Modern Genetics and its Foundations Preview on Flickr

JDW Sr. Ghost Mother Portrait

For the past year we have been digitizing documents from the James D. Watson and Sydney Brenner Collections as part of the Wellcome Library's  "Modern Genetics and its Foundations" project.  This includes all types of documents: letters, postcards, handwritten manuscripts, laboratory data, and even Watson's day calendars.  But the images I was most interested in come from Watson's extensive photograph collection.  

The photos document Watson's entire life, from his infancy to his 80s.  In fact, they go back even further -- the portrait above is of his father, James D. Watson, Sr., and was taken in 1897.  Take a closer look at the photograph and you will notice that little Jimmy is not seated on a chair, but is actually on his mother's lap!  Taking portraits was a much lengthier procedure in the 19th century, so mothers often hid beneath a sheet to comfort their children and keep them still throughout the photo session. The result is a slightly unsettling image of an infant held by a cloaked specter (known as "ghost mothers").

For more early images from the Watson Collection check out our Flickr page where we will be providing a preview of the photographs digitized as part of "Modern Genetics and its Foundations" project.