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Hair Dye Bottles Found at Civil War Photography Studio Site

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Hair Dye BottleJESSAMINE COUNTY, KENTUCKY—The Lexington Herald Leader reports that Stephen McBride, director of interpretation at Camp Nelson, a 4,000-acre Union Army supply depot established in central Kentucky in 1863, has identified bottles that held hair dye and hair oil among the artifacts recovered from the site of a photography studio within a sutler store owned by merchant William Berkley. The studio was identified in 2015 with the discovery of a glass cover plate, a brass photograph preserver, a brass photograph mat, and bottles that held chemicals. Nine brass stencil plates, used with ink and a brush to label clothing and personal items, were also found at the site. “The portraits and the identifying stencils were important to the men to illustrate their status as both men and soldiers at that moment, but also for posterity, as they could soon be wounded or killed,” McBride said. He thinks the soldiers may have darkened their hair with dye before being photographed so that it would not appear white or gray in the finished black-and-white images. “We found a lot of them,” McBride said of the hair dye bottles. “It’s something you just don’t find on other sites.” To read about artifacts recovered from the site of a North Carolina cotton mill that was converted into a Confederate prison, go to "Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street."

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