A Photo That Grandma Took!

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, August 18, 1914:  Don’t just know the time we got up at this morning, but it wasn’t very early. We went to the station where we secured tickets for the trip around the gorge. After we had gone several squares we caught a glimpse of the Niagara River, and soon afterwards we were looking upon the majestic beauty of the Niagara Falls. The falls seen from Goat Island. It was indescribable. No pen of mine can ever tell the grandeur of that place. I stood and looked and was thrilled with the beauty of it all. Surely the Great God above us has wrought many beautiful things. We next saw the Horseshoe Falls, and the mist coming up from below. I took my first picture of the girls on a bridge nearby. We traveled on until we reached the Canadian side. We stopped there were we entered some kind of a building. After climbing about four flights of stairs, we came out on a balcony. From there we could obtain a view of both falls. We then went down again, donned rubber coats and overshoes and proceeded by way of an elevator to an underground tunnel. We came out under the fall at three different places. The roar was deafening, but we had lots of fun. When we came back, we had our pictures taken in our rubber costumes.

We got back to the hotel in the early part of the afternoon after having visited Queenstown Heights. I was impressed with Brock’s monument. Took two pictures there, and Alma took one. The ride along the river was a lovely one, while the rapids took up all my attention.

Arrived at the hotel. We rubbed up a little and started out again to the falls a second time. We lingered a long time, loath to leave the spot. I took a shot at the girls sitting on the rocks. The funny part of it was, they sat so nice and quiet, after I had pressed the button, and could hardly believe the picture had been taken.

We went out to the movies this evening. One was so dreadfully funny. My sides fairly ached from laughing. We came back to the hotel and packed up.

Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order; of the women)

Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; uncertain of the order of the women)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What an amazing trip! I’m going to focus on one small part of what Grandma wrote because I think that it is one of the most amazing parts of the diary. My cousin Alice Chepiga actually has one of the photos mentioned in this entry—the one of the girls sitting on the rocks.

Here is Alice’s story:

My Dad and I were cleaning out sheds on our farm outside of McEwensville, probably around the summer of 1977 or 1978. That is when we found the picture. I had just bought my first house and was delighted to have some pictures to hang. There were several other pictures from the Muffly and Swartz family.

I love the picture so much. It still hangs in my office and I enjoy looking at it every day. Everyone looks so happy.

61 Responses

  1. Such a wonderful story. And lovely to have photographic evidence of this great adventure.

  2. How great! I’m so glad that you have at least one photo taken by Helena! It’s fun to read about Niagara Falls through her eyes–I’ve stood in all the places she talked about and been in the same state of awe!

  3. This is pure magic and the absolute highlight of the diary for me so far. She sounds so, so exhilarated.

  4. What lovely girls having a lovely time. It’s great to see your grandmother happy and doing the kind of things girls do!!!

  5. Oh, my. I have chills just seeing the actual photograph that Grandma took and wrote about in this entry! Your idea to write this blog and share Grandma’s diary (and your photos) with your readers is just wonderful. I agree with “socialbridge” that this is probably the highlight of your blog so far!

  6. What a keepsake and treasure to have. I can just imagine the awe and adventure.

  7. Love reading her excitement!

  8. Wow, I have been to the falls and she perfectly captures the place in words and photo. I can’t help not to get caught up in the fun and excitement.

    • I’ve also seen the falls, and I agree that she wonderfully describes them. In some ways I’m surprised at the similarities between tourist experiences a hundred years ago and their experiences now.

  9. I enjoyed this post very much. Your Grandma had a gift for writing. It was such a grand adventure they had.

    • It’s wonderful how she provided a detailed description of her trip. Since she generally wrote such short diary entries, it amazes me how much she wrote about this trip.

  10. How wonderful to hear Helena so happy and effusive!! The photo is a wonderful artifact, as well as your cousin’s story of discovering it. This is the type of post that must make you, Sheryl, get goosebumps over. Witnessing and sharing your grandmother, so vibrantly alive here! A gift thru the ages.

  11. I’ve been away for awhile and I can’t believe that your grandma wrote so much! and so enthusiastically. Now I have to go back and see how this trip came about. I’m so glad she got out of her rut and into the world for a bit and she took a great photo. Glad it’s now out of the shed and on the wall!!

  12. Oh to have seen Niagara Falls in 1914!!
    What a wonderful diary entry. So full of good news and light!

    • I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but in some ways I’ve been astonished at how developed Niagara Falls was as a tourist attraction in 1914.

  13. can’t get enough of the historic photos!!!

  14. I am glad grandma is out of her regular routine and she is happy. I can feel the joy and delight in her words 100 years later. Photo, perfect for this post.

  15. How wonderful that you have the diary and access to the photo as well.

    I was interested in her careful specification of the photos she took. Each one then was expensive, and probably involved developing work when she got home.

    I remember my trip to Europe after graduating college, We had only so many rolls of film, so we had to be a bit choosy about what we chose to “take.” And then we had to hope the cylinder would make it home to be developed. Then there was the anxious waiting period before seeing how they came out.

    Now I’m so used to shooting digital photos, with instant feedback and no need to select carefully. I can alway toss the one’s I don’t like. What a difference!

    • It was so different back when the cost of buying film and developing photos was factored into the decision of whether or not a picture was worth taking.

  16. What a lovely trip they had! I love the fact that we were privileged to see a photo taken by her!

  17. This is by far, one of my favourite posts Sheryl – I love the photo and I LOVE that they also went Canada-side!
    Diana xo

  18. Finally a photo! Wonderful post.

  19. Having visited Niagara Falls just last September, it’s fun to be able to read about your grandmother’s visit in 1914!

  20. Brilliant story. Thank you.

  21. Stumbled on your blog a couple of days ago while googling fashions of 1914. Helena was quite a character at 15 and 16 years old. She had a humorous outlook. Thank you for posting I love reading this.

  22. What a great photo! Love her account, too. My daughter just visited Niagara Falls last week. She said the Canadian side had too many casinos. :(

  23. Great post. Love the picture too!

  24. That photo — what a treasure!

  25. This description of the trip by your grandmother is giving us a much more complete idea of who the young Helena was – fascinating! Also it appears there is a fast running part of the river right behind the girls in the photo – no fence. Wonderful outfits too!

    • I’ve compared this picture to other photos of the Niagara Falls area and I think that it was taken in front of the bridge to one of the Three Sister Islands. They are just off-shore from Goat Island.

  26. We went to NF earlier this summer. I still need to post my pics and videos. We hope to get back this summer for the Maid of the Mist. We went to Glen years ago and were hoping to get back this summer – but time is running out quickly!

  27. […] the moment she took the photo during the trip to Niagara Falls that it was going to be special. On August 18, 1914 she […]

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