PARKERSBURG - Officials at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History have purchased a rare photo of a Parkersburg woman who scandalized 19th century Russia and became famous in Europe.
Ray Swick, historian for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, said museum officials received the rare photo of Hattie Blackford, aka Fanny Lear, earlier this week.
In the photo, labeled "Le Belle," Blackford is dressed in a historical costume, like a musketeer, complete with boots, a cape and sword. Swick said the costume was likely for a masquerade.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Lori Lawrence with the Blennerhassett Island Museum holds the latest acquisition, a rare photo of Hattie Blackford, aka Fanny Lear.
Swick discovered the photo on the Internet. It was purchased for $300 by the Friends of the Blennerhassett from a collector of 19th century photographs in London, England.
The photo Swick uncovered appears to have been taken shortly after Blackford's arrival in Europe from America.
He said the photo was risque for the period.
Harriet Clarissima Ely Blackford, aka Fanny Lear married Beale S. Blackford, who worked for the railroad as a clerk and wound up working in Parkersburg.
Following her husband's death in the 1860s, Hattie Blackford left Parkersburg and traveled in Europe. Less than a decade later Blackford was involved in a tempestuous relationship with the Russian duke and embroiled in a royal scandal.
"She is showing leg at a time when women didn't show their ankles,' Swick said. "This was photographed to titillate."
Harriet Clarissima Ely Blackford, aka Fanny Lear, was born in 1848, a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. In 1864, she married Beale S. Blackford, who worked for the railroad as a clerk and wound up working in Parkersburg.
Following her husband's death in the 1860s, Hattie Blackford left Parkersburg and traveled in Europe. Less than a decade later Blackford was involved in a tempestuous relationship with the Russian duke and embroiled in a royal scandal involving the theft of jewels from his mother. The grand duke was declared insane and banished. Blackford was expelled from the country and relocated to France.
In France, Blackford penned her account of the affair. Transcribed in English, the book was published in French in the 1880s. Only a few copies of Lear's work remain in existence and all of them are in French. Authors Eva and Daniel McDonald recently translated Lear's account into English.
"Fanny Lear: Love and Scandal in Tsarist Russia" is also almost entirely a translation of Lear's original work. The first several pages of the 300-plus page book are devoted to Lear's background and life before and after her time in Russia.
The book includes a handful of Blackford photos, but they were taken after her Russian adventure. Blackford died in France in the mid-1880s of apoplexy.
The photo obtained by the museum displays a visibly thinner Blackford.
"She's not nearly as attractive after she put on weight," Swick said.
Swick estimates the museum's "Le Belle" photo is from the late 1860s early 1870s. He bases his assessment on a number of factors.
The photo was taken in London, by the London Stereoscopic Co.
According to the accounts of Blackford she was taken to Europe by a yachtsman, named Lloyd Phoenix, whom she met in New York. On the back of the "Le Belle" photo, Blackford is referred to as "Mademoiselle Phoenix."
"He took her to London," Swick said.
Below that written in purple ink, in French, "Le Belle" is referred to as "Mrs. Blackford," not Fanny Lear, as she later became known following the Russian affair.
Swick said the museum will make a copy of the photo and put it on display.