Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A cautionary tale

So, this totally cool old-timey sepia photograph has been all over the internets lately. It is a panoramic picture of San Francisco in 1906, shortly after the earthquake and fire. The photo was taken by the George R. Lawrence photography company, who flew a "captive airship" - basically a huge array of kites - carrying a giant camera to get the shot. Click to embiggen - the file is huge.

Y'know, as I look at this again, there seems to be some kind of spot on a cloud off the left of the picture. Let's zoom in on that.

Hey - it looks like there's another airship up there! There were about 25 LZ airships flying out of Friedrichschafen, Germany before the First World War, but I never heard of any being in San Francisco. Let's get closer.

Wow - that doesn't look like any zeppelin I've heard of. Let's zoom all the way in!

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle - it looks like Jules Verne was paying a visit to the City by the Bay, even though he'd been dead for a year.

Of course, the airship is a fake, although the photo is quite legitimate. (You can see the real Lawrence photograph here - and it's not even sepia.) After I noticed the little imaginary airship, I looked at a bunch of websites that had this photo reposted or linked. All of them presented it as the bona fide photograph, a page from the historical record, and none of them noticed - or at least mentioned - the fanciful flying boat off to the south. I think I traced the original modification back to Abney Park, the site for a steampunk band; from there it made it onto the Antique Forums™ and thence onto the wider world web.

So, you might want to double-check any information you find on the web, I guess. Sometimes even when it's right, it's wrong.

Bonus goodies: Ron Klein Photography recreated the photograph from the exact same spot one hundred years later. Check them out for all kinds of cool stuff.

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