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Local author to make history with Civil War photo study

July 28, 2011
By Kathleen Palumbo
It’s often said that one of the reasons for which we study history is to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. But what if mistakes were made by the very people who recorded historical events in the first place? What if, with an undaunted curiosity, painstaking effort, and years of research, we could point out errors in what has been seen and read in history books for decades?

With “Shadows of Antietam,” a re-creation of the historic Antietam Battlefield photographs, Robert Kalasky from the Poland area has done just that. By visiting the same locations, in “Shadows of Antietam,” Kalasky has chronologically re-created photos by renowned photographers. He used natural light and shadows, black and white, time-lapsed photography, and over time, a handful of live historians lending themselves for re-enactment.

Information provided on the Kent State University Press website offers both a synopsis of Kalasky’s book as it currently sets in the copy editing stage, as well as that of the Battle of Antietam, fought in Sharpsburg, Md., on Sept. 17, 1862.

Referring to it as the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, with 23,000 casualties on both sides, it was following the battle that Alexander Gardner and James Gibson. Both men were photographers sent by Mathew Brady to capture the horrors of war with renowned first-ever images of American soldier casualties. While their images have served as fodder for debate for decades, they were hindered by lack of information regarding locations, dates, and times of the photographs. By recreating the photos and looking at specifics such as shadows and lighting, a better idea of time and date can be acheived. The photos that were previously undated can now be placed in proper sequence.

“In a nutshell here’s the oddity of it -- it’s never been done before,” said Kalasky, who went on to say, “What I did was to take these photographs the photographer took and put them in sequence by their shadows.”

Having spent countless years on the battlefield during his research, “Shadows will not change,” said Kalasky, adding “It’s irrefutable.” Even 149 years later, he was able to match shadows to the same spot, recreating a study of the existing glass plates recorded by Gardner and Gibson at Antietam, thereby correcting previous errors and proving discrepancies in dates of their historical photographs.

With an article already published in the Civil War News, and following revisions to “Shadows of Antietam,” Kalasky said he hopes to see the book in print by fall.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with the project, met a lot of people,” he said.

Married, with two children, Kalasky shared that he is a practicing massotherapist in Canfield, and has been researching as a hobby since 1997, a hobby he says became a book. Now, thanks to his extensive exploration, it can now also be said that in the case of “Shadows of Antietam,” history has not only repeated itself, it has proven more factual the second time around.

Article Photos

Photo by Kathleen Palumbo, Town Crier correspondent
Following years of research, Robert Kalasky has corrected previous errors and proven discrepancies in historical photographs in his soon-to-be-released book, “Shadows of Antietam,” a re-creation of historic Antietam Battlefield photographs.



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