PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG BOY IN MAINE BY A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH A BIZARRE STORY

This scallop-edged cabinet card features a young boy posing for his photograph at the Swan studio in Norway, Maine. Some may argue that the child is actually a girl. However, it was common for young boys to wear skirt type clothing and have long hair. John Wesley Swan (1857-?) appears in the 1884 Portland, Maine city directory as a photographer. The 1900 US census reveals that Swan was Canadian born and lived in Norway with his wife (Annie) and their two daughters. Swan married his wife in 1883. According to Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin (1900), Swan’s studio was destroyed by fire and he lost a large number of valuable negatives of scenery in the area of Norway. The journal also states that the “loss was large and the insurance is said to be small”. Swan was the official photographer of the Grand Trunk Railway system. He won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition according to Photo-Era magazine (1900). At one point in his career in Norway, Swan had a partner in his business (Swan & Cobb). John Wesley Swan was involved in a bizarre incident that made the annals of the history of Norway. The book,  “A History of Norway, Maine: From the Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Year 1922”, tells a  mysterious story about Mr. Swan. While on a trip to Boston in 1893, Swan disappeared for a period of about six months. The writer states that Swan “claimed to have been sand-bagged and robbed in Boston and when he partially recovered consciousness found himself in New Orleans”. His memory had “left him” and he wandered around until his memory returned while he was in Texas. Swan returned to Norway and explained his disappearance to his friends and family, and community. According to the writer, many doubted the validity of his explanation.

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Published in: on July 15, 2017 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. Tolerably good photography … but the boy does not look like a happy puppy. One wonders how much identity problems were created while the good people were indulging themselves with these cross-dressing games with the (rich?) boys. Not to mention ‘bullying’ from the ’regular’ kids. I never understood it … but there it is … the pictures tell the story. Mr. Swan’s odyssey reminds me of other accounts, too tedious to relate here, where people were divided into two groups … the second of which always said, ‘That’s his story’.

  2. Wrong there. It was customary, as it has been in nations throughout history in different times, for young boys and men to wear long hair. Wearing pants is a relatively ‘new’ trend, historically speaking. This had nothing to do with contemporary notions of “cross-dressing”. Perceptions of children as “kids” also stems from contemporary times, essentially from the beginning of the Twentieth Century onward.

    As far as Mr. Swan is concerned, he might well have been the victim of what is called a fugue state. A traumatic event or head wound, or any number of factors can cause an individual to experience a long-term loss of memory or sense of personal identity. – OR, like the literary great Edgar Allen Poe, he might have been “cooped”. This was a vicious form of election ballet theft employed by kidnapping a man, holding him captive, (cooped up = a coop) and forcefully inducing a deep state of intoxication via alcohol or drugs or both.
    The traumatized individual, usually after having been beaten and threatened, was literally dragged to different polling stations, often with “disguises” (fake beards, mustaches, different hats/clothes – Poe was found in the gutter wearing clothes several sizes too small for him…) so that officials wouldn’t notice the same person twice in one place. (one coop victim could end up voting six times in the same place). – A new, false voter name was given, and the politician that paid for this nefarious enterprise, usually elected. In Mr. Poe’s case, he became insensate and died. Plenty of cooped men had amnesia forced upon them after these violent assaults. Perhaps Mr. Swan met the same fate.

    OR, then again, maybe there was another MRS. Swan safely closeted away someplace else, and like birds do, Mr. Swan chose to migrate for a time.

  3. Enjoyed Ms. Jarvis’ comments with which I have no cause to differ. I have had old pictures which went far beyond curls and skirts, which influences my reactions. Reading into old images is most enjoyable … even though I am unlikely to never know when I am right. A while back I read a persuasive report putting forth the possibility that E. A. Poe may have died of rabies. Whatever … I do believe that something untoward, not his fault, may happened. As to the story of Mr. Swan’s odyssey … I would sure like to know what Mrs. Swan really thought of it.


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