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<October 2012>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, October 08, 2012
Giant Grasshopper Mystery Photo—Solved!
Posted by Maureen

My Photo Detective magazine column appears in Family Tree Magazine. The October/November 2012 column is titled "Hoppin Fun" because the photo features a giant grasshopper sculpture. 


Larae Schraeder showed me the photo at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati. The photo was in her collection of family pictures, and she thought the men might be relatives. In the magazine, I added up the clues but couldn't make the family connection for her.

Well, it turns out the men aren't relatives. The real story is a fascinating tale of one man's hobby. 

Thomas Talcott Hersey of Mitchell, SD, made this grasshopper. He's holding it down in the photo. Assisting him are his nephew Harry (Bart) Hersey and David John Hersey.

Several of his descendants emailed me this weekend to tell me about this hopper and the other bugs that Hersey crafted. His inspiration came from a grasshopper swarm that killed his crops during the Dust Bowl era, and he called the metal creation Galloping Gertie.

When he displayed his invention at Corn Palace Week in Mitchell and charged a nickel to view it, he earned enough to support his family for a winter.  Hersey ended up with a commission from a man who hired him to make a housefly, a flea, a black widow spider and a monarch butterfly to show at county fairs.

Hersey's hobby of fashioning giant bugs out of wood, paper, cellophane, wire, string and oil cloth made him famous. In 1943, Hersey was a guest on Dave Elman's "Hobby Lobby" radio show on CBS. He spoke at length about how he made the insects; the grasshopper shown here even had a device to make its feelers move. Life Magazine and Popular Mechanics featured articles on his work.

Hersey's relatives sent me several other pictures of his bugs and his relatives posing with them. They emailed me a postcard view of the scene above that had a printed caption: "Capturing Whopper Hopper near Mitchell, S.D. The largest grasshopper in existence 54 inches weighs 73 pounds."  It was taken and marketed by the Hersey Photo Service:

Mystery solved! 

Not all of the photos in a family collection depict relatives. Family members may have collected pictures of friends, neighbors and famous folks. In this case, we don't know if Larae's family actually saw Gertie or if they just bought the image for fun.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1940s photos | men | props in photos | unusual photos
    Monday, October 08, 2012 5:47:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]