the same age but her career as a show girl and a model was at its height while Jack seemed to be floundering in his artistic pursuits.

Stanford White, the man who haunted and shaped Evelyn’s life despite being more than 30 years her senior, was very jealous of Jack. He financially supported her family and he pressured her to turn down his proposal. This marked the beginning of a downward spiral for Evelyn, but Jack’s ascent had not yet started.

Evelyn Nesbit and Jack Barrymore

 

The only other personal thing I about Jack Barrymore is that his last words are often quoted as, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.” The day after his death, however,  John Barrymore’s last words were reported as, “This is wonderful! What a wonderful place!”

Tonight I was looking at photographs of Jack and his family and how glamorous they were… I’m sure they led fascinating lives but without knowing their stories, I appreciate what you can tell about them through their pictures. All of them seemed to exude Presence. I mean that each of them seem to command the energy in a room, probably Jack’s sister Ethel most of all.

I was ready to post this and saw that there was a signed photo of each of them. I’ve studied graphology on my own and their signatures interested me. Scroll down to see a signed photo of each of them, and a quick analysis of their signatures!

 

Jack’s parents, Maurice and Georgie Drew

 

 

Jack Barrymore’s father Maurice.  
Jack’s mother, Georgie Drew
Jack, smoking a pipe!
Ethel Barrymore
Jack’s brother, Lionel Barrymore
Jack in 1907
Lionel Barrymore
Jack, with his wife Delores Costello
Ethel Barrymore

 

You see the Presence?
John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore with their family

 

So, what can we tell from the Barrymores’ signatures? A lot!

I’ve studied graphology on my own. Your handwriting says a lot about you! When we look at the signatures of these famous siblings, you should know that signatures are treated differently than everything else you write. When a person writes his name, they are telling you how they believe (or sometimes want to believe) they are seen by other people. The rest of the script tells you what that person cares about, how they think, how impulsive and intense they are, and a lot more. Most people’s signatures do not match their script.

The signature shows the “image” each of the siblings has of themselves.  Take a look and I will explain after the last picture.

Ethel Barrymore’s signature
Lionel’s signature
Jack’s signature

 

Based on her signature, Ethel was a big personality, an extrovert. She would have dominated the energy in any room she was in, whether she was speaking or not. And she would have liked it that way. Her signature suggests someone who was very imaginative.  When she took action in her own life, it would have been Big and Bold. She would have preferred looking to the future and big plans over the realities of the present. She would have liked to talk about concepts and theories but quickly lost patience with a lot of detail.

Her brother Lionel was also an extrovert, but a very different personality. His signature is the writing of a happy guy who liked to be in the middle of things – a “people person”. Unlike his sister, he wouldn’t be too preoccupied with the future and bold visions. He was probably someone who found a lot of joy and meaning in the present. He was cheerful and adaptable, but probably appreciated detail and order.

Jack’s signature is very different from those of Lionel and Ethel. He has an introvert’s signature, and it suggests a man who might have shrank back from other people yet cared about his image very much. If Ethel liked broad horizons,  Jack liked microscopic detail. He was precise and might have been known to attach a lot of importance to relatively minor conversations or events. He wouldn’t have been able to let things go. His signature looks like a man who had some temper and tended to brood but also the writing of a man who was almost tragically hard on himself.

 

Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.

Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.

All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.

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