Notes on the iconography of the first ether surgeries.

EDD-No. 1

Ether Dome Daguerreotype No. 1

Provenance: owned by the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
Currently archived at the Fogg Museum (Object no. 3.1979).

Number tags added for the following attributions: 1.) Charles Bertody–unverified.   2.) Solomon David Townsend.   3.) Charles Frederick Heywood–unverified.   4.) Augustus Addison Gould.   5.) John Call Dalton.   6.) William Eckels.   7.) Samuel Parkman.   8.) Jonathan Mason Warren.   9.) Henry Jacob Bigelow.   10.) Daniel Denison Slade.   11.) Ward attendant.

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(Work is ongoing: refresh when visiting the pages)

Introduction »»

The "Reenactment" scenario »»

Henry Bryan Hall's engraving »»

Arthur Ignatius Keller's painting »»

Robert Cutler Hinckley's painting »»

Identities of the doctors:
  • Figure 8: Jonathan Mason Warren »»
  • Figure 9: Henry Jacob Bigelow »»
  • Figure 7: Samuel Parkman »»
  • Figure 10: Daniel Denison Slade »»
  • Figure 5: John Call Dalton »»
  • Figure 3: (unverified): Charles Frederick Heywood »»
  • Figure 1: (unverified): Charles Bertody »»
  • Figure 2: Solomon David Townsend »»
  • Figure 4: Augustus Addison Gould »»
Enactment scenarios:
  • Determining the date of EDD No. 1 »»
  • Samuel Parkman's December 9th report »»
  • Jonathan Mason Warren's February 6th report »»
  • Jonathan Mason Warren's March 13th report »»
  • April 3rd scenario »»
EDD Nos. 2-5:
  • Optical plane templates »»
  • Ether Dome Daguerreotype No. 2 »»
  • Ether Dome Daguerreotype Nos. 3-5 »»
Summation: »»

Consolidated references »»

Appendix 1: Boston Society for Medical Improvement »»

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Sulphuric ether entered the surgical armamentarium on October 16, 1846, the day Dr. John Collins Warren risked his reputation on an experimental substance to blunt the pain of his scalpel while excising the facial tumor of his patient, Edward Gilbert Abbott (1825-1855). The providential Abbott operation has inspired many artists, writers, and photo historians, but their interpretations of Ether Dome Daguerreotype No. 1 – the Hawes daguerreotype claimed to represent the operation – have accreted around a good deal of guesswork. It is generally conceded that Abbott is not the patient in the photograph, but the prevailing view that he is an actor posing as Abbott for a staged "Reenactment daguerreotype" commemorative is also doubtful. There is scant evidence that verifies the identities of the doctors or their motivations in posing for EDD No. 1, and the more the reenactment construct is studied, the more inconsistencies in the details that emerge. Photographic records of the first ether operations were eventually made, this is known, and Hawes is established as the photographer. Dr. Warren's place in history was secured when, according to the legend, he turned to the spectators and declared, "Gentlemen, this is no humbug," but was this one of the many seeds of fiction planted that day? And is it possible the first photograph of ether anesthesia represents an actual surgery in which Dr. Warren is neither playing the lead role, nor even among the subjects who are posing for the camera?

I propose that the first photograph of etherization captures not a reenactment but rather an enactment, one of the actual ether surgeries prosecuted at Massachusetts General Hospital within the first months following the Abbott operation. Drawing from my experience as a visual artist, this will be a physiognomic study of the confusion that surrounds the identities and mischaracterizations of Ether Dome Daguerreotype No. 1 as a staged reenactment, a kind of fictionalized tableau vivant. The identities of the principals will be examined, including that of the etherized patient, and correctives offered. I also draw upon the valuable guidance I have received through my correspondence with scholars who are intimate with the Ether Dome daguerreotypes and, as this is a work in progress, guidance I hope to acquire in the future.

Author/artist: Mark Rowley. The text and pictorial contents of this manuscript are my own creation, except where indicated. Revised and reformatted for the web, pending the print edition. Illustrations of Ether Dome Daguerreotypes No. 1-5 are adapted from Wikimedia Commons. Copyright 2022.

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