Cobb Landmarks Executive Director Trevor Beemon was recently contacted by historic photo collector Chad Carlson. Chad had just purchased a rare ambrotype of a young cadet wearing a Georgia Military Institute uniform. The Georgia Military Institute (GMI) operated in Marietta from 1851 to 1864, and images of cadets from GMI are extremely rare. In fact, only a dozen images of GMI cadets are known to exist. The image Chad had purchased was a real treasure. Trevor was excited to see it, but did not yet realize the true significance of the image.
The image Chad had was an ambrotype, an underexposed glass negative placed against a dark background held together with a brass frame set inside a decorative wooden case. Chad had taken the case and frame apart and planned to clean the pieces and reassemble them. When he took everything apart he was able to reveal the name of the cadet which wasn't usually visible: W K Root.
When Chad saw the name "W K Root" he did a quick search online and found the William Root House Museum. He reached out to Trevor looking to confirm that the image he had was of William Root's son, William (Willie) Kemper Root. There was only one problem. The person in Chad's ambrotype looked nothing like the Willie in a photo on display at the museum. The photo on display had been given to the Root House by Root family descendants. Among the images given to the museum, one was supposedly Willie and the other his brother, James. Trevor had always suspected that the two images were, perhaps, just two different photos of the same person. Chad's discovery seemed to confirm it.
Was Chad's image really Willie? Analysis of the ambrotype and case gave Cobb Landmarks staff members a lot of clues. One clue was the handwriting labeling the image. Cobb Landmarks staff compared the handwriting to another verified image in the museum's collection. Next, Cobb Landmarks confirmed that Willie attended GMI and concluded that he had attended just one year - 1858. Finally, the image was compared to images of other members of the Root family. The resemblance between this new image of Willie and his sister, Mary Hannah, was strong.
With this new information, and support from donors Terri and Steve Cole, Cobb Landmarks acquired the image from Chad. This new image will replace the mislabeled image currently on display, correcting an error, and giving visitors an opportunity to see, first-hand, that historic interpretation is never static. Historians are always making new discoveries and learning new things. It's amazing that, after operating the Root House as a museum for over thirty years, new artifacts from the Root family can still walk through the door.
We are committed to empowering our community with an understanding of the events, people, and places that formed our past, so that we may all strive for a brighter future. Won't you join us?