, Salem, MA


November 15, 2013

Peabody library shows off stereoscopic images

Long before 3-D movies, there were stereoscopic postcards, 11 of which are now on display at the Peabody Institute Library website.

“In the mid-19th century, photographers figured out a way to make a camera with two lenses, 21/2 inches apart, about the distance of a pair of human eyes,” said Erik Bauer, the library’s archivist. “Pictures would be taken simultaneously and matted on a board or other material.

“When they were put in a stereoscope and moved at certain angles, it would give an illusion of depth.”

Some of the images Bauer posted online depict Peabody Square and the Miles Osborn House, both of which were photographed in 1870.

There are also images of George Peabody’s remains riding in a funeral train in 1869, when his body was returned from England for burial.

A second set of images show Peabody lying in state at the Peabody Institute Library, where he remained from Feb. 1 to 8.

“According to Mr. Fitch Poole’s diary, 6,617 people passed though on February 5th,” a caption reads. “On the 8th of February, his body was removed from the library and buried at Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem.”

The images don’t appear three-dimensional when viewed online, but Bauer felt people would appreciate seeing the views and learning how they were made.

Stereoscopy was all the rage in Victorian times and regained popularity when it was rediscovered in the 1920s, Bauer said, before radio and TV made them permanently obsolete.

Bauer has been at the library since 2010 and has worked as an archivist since January. He discovered the images while familiarizing himself with the library’s collection.

Much of his work involves helping patrons do research on genealogy or academic subjects, but he also tries to exhibit interesting materials in the library’s holdings.

“We have a strong collection,” Bauer said. “We have holdings I wouldn’t expect to find in other places, such as church records relating to Peabody history. City archives are not a place where you find those records, and they do illuminate a part of the culture of Peabody’s past.”

To view “Double Vision: Stereoviews of Peabody and George Peabody,” click the link in the Library Announcements rotating display at

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