Rare Images Show 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition With Exceptional Clarity

Jun 30, 2017

The Metro Nashville Archives recently turned up long-lost images from the massive Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897. And the images are creating a buzz on the Facebook page where the archives staff has become known for sharing fascinating material from local history.

A volunteer was scanning old glass plate negatives when archivist Drew Mahan noticed the rare Centennial Expo images. They show the first Parthenon and what’s known as the Memphis pyramid — and in the highest possible resolution.

“It’s going to provide just unbelievable clarity when you scan it,” he said, “so you can really zoom in on a detail of some of the buildings and things. So this is going to be the best example of this shot that exists.”

Mahan said they turned up in a collection of about 1,000 negatives recently transferred from the Metro Historical Commission. He knew immediately that they were special, as few images exist from the grounds of the expo — in part because only one company was granted access to take photos.

“These were either some rogue person taking photos, or a competing company, or something, we're not really sure,” he said. “At this point, I think I’ve found eight to 10 and I’m still working through them. It’s going to be exciting.”

The first image posted to Facebook has already drawn a wave of response, which Mahan has grown accustomed to as the page tops 10,000 followers. He stokes interest by tapping into several modern social media trends. He posts old images for #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday, and he quizzes followers with unidentified pictures on what he labels #WhereIsItWednesday.

“We literally have this living history wall of people responding, of their memories — or they grew up a few blocks from the area of something that I posted. And they share it,” he said.

Mahan plans to roll out more expo images on the page, and to share them with any in-person visitors to the archives, inside the downtown library.

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