Monday, November 16, 2009

C.J. Van Schaick, Wisconsin Death Trip Photographer

"Wisconsin Death Trip" (1973) is a book by author Michael Lesy featuring photographs by Black River Falls, WI, photographer C.J. Van Schaick taken from 1890-1910. The cabinet cards of C.J. Van Schaick are mingled with news reports from the same period that chronicle contemporaneous events, many of them unusual. Reports of bizarre crimes-- a woman who smashed windows throughout the state until finally getting caught. Reports of murder, suicide, mental illness, disease, and depression. The harsh rural landscape of the Victorian Midwest becomes a character in and of itself.

Having read "Wisconsin Death Trip," I began to seek out photographs by C.J. Van Schaick. They come up occasionally in the market and surprisingly, don't sell for a whole lot. They are fairly uncommon, though. I was only able to track down the photograph of the Winnebago delegation and this photograph of a group of women playing instruments.
The women playing instruments look pretty happy, at least in comparison to the sad tales of "Wisconsin Death Trip."

In 1999, filmmaker James Marsh adapted the book into an excellent film by the same name. I wholeheartedly recommend the film and the book.