Sanders, volunteer coordinator at the Historical Society of Washington, clutched the roll of paper tightly, lest it be blown out of his hands and borne to 20th Street NW, eight stories down.
The society’s inaugural exhibit in the DC History Center at the Carnegie Library is called “The Big Picture.” It features panoramas made by what’s called a Cirkut camera, which rotates atop a tripod, exposing the scene on a rolling piece of film eight inches high and up to several feet long.
One of the panoramas was taken 102 years ago in Kalorama, the camera pointed northwest. The society thought it would be cool to re-create it today. But where exactly had the photographer — a man named Fred Schutz — stood?
To find out, the society’s research services librarian, Jessica Smith, compared current-day maps and historical maps with Schutz’s panorama, which captured things that are still around, such as the Woodward building on Connecticut Avenue, and things that aren’t, such as Harry Wardman’s mansion on the other side of the Taft Bridge, torn down for what is now the Marriott Wardman Park.
Smith’s act of forensic cartography placed Schutz atop the Mendota. Today it’s a co-op, and on Wednesday, building manager Paula M. Wynn led us up to the roof.
As Segal fiddled with a complicated Swiss-made computerized tripod head called a Roundshot, Woody Landay looked to the north.
“I can see the rooftop of your old house, Mark,” said Landay, a childhood friend of Segal’s.
“Yeah,” Segal said. “Woodley Place.”
Segal now lives in Chicago, where his company, SkyPan International, specializes in using camera drones to capture 360-degree views. His father, Ed, once ran the District’s Capitol Photo Service, taking all kinds of panoramas, including photos of hundreds of people gathered for meetings in Washington. At conventions, he would develop the negatives in a hotel bathroom then make contact sheets so conventiongoers could order their own copies.
Mark and his brother Doug donated the Capitol Photo archives to the historical society. They owned thousands of negatives their father purchased from Fred Schutz’s daughter.
Segal’s gaze went back and forth from the 1917 photo to the scene in front of him, trying to line up the camera so the new panorama would match the old one.
“The lighting is very similar,” he said. “It’s perfect lighting.”
Segal pushed a button and the tripod head started to move. His friend Cristina Creager sat on the cold roof, her arms clutching two tripod legs to keep them steady.
The camera — a Canon 5DS with a 200-millimeter lens — chattered like a Gatling gun, shooting frame after frame, 17 in a row, before moving up a few inches and shooting 17 more, then moving up again and shooting 17 more.
“Go, baby, go,” Segal said as the tripod head whirred and whirled.
When the camera stopped moving, Segal stood on his tiptoes to look at the screen on the back, making sure the shots were sufficiently sharp.
“I just want to see the National Cathedral,” he said. The dozens of digital images would be stitched together in a massive file.
Sanders looked down at the photo from 1917, which had frozen in time two forms of transportation: one on the way in and one on the way out.
“Now we just need to get someone to go across the bridge in a horse-drawn cart,” Sanders said.
The gift shop at the DC History Center has some great presents for the Washingtonians in your lives. They include copies of some of the panoramas from “The Big Picture,” as well as
T-shirts that read, “Washington: First in war. First in peace. First in the National League.” Check it out.
If you’ve been meaning to donate to The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising campaign, may I suggest you do it now, before you forget?
It’s easy. Just go to posthelpinghand.com and decide which charity you’d like to support: Bright Beginnings, So Others Might Eat or N Street Village. (Or give to all three.)
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.