Weeping over the Sepia

Weeping: Miners and prospectors climb the Chilkoot Trai...

Chilkoot Trail (Wikipedia)

It happened again this week. While researching World War I and the Alaskan Gold Rush, my heart surged and there I was weeping over the sepia photos one more time.

I’m about to publish my fourth historical novella and I’ve been writing two other works lately; I’ve spent the last five years in the marvel of actual photos of real events.

Your imagination, of course, can and should conjure pictures of the people described in the books you read.

But to see actual individuals, maybe even the people you’re reading about, is to take a plunge into a bottomless emotional depth. Click to Tweet

English: Carrie, Mary and Laura Ingalls

English: Carrie, Mary and Laura Ingalls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You all know Laura Ingalls from The Little House Books. Did you know the real Laura looks like this?

I stare at the photo and I can hear her running through the grasses, desperately hunting baby Grace in the violet hollow. All her stories run across my mind and there she is, a girl with her hair pulled back the way I used to wear mine. And Pa’s beard is as wirey and wild as she always described it!

I’m weeping because I’ve made such a deep connection with that girl over eight volumes. But what about the harsher places I’ve been?

They invoke a different type of tears.

Here’s an iconic photo from World War I:


I look at that sepia and think, probably every man living and breathing while the photographer snapped it, was dead within a couple minutes. Click to Tweet

They had families, loved ones, mothers at home; the air was full of shrapnel, noise practically ruptured their eardrums and for a cause they may not have been able to articulate, they followed the high pitched shriek of a whistle into No Man’s Land.

Weeping seems the only honorable response.

(Sepia, by the way, means adding a “warmer” tone to black and white photos. It’s what makes them look a little brownish or not pure black and white. Chemicals caused it, and age only helped).

Historical fiction written before the Civil War didn’t have these additional elements to help the writer. With technology and Pinterest, not to mention the Internet, it’s all at your fingertips.

In the last couple years, colorization outfits have begun to make the old sepia photos look even more realistic. Look at these two photos of the same place:



Verdun 1917


And in color:


Weeping: Verdun WWI

Verdun after being nearly destroyed. (Time Magazine: http://ti.me/1pAC3to)


You can find more of these colorizations of history, in case you have a need for more weeping, at

Facebook’s History in Color or at Dana Keller’s website. There’s also a page WWI Colourised Photos (which obviously is British)

The UK’s Telegraph Newspaper has been posting poignant photos from World War I. Here’s a sample of what you and I might have shot had we been there with our smartphones! Photos

You can also visit my Pinterest Boards. I’ve got eight different boards on World War I subjects. Landing page is Here

This one reminds me of the movie Wings, a great film made ten years after the war using real planes and soldiers. Poignant. Real. Perfect for weeping about what was lost:

Weeping: A picture taken in an RE8 sitting behind Lieutenant Hubert Wrinch during a sortie over the Western Front in August 1917.

Taken in an RE8 sitting behind Lieutenant Hubert Wrinch during a sortie over the Western Front in August 1917.

 How do historic photos affect you? Click to Tweet

Historic photos tugging the reader’s emotions. Click to Tweet

Weeping: French Army padre, WW1

French army chaplain


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1 Comment

  1. I do weep over sepia. Thank you, Michelle.


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