Frederick Wells Blakeslee
(Firefighter and Photographer)
Born: Dec. 23, 1843 in Ashtabula, OH
Married: Sarah Eunice Blakeslee
Children: One Child - Frederick King Blakeslee, born Sept. 22, 1880
Died: Aug. 6, 1927 in Ashtabula, OH
Fred W. Blakeslee was a lifelong resident of Ashtabula. He even organized the fire protection hose company in 1850 and served many years as a firefighter. At the end of the civil war he opened a photography studio in the town. At the beginning the 1870’s he was joined by Frank C Moore. For a time, they operated a branch in Geneva, Ohio. Moore began his photography career as an apprentice in Ashtabula and then ran his own studio in Lima, Ohio between 1870 and 1875. Moore’s partnership with Blakeslee ended in 1894.
Since Blakeslee was a firefighter with the protection company, he worked all night trying to help the survivors of the crash. However, the morning after the fire Blakeslee grabbed his camera and ran back to wreck site. The photographs he took the morning after the disaster have become legendary!
Since photography was still a new technology when the disaster happened, photographers used what were called “wet plates.” They would coat glass with a light sensitive emulsion in the field and then expose the coated glass with light in the camera. Blakeslee climbed down the icy steps to the pump house, being careful not to slip and smash his large and awkward camera. He then set up and started taking pictures. However, it was very cold and his wet-plates were freezing up during the preparation process. Blakeslee finally warmed his plates in a switchman’s shack to successfully capture his images. Thousands of copies of his disaster photos were made and sold, “first come first served” by Fred Blakeslee.