Stereoscoping the St. Louis River

"Dales of the St. Louis River, Minnesota"
Here’s a photo of one of the twin images on a “B” Series stereoscope card. Where the heck did they take this picture?

I’m a sucker for old postcards and really get knocked out when they picture familiar places.

I love the documentary, even journalistic work put into a photo of, say, the Flatiron building in New York City.

I love the different film colors: the Turn of the Century black & white, the 30s & 40s colorized prints, even the glossy sheen of a 1970s postcard has a certain charm.

And then there’s the antiquated stamp on the back, the faded postmark and an often mysterious handwritten note that breathes life into the whole thing.

I’ve wasted hours at antique stores plowing through box after box of random postcards. Lost in history. Looking for something to catch my eye or spark my imagination. No, hot tubs and DeLoreans are not the best way to travel through time; it’s the postcard.One River

But as much as I love postcards, there’s another level of historic, photo illustrated collectibles I have yet to explore: Stereoscope cards.

On a recent visit with our friends Keith and Kris in Wausau, Kris shared a cache of stereoscope cards she purchased at an antique fair. Some amazing stuff.

For those of you not familiar with the wonder of stereoscope, the cards feature two almost identical, side-by-side images. Viewers look at the cards through a device that’s a cross between binoculars and night vision goggles. Inside this device, the two photos merge into one three-dimensional image.

If it’s a picture of the Grand Canyon, the stereoscope makes you feel like you’re standing on the edge.

Kris handed me a stack of the thick, black and white stereo cards. I thumbed through them. There were bucolic European countryside images, exotic East India photos, and rusty, industrialized America snapshots. Trains on the Conneaut, Ohio ore docks. Steam shovels in the Hibbing, Minnesota mines. Cool stuff.

And then there was an image I couldn’t explain.

The picture showed a large wooden canoe beached on a shoreline near a small dock. A body of water stretched out behind the lonely canoe; and a thin, strip of land fades in the background. The bottom of the card read “Dales of the St. Louis River, Minnesota.”

“That’s in Duluth,” I said, surprised to see a local image.

“I know,” said Kris. “I think I paid extra for that one.”

I looked closer at the picture. Pushing the stereoscope view finder into my forehead, moving the image back-and-forth, in-and-out of focus.

“Where the heck did they take that picture?” I said.

Kris had been trying to sleuth it out too. The river was very wide in the background. It had to be near the St. Louis Bay. Or maybe Spirit Lake. Right?

But “dales” or rapids? They were almost nonexistent in the picture. The only rapids I know about would be upstream near Carlton, where the river narrows.

Maybe the picture was taken in the fall when water levels are low and hidden rock beds formed rapids. Maybe the Thomson Dam, constructed in 1907, has something to do with it.

Or maybe it’s not the St. Louis river at all.

The picture looked very generic. I’m sure an unscrupulous publisher could easily change its location description in an effort to resell the picture in a variety of river town markets.

Wherever it is, that canoe really jumps out at you in the stereoscope and brings history to life.

Which is why I’m a sucker for postcards.


One thought on “Stereoscoping the St. Louis River

  1. The canoe is birchbark for sure. I think “dales” is more likely to mean “valleys” rather than “rapids.” My best guess for location is near Fondulac looking east. The open water looks more like waves on a windy day than rapids. Cool picture.


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