Dan Sickles and the Paparazzo

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John Hartwell

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It happened during the 1893, thirtieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

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The General and the Photographer
In 1888,George Eastman introduced the first "Kodak Camera," ushering in a revolution in photography. Now each individual could be his own photographer, no longer dependent on the bulky equipment and costly studios of the professional photographer. It also opened up new questions of what and where "snapshots" (a new term just invented) could and should be taken: questions of privacy and propriety, that took some time to work out legally. We see much the same problems, regarding the use of drones, being handled today by prompt government action. 130 years ago, it was an unexpected, and contentious issue. The Omaha World Herald of July 11th, asked the question:

Must We be Photographed?
"Photography of the snap-shot, amateurish, do-as-you-please kind, has become very arrogant recently. (It is their intention) that this country enjoy a free camera just as it enjoys a free press and free speech and the right of petition”
“The other day at Gettysburg, when General Sickles was engaged with other notables in dedicating the New York state monument, a man named Tipton -- accompanied by a camera -- appeared upon the scene, and leveled his pictorial muzzle full at the old veteran. General Sickles is not afraid of the belching cannon’s mouth; but he doesn’t like the camera’s mouth, and said so, and requested the enthusiastic photographer to move away. The photographer refused. Other officers of the Grand Army of the Republic ordered the man to go. The Grand Army of the Republic had no terrors for the man named Tipton -- and politeness was evidently no consideration with him. He stood like Roderick Dhu defying his enemies. Then some of the veterans who were not officers, and who liked fun just as well as in the days when they used to rob chicken roosts, put their hats over the mouth of the instrument, and finally took it and marched it and its owner off the grounds.
The next day General Sickles was arrested! The definite charge was not known. The photographer seems to think that his machine or himself has been damaged, and that General Sickles trespassed. But under arrest he was put, and he must be forced to trial for objecting to being photographed.
It would be terrible beyond contemplation if the kodak fiends were to have the support and protection of the law, and were given the right to photograph whoever they please. We are willing to suffer in the cause of art -- but not to this extent.



But, things weren’t quite as this report makes it seem.

The photographer in question was William H. Tipton, by no means an amateur “kodak fiend”, but a noted photographer of the period, who dedicated many years to documenting the Gettysburg battlefield -- and we today, benefit greatly from his persistence. Many of the most famous and valuables photographic documents of Gettysburg and its monuments were Tipton’s work. He had already assembled more than 5000 battlefield photographs as one of the first photographers to be licensed by the Gettysburg National Park Commission.

But, Tipton was also prominent among those promoting the development of the Gettysburg Battlefield as a tourist attraction, particularly, he sponsored the building of a trolley line through the Park. This, among other profit-making schemes, was something Dan Sickles and many other veterans (and, I expect, just about all of us today) vehemently opposed, particularly because grading of the trolley right-of-way entailed changes to the battlefield topography -- including blasting out rocks near the Devil’s Den. Tipton also operated Tipton Park, with a very profitable photographic studio and “entertainment complex” nearby, on the site of the Slaughter Pen. All of which was widely held to be a desecration of the battlefield.

Tipton, however, took advantage of the incident described in the above article (which another article describes as culminating in the veterans “throwing down the camera, and threatening to throw the photographer down the side of Little Round Top”), to bring suit against Sickles to the tune of $10,000, “for injuring his business. ... Tipton asserts that Sickles used his influence to injure his sales of photographs to veterans” -- which was no doubt true. Sickles, btw, wasn't actually arrested, but he was served with legal papers.

The whole affair backfired on Tipton, however. The press was almost universally outraged by the desecration of the site, and Sickles, a Congressman, wrote and filed the Act that eventually established the Gettysburg Battlefield as a National Park, introducing the concept of battlefield preservation, and excluding most private, profit-making activities. It was Dan Sickles greatest contribution, and led him to say, quite accurately: "The whole d..n battlefield is my memorial!"

You can download an excellent article about “Dan Sickles, William H. Tipton, and the Birth of Battlefield Preservation”.
 
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