The First Question — Finally Answered?

By Anna von Reitz <> #3478

The First Question — Finally Answered? 
In my life, there have been many unanswered questions.  Let me give you an example. 

My Grandmother had a stereoscope, which was a strange viewing apparatus that used postcard-like printed paper photographs that featured two identical images of the same thing, one on the right side of the card, one on the left.  When you peered through the eyepiece at this strange card, it made the photographs appear to be in 3D.  The tiny amount of offset between the eyes and the two photographs introduced the illusion of another dimension being present. 

I spent many hours pouring through her collection of stereoscope cards. 

In this way, I visited the Amorite Hill Country north of Jerusalem and saw the homes of the giants who once lived there. I visited Saudi Arabia and the Bedouin Tribes of North Africa as they appeared more than a century ago.  I traveled with Baron von St. Pauli on his difficult and dangerous expeditions to collect rare plants from around the world.  I went to Cuba, and visited a cigar factory in Havana. 

And of course, I visited the world’s great cathedrals and saw the Sphinx up close and personal, the Great Pyramid, and so much more. 

My Grandmother was content to let me rummage to my heart’s delight.  In her view, I was getting my Grand Tour early in life, and inexpensively, too.  

“About all you are missing is Australia and Greenland.”  she’d say.   And that was quite true.  I went to the World Fairs.  I walked the Boardwalk on the New Jersey Shore.  I visited Russia, Finland and Sweden.  I saw Reindeer in Siberia.  I attended a Mayan Sun Ceremony and walked the beach at Waikiki. I shared the view from the top of the Empire State Building.

I was completely happy.  What a world!  What a place to explore!  I would dive into the boxes of stereoscope photos on a dull Sunday afternoon and not emerge until nightfall and primitive electric light sources made viewing less pleasant.  For the most part, I loved this “toy” from the Nineteenth Century and saw no reason for Disney. 

What could bright colored talking mice offer compared to the black and white glories of St. Petersburg?  

So my easy and happy familiarity with the world I lived in was founded on photographs, mostly black and white, and then, all I needed was an Atlas to help locate the sources of all these photos, which my Father happily provided, along with access to his collection of classical music. 

My Mother sniffed and let me play her Country Western records, too.  

It was, all in all, a great introduction to the world we live in, bolstered by my Mother’s willingness to provide her version of the world’s great culinary classics.  She had to raise her own eggplants to do it, but we had Eggplant Parmigiana, we had Greek Souvlaki, we had Chocolate Gateau and Egg Rolls and Flan.  Every Sunday she was apt to do her own Julia Child imitation and try something new, from some other corner of the world. 

But, while all these memories are abundantly and uniformly happy, there was something I noticed back then about some of the photos that seemed odd.  These were usually what we would call panoramic photos or landscape photos that encompassed a very expansive view of the subject — say, Westminster or St. Peter’s Basilica or the center of St. Petersburg — and yet, there were no people visible in these photos at all.  

Say what?  Not even a horse and cart? 

I used to wonder how they accomplished that pristine view of the buildings and streets without also capturing images of all the thousands of human inhabitants.  Everyone in St. Petersburg decided to stay home en masse, so our photographer had his big chance?  Milwaukee empted out for the photo op?

That part of it never made sense, and there were quite a few photos like this in my Grandmother’s collection, all showing these beautiful buildings and exotic places, but all of them devoid of people.  This eerie — and inexplicable — emptiness haunted my dreams.  I would mentally go visit all of these places, but always alone.  The grand museums, churches and government buildings were all empty.

How? Why?

I always wondered.  I even asked the adults.  My Grandmother wrinkled her nose, paused a moment, looked at me sharply, but ultimately shrugged.  She didn’t know, either.  

It’s some comfort to know, all these years later, that I wasn’t alone in wondering about this odd phenomenon.  Please take the time to watch this video and at least consider some of the questions it raises and information it provides. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one spooked by the “empty photographs”.

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