· The Joy of the Hunt: Wade Photographer
When Morgan Williams, known far and wide for his amazing collection of exaggeration postcards, sent me a postcard image to examine, I was hooked!
The advertising postcard showed a side-view of an early model car, a convertible, with a smiling driver, parked on a brick city street. Photos of thirteen babies or infants had been added to the picture to give the impression they were all peacefully engaged while sitting for a portrait. The lettering at the bottom of the card simply stated: “Wade Photographer Hutchinson Kans.”
Morgan asked, “What do you know about photographer Wade of Hutchinson, Kansas?” he then explained how he’d had this card in his collection for forty years but had never seen another one by the photographer.
The inquiry was all it took for me to drop everything else I was doing so I could start looking for answers. Morgan had triggered my research bug.
Like any curious researcher, the first thing I did was to search the internet. The quick search was unhelpful.
Then I started looking into the archives of the Hutchinson News. That produced some results which amounted to a few sporadic, miniature, classified advertisements from 1915-1920 and then larger ads for the period of time 1930-1932. I learned Wade Studio was located at 8 South Main until at least 1930 when he advertised business at 23 ½ North Main. (Gaps of ads from 1923 through 1929, and no ads after 1932.)
During my online newspaper search, I found Wade’s obituary. I discovered that Albert H. Wade, born in Jamestown, PA in 1872, had died in his Topeka, Kansas home on May 2, 1945. He was 73 years old. The brief obit said he had lived in Hutchinson about fifty years and named one surviving brother and one sister. Wade was buried in Eastside Cemetery in Hutchinson.
When my unblinking eyes grew weary staring at the computer screen, I was close to reading my last newspaper for the night. However, minutes later I hit a gold-mine, mouth-dropping article from 1920. Before me was a full-page Wade Photography advertisement with a one word headline in all capital letters: “BABIES”. The photo directly below the banner was the photo used in the postcard! Yikes!
After recovering, I read the first sentence of the advertisement. It stated: “We make a specialty of photographing children.”
The next day I studied the photo card, imagining the man behind the wheel. Was the driver Albert Wade, 48, the proprietor? Most likely. I also began having a feeling that I’d seen the building in the background. It looked like a church.
I contacted Lynn Ledeboer, curator at the Reno County Museum, http://www.renocomuseum.org to see if there were any Albert Wade files, hopefully with photos of Wade, or photos from the street of either of Wade’s business locations. Unfortunately, there were no leads in the museum’s database about Wade.
The next day, I grabbed my album of Hutchinson postcards and started looking through it for the building that was in Wade’s photo postcard. I found it quickly and was again dumbfounded. It was the First Methodist Church on the corner of First and Walnut, across the street from the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument, prior to the church being rebuilt.
I reread Wade’s obituary. It said that Wade was “an active layman in the First Methodist Church.” Now, the connection was obvious to me. Albert Wade had carefully chosen the location for his photo. He hadn’t just been promoting his photography studio; he was proud of his church. And likely, some of the babies in the postcard photo would have belonged to parents who Wade prayed with every Sunday.
Next, I dug through Hutchinson City Directories, first at the Reno County Museum, later at the Hutchinson Public Library. Ledeboer let me loose in the city directories. There’s nothing better when you’re trying to get a big picture of a subject’s location and stability (residential and business) and, if married, the name of a spouse.
Ledeboer also forwarded information to me from Steve Harmon, Board Member and expert on historical Hutchinson. To my surprise, he and Steve Conard had the same postcard I was researching in their Conard-Harmon Collection!
The city directories were entertaining and useful. They confirmed what I’d deduced, Wade had been a confirmed bachelor. None of the directories included the name of a spouse; same with his obituary. A trip to Eastside Cemetery (also available online) also showed parents nearby, but no spouse.
Zachary Phillips, cemetery sexton, showed me the city’s state of the art, online, investigative tool, prior to me visiting Albert H. Wade. https://www.hutchgov.com/433/GIS-Maps At the grave I greeted my new friend. “Hello Albert, what was it like growing up in Hutchinson?” followed by, “What was it like being a bachelor?” But I forgot to thank him for helping make Hutchinson a better community.
While at the museum, I asked Henry Platts, specialist in automobiles and guns, to have a look at the photo of the postcard. He cautioned me that he was not an expert in the “brass era” (1896-1915). Platts immediately noticed the “artillery wheels” made of metal spokes and a wooden hub to hold rubber tires. He guessed the car was European, maybe a 1909 or 1910 Renault. When he said he couldn’t imagine the car being in Hutchinson, we reconsidered the photo. Had Wade added more than babies to the collage? It appeared so.
