"What Gesell selected, however, were images selected to support his thesis that the town was degenerate," Harris said.
For example, Gesell juxtaposed two photos. One shows a seeming tramp in front of a shack, identified as "Evidence of a Feeble Mind." The second photo is of a tidy frame house, well-kept yard, and four well-dressed people enjoying leisure time. The second photo is captioned "Evidence of a Vigorous Mind."
Harris discovered that the first photograph alleging "evidence of a feeble mind" was actually a photo of one of Alma's early settlers, Abraham Schmocker, taken in the mid-1800s.
"An alternate view of Schmocker also was available, showing him holding what appears to be a pet cat. That photo shows a bucket, washtub and washboard, making Schmocker seem to be taking care of himself. Because it's more of a close-up, one can also see more easily that it is a roughly made cabinrather than a neglected house. But Arnold used the less humanizing photo and placed it next to one of a more urban family, taken 20 to 25 years later," Harris said.
Moreover, the unidentified home in the second photo that purported to show "evidence of a vigorous mind" was apparently thought to be the Gesell house, which infuriated local residents.
In another instance of research manipulation, Gesell used a photo of a neighboring town, Reeds Landing, Minn., that was purported to be "Main Street of the Village of a Thousand Souls."
"Why substitute a photo from another town if the article is about Alma's qualities? The mystery of this photo substitution lasts only long enough for one to see the sign above the heads of the groups on the right side of the street: SALOON," said Harris, who could not find a single photo of Alma that showed a saloon in the Gerhard Gesell photo collection at the Wisconsin H
|Contact: Benjamin Harris|
University of New Hampshire