Well, here we are again with Sepia Saturday and the prompt has quite a lot of latitude. Since our sponsor Alan will be on holiday in Spain this weekend, I chose this photo since I will also be on holiday…in Pittsburgh. Not quite as glamorous as Spain, but I’ll be meeting with friends and that’s what is important. This is a stereopticon card showing the Court House, Bridge of Sighs and Jail in Pittsburgh, PA. The stereopticon was an early 3D photography technique that required a special viewer like this one.
The two images are taken from slightly different angles and the convergence of the two images in the line of sight tricks the human brain into thinking it is seeing one image with depth. The modern day Viewmaster was a refinement of the technology, using smaller slides and putting them into a circular sleeve that would advance with each click of the lever.
The stereopticon was invented in the 1830s and became popular both at home and in arcades as entertainment and education. Queen Victoria helped popularize the device in the 1850s, and in the US in the 1860s the Holmes stereopticon was invented and became the gold standard of 3D viewing. They are still produced apparently, in limited numbers.
Stereopticon images allowed the viewer to “see the world” while sitting in their living room. The most popular slides were travel and geography slides, showing the viewer all the sights – such as above. A trip to your local antique shop will probably bring you in contact with an enormous box full of old stereopticon slides of images all ’round the world.
The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail were joined by the Bridge of Sighs, which is an homage to the original in Venice, Italy. The architect was Henry Hobson Richardson and it was constructed in 1884. I’ve read that Richardson felt this was his greatest work and he even tried to anticipate progress through the years by building in extra stone blocks a full floor below the 1880s street level. Unfortunately when the street was lowered, the entrance was a full floor above the new street level and the grand entrance he designed for the courthouse was closed up with tunnel-like entrance halls. The bridge was originally used to transport prisoners from the courthouse to the jail and vice versa. Today it is still used for this purpose but inmates are bussed from the main jail which is a few blocks away.
Please click through to Sepia Saturday and experience travel and more from around the world!
UPDATE: per your request, follow this link to see modern photos of this lovely old building and also learn a little bit about the architect Henry Hobson Richardson.