Figure 6: The Patient

•      •      •

Without John Collins Warren in the frame, Ether Dome Daguerreotype No. 1 fails as a carefully staged pictorial reenactment of the Abbott surgery. Likewise, the staged redux scenario of his son's parotid surgery on March 13 also fails, if the supposition is correct that Dalton, not Morton, is the etherizer in the frame. Is it possible the photograph captures a moment as mundane as a group photograph, documenting the new appointments to the surgical wing of the Massachusetts General Hospital? Portraying the three junior Visiting-surgeons, together with the House-surgeon Heywood and the House-apothecary Dalton, surrounding an actor playing the role of the patient? Even if this were the case though, it is inconceivable to me that the junior Visiting-surgeons would want an actor and not an actual etherization to record in the annals of history. Why not, then, seize the occasion to document their significant achievement with the authenticity of an actual ether surgery in progress?

The visual clues indicating an impromptu photo session are compelling for Parkman's reduction of William Eckels's dislocated shoulder on December 9, 1846. What immediately hits the eye is the poor quality of the image relative to the other Ether Dome daugerreotypes, even though it was the best of the three or more bracketing shots that Hawes would have taken. Facial features are blurred and masked by deep and contrasting shadows, while highlights are greatly overexposed. These problems were not the fault of the photographer or his equipment – the composition is perfect – but rather the lack of sunlight that normally flooded the amphitheater even on overcast days. The photograph was taken in the evening under suboptimal conditions! Whereas the other surgeries were carefully planned and scheduled, Parkman's operation treated an urgent care walk-in, who was admitted at 6:00pm and wasn't etherized for another three hours later.(100) 

An extemporaneous photo session that took place on December 9, 1846 – call it "Parkman's Reduction Daguerreotype," or the "Junior Visiting-surgeons Daguerreotype" – might have transpired as follows. Performing the duties of House-surgeon at MGH, Heywood travelled the half mile to Tremont-row to summon Morton and prepare him on the particulars of the William Eckels case. It was now approaching 6:30pm and Morton was not in his office, nor was he at the Gould residence where he and his family were domiciled, a few doors down on Tremont. Gould left instructions for Morton should he return in time, and accompanied Heywood back to the Hospital. Along the way they stopped at the Southworth & Hawes studio at 5-1/2 Tremont to confirm that the commission that the firm had proposed and previously discussed with MGH was a go, namely, creating a daguerreotype record of an etherization in progress. It would be a historic image that captured the incredible significance of the recent events that weighted the attention of the world's medical practitioners onto the surgical amphitheater at Mass. General Hospital. The studio was winding down operations for the day and Hawes only needed a moment to pack his gear into a wagon, travel the short distance to the Hospital, and set up his camera. When making their proposal to MGH, J. J. Hawes and Albert Southworth had assessed the space of the amphitheater and were pleased with the amount of sunlight that flooded the arena. Theirs was the first photographic studio in Boston furnished with a skylight and the partners anticipated no problems in capturing the surgeons at work. However, the December sun was setting and Hawes was worried the spotlights in the Dome would be insufficient, calculating that an exposure would take more than a few seconds. Would the surgeons, several of whom who had never before posed for a camera, hold still long enough to render a crisp image? The daguerreotype would promote the absolute safety of ether anesthesia and copies could be sent to the intransigent Philadelphia doctors who refused to spare their patients the pain delivered by their scalpels, and who were determinedly vociferous in their disclaimers against ether. The daguerreotype would be incredibly valuable and Hawes anticipated a good market for copies.

As 9:00pm approached, Parkman and the two other junior Visiting-surgeons, J. Mason Warren and Bigelow, were in their frock coats and ready. Their attendance wasn't necessary for a routine reduction of a joint, but it was needed for the authenticity of a daguerreotype promoting etherization conducted by hospital surgeons. The presence of William Eckels was even more crucial for the verity of an instructional daguerreotype, a real patient who was rendered insensible to pain by the ether miracle. But where was Morton? They could no longer delay the procedure, and at 9:00pm "inhalation was commenced under the superintendence of the house physician, Dr. Bertody." The anesthetist is not named in Parkman's report, but in their pursuit of uncovering the mystery of Morton's Letheon, Drs. Dalton and Bigelow had acquired the most experience with administering ether, experimenting on both willing subjects and themselves.

Traction was applied and within a few minutes, the patient's humerus slipped back into its socket with an "audible snap." The ropes and pulleys were taken away, Eckels's shirt put back on, and Parkman posed for the camera with his hand grasping the surgical chair to indicate he was lead surgeon in the frame. And pursuant to the heuristic scenario, John Dalton posed next to the patient as well, clasping the forehead of the patient firmly with his right hand (reversed by the daguerreotype) and holding the Morton apparatus in his left hand to demonstrate the correct procedure for administering ether. It was only natural that the other two junior Visiting-surgeons, J. Mason Warren and Bigelow would stand next to Parkman on the command side of the surgical chair. On the assisting side of the surgical chair stood Heywood(?), Gould, and Townsend, the latter in the supervisory role of a senior Visiting-surgeon, since George Hayward wasn't on the premises that day. Behind these men stood the Harvard medical student Daniel Dennison Slade, a close and lifelong friend of Samuel Parkman's cousin, Francis Parkman, who became famous later in life for his books on the history of the American wilderness. The figure standing on the extreme left remains unidentified, but who I believe is Charles Bertody, who monitored the etherization of Eckels as he did for Abbott almost two months earlier.

Five years later, Southworth & Hawes advertised their accomplishments in the Boston Directory which included the sentence, "We have made several pictures of Surgeons with the patient under the influence of ether, all accurate likenesses."(101 »»)   Obviously the first of these, EDD No. 1 purportedly depicting Morton holding his apparatus, would be particularly valuable and it is baffling that only a few paper copies exist. The Lowrys too, said they had "no idea" why multiple exposures weren't taken, contrary to the Southworth & Hawes firm's "usual practice."(102)   This certainly would be true for a staged reenactment scenario, but it would be difficult enough to obtain even the bracketing shots within the time frame alloted for a surgical intervention. Furthermore, the daguerreotype was authorized by MGH, and the directors of the Hospital would be loathe to provide general release of a clinical photograph to the lay public. And anyway, who would want a copy, considering that neither the éminence grise figure of John Collins Warren, nor the spirited entrepreneur William T. G. Morton, were present within the frame?

(100.) Haridas, RP (2023), ibidem: The information and clarifications on the chronology come from Dr. Rajesh P. Haridas by way of our personal correspondence.

101.) Southworth & Hawes (1851), "Particulars interesting to those wanting daguerreotypes." In: The Boston Directory. Boston: Sampson & Murdock Company; vol. 47, p. 32-33 (supplement of advertisers).

102.) Lowry & Lowry (2005); Appendix, p. 84.

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