Marketable photo expertise for $50

This is one of the displays along the walls of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
This is one of the displays along the walls of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

Along the walls of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisc., are various documents that trace the history behind a pioneering home of astronomy that still has the largest active refractory telescope.

Among the details of letters and other correspondence is a distant connection to Central Illinois.

Several key people and highlights from the early years are cited, including information about George Blaksee, who became Yerkes’ chief photographer after 26 years working for a nearby YMCA camp. Blaksee’s biographical material says he graduated from the Illinois College of Photography in Effingham, Illinois, in 1899.

I didn’t realize there was a photography college in Effingham, which is just down the road from my Central Illinois home. With help from Google, I found a document from 1905-1906 digitized by the University of Illinois that gives 60 pages or so about the school. The link is here:

Effingham is described as a college town that benefits from some 40 passenger trains passing through daily. The photography school attracted national and international students, including many women, who found photo touching to be a trade in which they could profitably participate in the turn-of-the century economy.

Many students stayed with local families in Effingham. The families charged a boarding fee, and were considered good, moral examples for the students, the college’s material says.

As for tuition, the one-month course was $50. For $150, you received nine months, usually payable in advance. Some add-ons, such as artistic retouching, modeling and etching, had extra fees. A second class railroad fare from New York to Effingham was $18.40.

The catalogue has plenty of other tidbits those interested in local and regional history may find interesting.

A tour guide at the observatory in Wisconsin said the astronomers likely took many of their own photographs, other than photos of features inside the facility and the spacious grounds. Someone like Blaksee would have been responsible for processing the details. The citation on the wall notes Blaksee’s acknowledgement of the precision that would be required in such a task.

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