Pictures Tell the Tale
Visitors are drawn to the shows, Eldridge says, because Cummings’ photos provide a rare glimpse into life on the Cape at the turn of the 20th century. The collection manages to mix newsworthy events like shipwrecks and the construction of historic buildings with everyday occurrences. Many local landmarks captured by Cummings’ lens still stand today, including the photographer’s own stately childhood home, now known as The Captain Linell House near Skaket Beach. The collection also includes photos of the picturesque Chatham Light, the foundations of today’s grandiose Ocean Edge resort in East Brewster, and historic Cape Cod style homes scattered along the Cranberry Highway and the smaller, winding roads of Orleans. This sort of collection is extremely rare, Eldridge states. “You don’t see collections like this, in their entirety, that tell an entire story of a town,” she says.
In addition to learning about the history of the Cape, Eldridge also says that the photographs allow many locals to learn more about their ancestors. Though archivists found Cummings’ personal journal 11 years ago, his entries about photos contain only the first names of his subjects. Eldridge says that visitors have been very helpful in helping to fill in the missing pieces. “Now when we have a show there is always somebody that comes up and tells us that that’s their great great uncle in that picture,” says Eldridge. The information given by knowledgeable residents is priceless to those who have worked so hard to get the collection in order.
By his 87th birthday, Cummings had amassed more than a thousand photographs of Orleans scenes and residents. He never considered himself an artist, but the collection housed at the Snow Library is a testament—not just to his skill and passion for photography, but to his love of the Cape and the town where he lived out his days.
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