Once In A Lifetime

Once In A Lifetime

This is the third edition of “The Archives”, a blog series intended to give an inside look into the complicated past of pit bull dogs through photographs, newspaper articles and other historical artifacts pertaining to this controversial debate. 

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The Archives | 1893 Pit Bull Dog and Children

This specific piece is another cabinet card from the 1890s – the type of photograph previously discussed in the first blog entry for “The Archive” series.

To find out more about this cabinet card, there were several clues I used to conduct my research. On the the front of the card “Austin’s Studio” is on the right side and in smaller lettering there is Watervliet, Michigan. Obviously, this is the photographer and the location of his studio, but who is the person behind Austin’s Studio?

Pit Bull Dog and Children | 1893 Cabinet Card by Austin's Studio
click to zoom

It’s always tough to locate additional information on people who lived over 120 years ago, but I did some digging and I believe the photographer is named George W. Austin. I found a PDF from the University of Michigan that put together a directory of early Michigan photographers, and narrowed down a search from this list by limiting only the names of photographers based in the town called Watervliet, and again to only photographers who were active in the late 1800s.

He was born in Michigan in July 1862 and worked on his father’s farm. He married a woman named Mary in 1886, with whom he had a daughter named Marnie. In this bio they include in the final sentences:
“Following a long illness, George died on April 1, 1923. His daughter had been active in the business for several years, and the Austin Studio continued in Kalamazoo under Marnie’s management for another decade.

Now, as for the children and dog in the actual photograph…On the backside of the cabinet card is a handwritten name:
Nyle W. Vrooman taken January 19, 1893.

When I did some additional searches, I came across some newspapers where he was named in an article, as well as a listing on the website Archives, which helps track family history, and according to information from the U.S. Census in 1940, Nyle was 47 year old, which would make him born in 1893 (when the photograph was allegedly taken), so it’s quite possible the younger child sitting in the wagon is Nyle W. Vrooman with his pit bull dog.

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