FASHION, COLOR TINTING, SHAPE NOTES and GRIEF -- In this tintype portrait, likely dating from the mid to late 1870s, Elizabeth (Minerd) Long of Normalville, Fayette County, PA stands beside an empty chair, signifying her status as a widow. Her first husband, George Long Jr., had died earlier in the decade, allegedly after catching pneumonia while helping a neighbor erect a barn in the dead of winter. His tragic passing left her with a farm to tend and three young children to raise, ranging in age from 12 to 5.
This portrait is interesting in several respects. Not only is her mourning apparent, but the style of dress suggests the fashion of the day -- what a farming woman would have worn in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. A closer look shows that the photographer added subtle color to enhance the visual effect, including slightly rose-tinted cheeks and streaks of gold symbolizing earrings, a necklace and ring on the middle finger of her left hand.
Providing a rare a glimpse into Elizabeth's early married life, is that her husband's old "shape note" hymnal -- known as the The Christian Minstrel -- still exists and is preserved in the Minerd.com Archives. Authored by J.B. Aiken, and printed in 1853, the Minstrel was "a new system of musical notation, with a collection of psalm tunes, anthems, and chants, selected from the most popular works in Europe and America." A recent article by Linda Marker and Duane Howard -- "Shapes of the Past: The History of Shape Note Singing in Southern Somerset County, PA" -- printed in the Laurel Messenger newsletter of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County, mentions the Longs' copy and says that shape note hymnals were "a vital piece of our social history" and that in some instances, "young people would often come six or eight miles to attend a singing." Other rare copies have been found at the Old Pike Toll House in Addison, PA, from the family of John and Lucinda (Miller) Tressler, and in the archives of West Overton Museum, which was the birthplace of coke magnate Henry Clay Frick in nearby Westmoreland County.