Playing Detective with an Old Photo

Check out this lovely photo from!  It was in a set of photos from the Midwest in the 1900s, and there’s no additional information with it.

This mysterious photo is a good opportunity to call upon our inner Hercule Poirot for a bit of detective work!



A few clues:

  • They have china, crystal, and silver on the table. It’s not ornate but they must be fairly well-to-do to own anything like that.
  • The tablecloth creases are visible, meaning it was recently folded. They have heavy curtains and pictures on the wall, which give the room a comfortable feeling.
  • Based on their clothes, I’d guess this is from the 1890s but it could be the early 1900s.
  • There are six people visible. A couple face each other, with three people on the right and one on the left.
  • There’s an empty chair next to the guy on the left. Someone (the photographer) must have been sitting there because otherwise one of the three people on the right would have moved over.

The small cabinet in the background gives us the most information though I’m not sure how to interpret it all. Let’s take a closer look at it:

The surface is cluttered, but that doesn’t tell us a lot. Generally speaking, Victorians liked a lot of decor and their rooms were typically crowded with furniture, pictures, and knickknacks.

But these items aren’t decor, with the exception of the clock and the cloth it’s sitting on. There’s a purse against the wall on the left behind a bowl and a whole stack of papers on the right side. I would guess most of these items had been on the bare table and were hurriedly moved out of the way and placed on the cabinet while the tablecloth was unfolded.

There are three oil lamps, so we know they probably didn’t have electricity in the home. (“There’s no juice in the walls,” my great-grandmother liked to say.)

The clock shows us it’s lunchtime, 12:25, to be exact.  They seem awfully dressed up for a casual lunch, don’t they?

Do you have a guess?


Here’s mine:

I’d say the home belongs to the older couple sitting opposite each other. They have three children, the oldest is the guy on the left. Their daughter is seated next to her father and they have a small son who is smiling at the camera.

The other woman whose profile we see on the right is the fiancé of the grown son. It’s probably her purse that is on the cabinet. Maybe the family is meeting her for the first time. For that reason, though the family is pretty casual, all their nicest things are out and they are having a formal lunch and everyone is dressed up–even the little boy is wearing a suit and tie!

Having a camera is another indication of wealth. An engagement lunch could also explain why they are taking a picture–very bourgeois!