Edward Beebe was a popular photographer in northern Michigan in the early 1900s. He created postcards with his photos but often deceived people regarding the location of the shots.
“I think a lot of these cards were intended to take advantage of tourists and visitors,” says local author Jack Hobey.
Edward Beebe was born in 1872. He lived in Kalkaska and began working as a teacher and school administrator.
Then in 1900, he switched to a career in photography. That’s about the time he was hired by lumber kingpin, William Mitchell, to shoot Mitchell’s lumber operation.
Boyne City author Jack Hobey has written two books about Edward Beebe. He says back then, lumber barons were really egotistical.
“They loved to memorialize what they did with photography,” he says. “ So, because of … photographers like Edward Beebe, we can see what these operations in northern Michigan looked like back in the early 1900s.”
Postcards were really popular in the United States during that same time. Jack says sending and collecting postcards was a big hobby in the nation from about 1905 to 1915. And some of those postcards were of lumber operations.
“So, these postcards would go all around the country, and they would display the breadth and the scope of the operations that these lumber barons were managing,” he explains.
But once the logging industry moved out of Leelanau County, Edward Beebe had to shift his focus. Instead of shooting lumber operations, Beebe focused on shooting buildings, natural landscapes, portraits, even animals.
To make his postcards more appealing to a wider audience, he’d lie about the location of the photos. Jack Hobey calls it “multi-location identification photography.”
In his book, "Edward Beebe’s Historic Leelanau Photos," Jack points out a particular postcard that shows up twice. It’s the exact same photograph, but in one case it’s titled “Ice Peak - Leland, Michigan.” In another instance, the very same photo is titled “Ice Formation - Suttons Bay, Michigan by moonlight.”
Both photos are signed by Edward Beebe. Jack says what Beebe was doing was taking advantage of a great photo.
“The Leland card he could sell in Leland because people in Leland wanted to send people … photos of Leland,” he says.
“People in Suttons Bay had no interest in sending photos of Leland. So, Beebe would put into his retail distribution point in Suttons Bay the same photo, but he would label it ‘Suttons Bay.’”
Jack thinks most people living in Suttons Bay probably could recognize the photo wasn’t taken in their town.
“I think a lot of these cards were intended to take advantage of tourists and visitors,” he says. “I think people in Suttons Bay ... would look at this Beebe card, and they would laugh, because they’d know there was nothing like this … in Suttons Bay. But people that came from St. Louis or Chicago, they might very well buy the card because they didn’t know better.”
Jack Hobey says Beebe often used this trick. Another example is a picture of a chipmunk that showed up all over northern Michigan.
“Every market that he serviced you’ll see that chipmunk,” Jack says. “The chipmunk lived in all 18 towns.”
About 15 years ago, Jack Hobey began noticing Edward Beebe’s postcards in antique stores around the area. Now he's collected about 2,500 of them. He was intrigued seeing what Leelanau County looked like in the early 1900s. But he’s not just interested in what’s on the front of the cards, but also what's written on the back of them.
“It’s history and it’s art in a nutshell,” he says.
Jack Hobey will be presenting some of Edward Beebe’s photos and postcards at the Leelanau Historical Society on Wednesday, November 15th.