Stop 5: Locust & Miller

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Coyne - Masks On - 1918Hello, I’m Allison Doxsee, I work in Circulation at MVPL. I’d like to tell you a little about the photographs of the group of people you see standing here, on the old station platform at Locust and Miller. Both photos were taken in November 1918 by an Oakland resident named Raymond Coyne - he's actually the extra fellow who appears in the "masks off" shot. Coyne took this photo of these individuals, his friends, in the midst of the flu pandemic. It’s a striking photograph, even more so now, in the age of COVID-19. Maybe you’ve seen this photo at some point over the last 19 months. It’s appeared in scholarly books and articles, in documentaries (including one that aired on PBS), in the New York Times and the Guardian, on Stephen King’s Twitter, and countless Facebook posts. "Can we use this mask photo in X" is by far the most popular research request the History Room has received since the pandemic started.

There are many similarities between the 1918 flu pandemic and COVID-19. While the clothing worn by those in the photo may be dated, sure, it’s easy to see ourselves among the group standing at Locust Avenue. Right now, we’re still wearing masks. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We still pull our masks down in creative ways to smile for the camera.

The photo resonates, but the image also raises some questions. Such as: what’s with that girl’s sign? It turns out, there was a mask ordinance in Marin in the fall of 1918, when the pandemic was at its first peak. On November 9th, 1918 the Mill Valley Record printed an article with the headline "The Mask Ordinance – Violators Will Be Made to Pay Full Penalty." It goes on to note that four men were arrested and fined a total of $30 for "a failure to wear the mask as required."

At the time of this photo, Raymond Coyne was 22 years old and a member of the hiking group the Hash and Eggers, who got their name from their breakfast of choice. Like today, hiking was a respite for lovers of the great outdoors during the pandemic. It's very likely that those pictured here were also members of that group.

Coyne - Masks Off - 1918We're grateful for Raymond Coyne’s artistic and careful documentation of Bay Area life. We’re also grateful for his son, Lloyd, who donated over 500 of Raymond’s negatives taken between 1918-1922 to the Dipsea Race Committee, who passed them on to the History Room. In January 2019 we digitized the collection through California Revealed, and encourage you to browse his pictures online. The bulk of the collection documents the Dipsea Race (Raymond’s brother Lynus was a star runner) but lucky for us, the collection also includes more “mundane” images documenting hikes, naps on the beach, and of course, the now-famous "Wear A Mask" Photo.

Soon the History Room will release episode 2 of our podcast The History Mill. Tune in to learn even more about this fascinating photograph and the man behind the camera.