The Vagabond – Casey’s Photo Gallery in Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

In the early days of Gadsden, itinerant photographers put up tents and did business for a few weeks before leaving for parts unknown. R.H. Casey, a red-headed Irishman from Coosa County, was the first known photographers to locate a gallery permanently in Gadsden.

Casey, who lived on the second story of a building on the 300 block on the south side of Broad Street, made tintypes exclusively for years. He used iron braces that were clamped at the back of the heads of the subject to prevent the heads from moving, as his pictures required long exposures and the slightest movement would blur the picture.

One of Casey’s first acts after he began making panel photographs on cardboard was to take a picture of the chief of police in full uniform, which consisted of a long blue coat, a pith helmet and a big belt that strapped on his club and pistol. The chief had gone to sleep in a rocking chair in front of what then was the Ford Furniture Store. His coat was unbuttoned and his helmet had fallen into his lap.

In a week or so, the photo appeared in the police gazette and attracted national attention. It also got Casey into hot water that almost led to serious consequences.

Casey loved to play poker, and he applied poker terms to almost everything. One day Casey was being congratulated on the birth of his third daughter. He had two sons, and his comment to all was that he now had a full house, three queens and a pair of jacks.

When he first came to town, Casey boarded at the Exchange Hotel, which was at that time operated by Major W.J. Sibert. One morning after he asked the waiter for both coffee and milk, Casey was told that it was a rule of the house that he could not have “milk and coffee, too.”

When Casey got behind with his board bill to the tune of $18, Major Sibert, in order to help out his boarder, sent several members of his family to Casey’s gallery to have their photo taken. When Sibert later asked for some money on the account, Casey replied, “Oh, no, Major, you can’t have money and pictures, too,” and referred him to the milk and coffee rule. The upshot of it was Sibert had to buy $18 worth of tintypes in order to get square with the boarder. Both men later laughed about the incident.

Casey eventually served as the city’s justice of the peace for a number of years. When he was defeated at the polls, he secured an appointment as notary public and ex-officio justice of the peace and continued to do a good business. He also was head of the Knights of Labor for many years.

Casey later served as Gadsden’s chief of police and street tax collector under the Elliott administration before moving to Texas.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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