Help Identify this Photograph!
As we come into the third week of the NFL season, the Center for Local History is looking for your help in learning more about a recently-donated photograph.
This photo was found in the attic of a house on 21st Street South, in the Arlington Ridge/Aurora Highlands area:
Finds like this are fascinating because they pose so many questions.
Who were these young men? When was this picture taken? What school are they standing in front of?
The thirteen young men appear to be high-school aged, and they are wearing turn-of-the-century or early-twentieth-century football gear. The two men in suits are presumably coaches. They stand before an arched doorway labeled “Public School.” The back row of young men seem to be standing on miniature chairs. One man holds a football, upon which is painted “04.” The “04” suggests that they were either playing in 1904, or were from the class of 1904. But what other details back up that assumption? How do we know that “04” wasn’t painted onto the ball for some other reason?
Figuring out the date of a photo can be tricky, but fun.
Different historians, archivists, and history buffs have preferred methods. Some like to date pictures by finding the latest-model car in a street scene. Hairstyles and clothing can be good indications, though they can be misleading. In professional sports, uniforms change slightly but noticeably over the years, but these boys aren’t wearing uniforms.
Their gear, however, does present some clues. The minimal padding, sewn into their clothes and not worn separately, suggest that this was from the earliest days of football– “harnessed” leather pads that pulled on over the head began appearing around the turn of the century. Likewise, their boots suggest something from football’s earliest days.
The most interesting detail to me is the nose guards several of the men are wearing.
While we have helmets with face masks to protect the mouth and nose today, there were no such protections in the early years of football. Instead, some players wore nose guards like the one seen to the right, which during play strapped around the players’ heads and protected the nose and teeth. At first I thought it resembled this nose guard, patented by Frank Wilcox in 1904, but the strap on Wilcox’s design is a bit lower. I eventually found our nose guard patented by the Morrill Company in 1891, which according to this page from the University of Michigan was for sale in the “Spaulding [sic] catalog” in 1902. Thus, we find support for the 1904 date.
But what team was this, and where were they photographed?
My first thought was that the nearby Hume School (now the Arlington Historical Society) and other Arlington-area schools from that time period have somewhat similar arched entrances. But none that I’m aware of have the stonework “Public School” over them.
More importantly, there was no public high school in the county at that time, so young men of this age would likely be going to school– and perhaps playing football for that school– at high schools in the District.
With all the above in mind, we turn it over to you, the public.
What clues can you glean from this picture? Do you recognize anyone? Can you identify the archway behind these men? Is there anything in the above post that seems off-base?
What can you tell us about this picture?