Was local man's camera used in the White House?

Story by Brad Gillman
(Standard-Examiner staff)
Tue, Aug 23, 2011
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Daniel Bigelow received an old-time gift from his grandmother that is possibly a part of American history.

A twin-reflex camera bore a puzzle piece inside that the “History Detectives” television series found interesting.

The PBS show, which researches antiques to determine if they have historical significance, will show the search for the origins of Bigelow’s camera at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 on KUED Channel 7.

“When we got it for Christmas, we opened it up and found this note inside that said ‘Marion Carpenter, White House Photographer,’ ” said Daniel Bigelow, of South Ogden, in the episode.

Bigelow declined to be interviewed by the Standard-Examiner, but in the show he said he started researching Carpenter and found that she was the first female member of the White House Press Corps — a group of journalists and photographers who follow the president of the United States. She started during Harry S. Truman’s terms.

“Well, we want to know if this truly was Marion Carpenter’s camera, and if so, did she use it while shooting at the White House?” Bigelow said to host Wes Cowan in the episode.

Cowan admits now that he had serious doubts when shown the camera.

“Honestly, when I looked at that camera, I said there was no way that a professional photographer would have used this camera,” Cowan said in a phone interview. “It’s just beat-up. It was a fairly moderate-priced camera. It’s not the kind of camera that a professional photographer would have used, particularly a photographer who was working on the press corps in the White House.”

The episode follows Cowan as he tries to unlock the mystery.

“I thought, well, here’s something to go on. Let’s find out who Marion Carpenter was. Then is there anyway I can track down where the camera came from?” Cowan said.

His journey took him from Ogden to St. Paul, Minn., with a side trip to the White House. It was Cowan’s first-ever visit inside the White House.

He got a chance to take a tour in the pressroom and see firsthand where the reporters are when they speak with the president.

“Some of the crew wanted me to stand behind the podium and have my photograph taken where the president stands,” Cowan said. “I felt very self-conscious about doing that. I wouldn’t do it.”

While searching for the origin of Bigelow’s antique, “History Detectives” also had to find out the background of Marion Carpenter. Her ending was not as glamorous as you might think.

“I think what is fascinating about Marion Carpenter to me was what happened to her,” Cowan said. “Here is this person who was at the center of presidential power, left Washington, and died all alone — basically froze to death on a couch in her apartment.”

The episode following the search for answers, as well as the crew’s conclusions, airs a week from today.

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