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A Priceless Gift from a Washingtonian

The photographic history of the Senate has been greatly enhanced by the recent donation of nine albums with photos of senators and Senate staff from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. The donation was officially presented to then Secretary of the Senate Emily Reynolds on January 24, 2005 by John T. Pappas, a longtime Washingtonian and insurance company executive. The gift is significant not only because of the albums' contents, but because of the individual responsible for creating many of the photographs, and the background and personal history of the donor.

One album contains 80 portraits of senators from the Washington, D.C., studio of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. It is an original 1870s-era commercially manufactured photograph album with "cabinet card" portraits--small paper prints mounted on cards, popular from the mid-1860s to 1900. Though the album is missing its cover the portraits are in excellent condition and 73 senators autographed the pages containing their cabinet card. The original owner of this album is unknown, but the leather biding, the fact that the portraits may be attributed to Brady, and the autographs suggest that the album may have belonged to the Brady studio, which might have used it as a showpiece.

 While occasionally taking photographs himself, Brady usually functioned as a project manager, relying on "operators" to work the camera while assistants handled developing and mounting tasks. However, according to the Time-Life production Mathew Brady and His World, like other photo studio proprietors of the day, Brady considered the resulting pictures to be his and his alone, viewing the operators as merely part of the mechanics of the art. When material from his collection was published, whether printed by Brady or used as engravings in publications, the photos were credited "Photography by Brady."

The album includes photos of nearly all senators serving in the 41st Congress (1869-1871). Senatorial images captured by Brady studio cameras include Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American elected to the Senate, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, who had returned to the Senate in 1869 after serving as Abraham Lincoln's vice president from 1861 to 1865. According to the Senate Curator Diane Skvarla, "Few complete Brady studio albums exist, and even fewer are autographed, so this album is a significant addition to the Senate collection. While its past is not fully known, the album has found the perfect home at the Senate."

 This album complements material already in the Senate's collection, such as an album compiled by Senator Harrison Hold Riddleberger of Virginia containing 64 photographs of senators from the 48th Congress (1883-1885), and several autograph albums and scrapbooks assembled by early Senate pages.

The remaining eight albums are homemade, assembled from canvas-covered accounting ledgers. They contain approximately 875 pasted-in portraits, including a mix of vintage photographs and printed reproductions from a variety of sources. Organized roughly by state, these homemade albums include portraits of senators who served from the late 1790s to the 1920s. Those depicted include Frank Kellogg of Minnesota, who is one of four senators to have won a Nobel Peace Prize, and Warren G. Harding of Ohio, who later became our 29th president. In addition to senatorial images, these albums include portraits of several secretaries of the senate and sergeants at arms, as well as Senate chaplains and Secretary's Office staff members such as the superintendent of the Senate Document Room.

 While the Senate's acquisition of something with the intrinsic value of the Brady photographs is quite significant, the scope for the individuals depicted in all of the albums is also noteworthy. For the Senate Historical Office, the timing of the Pappas donation was especially fortuitous. The Historical Office had been preparing a comprehensive pictorial directory of the 1,884 men and women who  have served in the Senate since 1789. This forthcoming publication will consist of photographs of senators organized by state and class. Until recently, however, there were no images of 142 senators. After examining the Pappas donation, Senate Historian Dick Baker and Photo Historian Heather Moore discovered that the albums included images of 52 of the "missing" senators. Among these senators is Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky, who was once stoned by constituents angry about his vote in favor of a controversial treaty. The windfall of new images contained in the albums moved the Historical Office significantly closer to its goal of having an image of every senator.

The albums are being photographed so that the Senate will have digital images of their contents. Once that process is completed, the Office of Senate Curator will maintain the Brady album as part of the Senate's collection.

The eight homemade albums will be cared for at the National Archives as part of the Center for Legislative Archives' large collection of permanently valuable Senate records.

The historical value of the photo albums is enhanced by the story of the albums' donor, Mr. Pappas, who is a living link between the era captured in the portraits and today. At the time of the donation, 88 years old, Pappas has lived in the Washington area for 86 years, arriving in 1918. Remembering his first home "in the shadows of the Capitol," Pappas speaks of a house without indoor plumbing, heated by kerosene lamps. At times he was cared for by neighbors who were former salves. In his boyhood, Pappas became acquainted with former President and then Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who one day encountered Pappas and his brothers as they played marbles on Massachusetts Avenue. Following this initial meeting, the chief justice would frequently walk with the boys as they went to school and he continued on to the Capitol, where the Supreme Court then met in the Old Senate Chamber. Pappas also remembers his first meeting with a senator, Morris Sheppard of Texas, whom he met when he was a 7th grade student.

Later, Pappas served in the army in the mid-1930s and the Navy during World War II.  A Civil War and Lincoln buff, in 1955 he met an attorney for a family liquidating the holdings of a  Washington antiques shop. Pappas paid $700 for the albums and many other prints, photographs, lithographs, and other material.

Wishing to keep the purchase from his wife, who did not share his enthusiasm for acquiring "old things," Pappas hid the albums in his car and home, where they were forgotten until rediscovered by his son, who subsequently contacted the secretary of the Senate about his find, thereby beginning the donation process. Declaring "these things should be seen," Pappas is pleased that his gift to the Senate will allow more widespread dissemination of the photos.

While resolving some uncertainties about the Senate of a century ago, the nine photo albums raise additional questions. For example, the Brady album bears the number 1, while the remaining albums are numbered 3 through 10. This suggests the existence of a missing album, which may have included photos of senators from Maryland, because only one Maryland senator appears among the eight homemade albums.

The principal remaining mystery involves the unknown person who assembled the homemade albums. The fact that some of the photos are autographed and that photos of Senate staff are included indicate a certain level of access, which suggests the compiler of the albums may have been a Senate staff member. Regardless of identity, the compiler performed a valuable service in preserving Senate history and providing current day members and staff with a more vivid image of their counterparts from the past.

 
  

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