Every camera has a lens to focus all the available light into some kind of recognizable imagery.
More importantly, every camera has a shutter, and this simple mechanism acts as a stopwatch in time and space: it steps into the ongoing rush of human events to pull out and define one very particular instant.
It is, in fact, nothing less than a portal of time travel.
A camera lets us sidestep all the intervening opacity of time in order to view something that is no longer visible.
In this case the camera gives us a rare opportunity to enter the Mansfield of 1898 and join the people of that distant era as they generated a moment of rare, historic, patriotic fervor.
Let me set the scene, and then you can just wander down North Main Street with the crowd. It is a chance to mingle in another world: a parallel Mansfield back when it was possible for everyone in town to rise and act as one.
Gather with them at the railroad station in thrilling loud unison as Mansfield lifted its voice to send the boys of Company M off to the Spanish American War.
The National Insult
Headlines in early 1898 told folks in Mansfield the shocking news that the battleship USS Maine had been sunk in Havana harbor while deployed to protect American citizens, as Cuba fought for independence from Spain.
American indignation ignited immediately and within 60 days was raging as an unstoppable patriotic fury.
The day war was declared on Spain the soldiers of Mansfield’s National Guard unit were already raring to go to Cuba. When word came from Washington DC that they were ready for soldiers and it was time for Mansfield men to go off to war, the city responded with an unbelievable flood of enthusiasm.
At 9:30 AM the city fire bell sounded the alert that the soldiers of Company M were summoned to the Square. By 10 AM there were 8,000 people gathered on North Main Street to watch the boys march to the railroad depot.
At 10:30 AM there were easily 10,000 people crowded around the railroad yards: crying, cheering, praying.
The Mansfield Daily Shield reported that “There were hundreds of kodaks noticed along the line of march.” These cameras have provided for us a priceless window to a stirring moment of Mansfield history.