Despite the limited view of the vehicle, visitors to the Facebook page, “1920s antique automobiles, brass era cars, orphan makes”, offered educated guesses, including a 1909 Mora Light Twenty Runabout (Gary Smith), and a 1916 International Harvester truck (Chris Paulsen). I imagined Wade loading his supplies into the truck.
During a research trip to the Hutchinson Public Library http://www.hutchpl.org to examine additional city directories, I had the expert help of Natasha Russell, Reference Assistant. She knocked my socks off when she recognized my postcard image from 1920!
In just days I had learned that Morgan Williams wasn’t the only person curious about Wade. Besides Williams and Conard-Harmon each having the card in their collection, I learned that Russell had researched photographer Wade a year earlier as he connected to another topic of interest.
Thanks to Russell, I had a pretty good idea why Wade had disappeared from newspaper ads for at least one ten month period during 1924-25. A news clipping from September 1924 explained that he had moved to Boston, Massachusetts to open a photography studio. But by July the following year, he was taking photos of the camp at Fort Riley.
Wade’s photographic subjects ranged far beyond babies. One of his advertisements stated: “We photograph anything anytime anyplace.”
In the 1935 city directory, Wade Studio is owned by Carl C. Putnam and Wade is no longer listed as living in Hutchinson. That may have been the year he relocated to Topeka, the place of his death in 1945.
In conclusion, beyond dates and locations, I discovered a few clues about Wade, the person.
Asked in an interview about what was necessary to be a photographer, he replied, “… It takes time, patience in studying, and experience to become proficient.” As to education he continued, “To make a real success, a person must study the three main phases; operating, printing, re-touching, and to thoroughly comprehend all of these, it takes a great study and time. Then too, one must enjoy the work and have a talent for it.”
When Wade explained that to be a photographer you need to be an artist, he was talking about himself: “One readily sees that only a person with an artistic temperament makes a success in photography, which is one of the most artistic talents.” (Hutchinson News article from 4.22.1922 discovered and shared by Natasha Russell, Hutchinson Public Library)
Wade was definitely artistic, talented, and patient. After all, successful photographers have to wait for the best shot, and he photographed babies!
Wade was religious, an active layman at his church.
He appreciated nature and attempted to save First Street park. “Hutchinson has plenty of room without destroying this bit of park which can easily be a real beauty spot. Let the automobile garages, and business houses go elsewhere. The block of park, and all the park in First avenue east belongs to the whole city.” (Hutchinson News, 8.4.1921)
As pointed out to me by Russell, she believed Wade was a man who reached out to people and treated them fairly. The reason Russell felt he may have welcomed people of all races to his photographic studio was from a statement Wade made in the “Babies” advertisement we had both studied. It stated: “We are not catering to any particular class of trade. One’s money is just as good to us as another’s.”
Finally, Wade had a sense of humor. Even today, ninety-nine years after he created an exaggeration postcard, we’re engaged with the fun of it all.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Postscript Note to Morgan:
I found no evidence to suggest that anyone other than Albert H. Wade was responsible for creating his exaggeration photo (babies in the car) used as an advertising postcard in 1920. Nor did I find any record of Wade having created other exaggeration postcards.
Certainly, there’s no evidence of Marion W. Bailey, Hutchinson photographer, and Wade working together, although they would have almost certainly known one another prior to 1920.
I’m still on the lookout for Wade Studio photos of babies. I’ve examined a few at the Reno County Museum but they are all of adults or families.
There’s a slight chance that the Methodist Church archivist will find a group photo with Wade in it, but don’t hold your breath.
Thanks, Morgan Williams, for your postcard challenge; Lynn Ledeboer, Reno County Museum, for searching museum records; Henry Platts for your expert opinion on old cars; Thomas Walters for locating Wade Studio photos in the museum; Natasha and Amanda, Hutchinson Public Library (HPL), for assisting me with the microfilm; Natasha Russell, HPL, for sharing your newspaper articles; and Zachary Phillips, City of Hutchinson cemetery sexton, for helping me see the convenience of the city’s online interactive map of Eastside Cemetery.
The two-volume set of Pat Mitchell’s The Fair City: Postcard Views, Hutchinson, Kansas, is always valuable in researching local postcards.
Remaining Questions about Wade: Further Study