More than 100 years ago, on an island far, far away, a bushy-bearded man hauled his big boxy camera up to picturesque hilltops and down to cascading waterfalls, capturing life on glass plate negatives.
The Society of Mary appointed Brother Gabriel Bertram Bellinghausen, S.M., to introduce its educational mission to the Hawaiian Islands, according to Kimberley Neuenschwander, assistant archivist for the Marianist Archives. Bellinghausen took over St. Louis College in Honolulu in 1883 and increased the size of the student body tenfold over the next 22 years. It was just one way in which he was prolific.
While in Hawaii, Bellinghausen shot nearly 2,000 photographs, which Father Paul Vieson, S.M., director of the Marianist Archives at UD, describes as “marvelous” and “incredibly clear.”
“They’re very valuable in the sense that they record pictorially all the flora and fauna and a lot of the life in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Vieson said.
Bellinghausen saw it all through the 8-by-10-inch glass sheets — panoramic views of the Marianist order lined up in heavy black robes outside St. Louis College, stark shots of bunches of ripe fruits, portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy, collages of St. Louis College’s track and field stars, crisp views of Honolulu’s architecture and more.
But in his day, capturing these images was no simple feat.
“It was a big set-up to take the pictures,” said archivist Jennifer Gerth. “The [glass] plates themselves, that was the actual film he put in the camera.”
Today, the Marianist Archives holds approximately 1,250 of Bellinghausen’s plates, boxed and neatly lined up across 23 shelves, secured with neon green bungee cords. Before arriving at UD, this set of plates traveled from Hawaii to Cupertino, Calif., the site of the former Marianist Pacific province’s archives, Vieson said. The provinces were later combined, and their archives consolidated in Dayton. Vieson said other plates remain at the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Historical Society.
“The people giving them away didn’t know just how valuable they would be,” Vieson said.
Neuenschwander said Bellinghausen’s photographs have been displayed at UD at least twice. Tom Patterson, adjunct visual arts teacher at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, scanned the plates several years ago and printed a selection of them for the exhibitions. The scans were also sent to Chaminade University, right next to what is now known as St. Louis School.
“These photos are valuable for us [the Marianists] because they give us pictures of the schools we had,” Vieson said. “They’re also valuable because there are pictures of the brothers and priests who were there — Marianists and other missionary groups as well — which you otherwise might not get. They really are a treasure.”