An Entirely Different Human Shield


Apparently, we’ll end the week on a military theme. This morning, I stumbled upon a page with some amazing examples of “patriotic photographs in true perspective” produced by Mole & Thomas, a Chicago photography studio. The one above was taken at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Now if you’re anything like me, you won’t mind a bit more detail on the above photo provided by the George Glazer Gallery of NYC:

Aerial photograph of 30,000 military officers and men at Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan, forming an emblem based on the shield that is part of the design of the great seal of the United States, with 13 stars and 13 vertical stripes. The shield is in front of the bald eagle in the seal design, which was officially adopted by the U.S. Government in 1787. This photograph was taken by Mole & Thomas, a Chicago firm famous for such patriotic bird’s-eye group shots at military bases after World War I. The Library of Congress has eight such photos in their collection, including this one.

Arthur S. Mole was a British-born commercial photographer who worked in Zion, Illinois. During and shortly after World War I, Mole traveled with his partner John D. Thomas from one military camp to another, posing thousands of soldiers to form gigantic patriotic symbols that they photographed from above. The formations depicted such images as the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, the Marine Corps emblem and a portrait of President Woodrow Wilson. The Wilson portrait, for example, was formed using 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman in Ohio and stretched over 700 feet. His “Human Liberty Bell” was composed from over 25,000 soldiers, arranged with Mole’s characteristic attention to detail to even depict the crack in the bell. Mole and Thomas spent a week or more preparing for these immense works, which were taken from a 70- or 80-foot tower with an 11- by- 14-inch view camera. When the demand for these photographs dropped in the 1920s, Mole returned to his photography business in Zion. Photographs by Mole and Thomas are in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society, the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress.

The Glazer Gallery sold this print, but they may have others.

Image Courtesy Library of Congress.

12 thoughts on “An Entirely Different Human Shield

  1. Ok you got me! I’m hooked! I’ve been back to this sight seven or so times already, and it just keeps increasing in it’s “interestingness”. (lol)

    I’m crazy about images like this that are both well done, and are locked in ‘Time and Place’ to history. Even went to the link and got a copy thanks.

    More please sir, I’ll be back



  2. I have this photo. It was given to me by my grandfather, who is in the shield. I take it it’s worth keeping? Does it also have a monetary value? Thank you for any info. Mary


  3. Mary, I wonder if your grandfather knew the commander Howard Laubach. This is my maiden name, someone just sent me this same picture to point out possible ancestry. If you know how I could get a copy of this photo, please let me know, my family would really be interested. I attached the website that I found it in along with your comment.
    Thank You


  4. Is it possible to purchase a reproduction ot “The Human Shield” – my son is facisnated by it and would love a copy for Christmas.
    Look forward to hearing from you –
    Nancy Motter


  5. I don’t buy it. It’s remarkable what can be done with PhotoShop. Don’t believe me? See the artifacts around the top edge of the shield? And the perspective is way off compared to the background. The upper edge of the shield is clearly defined with very sharp lines, but just past the “men” are buildings that are too fuzzy to identify. The buildings look like paintings.


  6. I’m all for skepticism in the face of the powers of Photoshop, but, if you read the article and then follow the links you will learn about the strange perspective calculations involved in these. Google will provide countless corroborating accounts of people who were involved in this (though you can just read Mary’s comment up above). Finally, these images are coming from the Library of Congress, where they have the real photo and scanned it and the others linked to (and the full-sized tif).


  7. I have four of these pictures given to me by my grandfather who served in the US Army during WWI. I have had them in my possesion for 50 years, so I know they are authentic, there was no PhotoShop back then. I have Woodrow Wilson, The Human Liberty Bell, the Human Shield and The Human American Eagle. The Liberty Bell photo has an ink stamp on the back saying Duplicates of this picture can be obtained for $1.00 Mole & Thomas, 915 Medinah Bldg., Chicago, ILL. These pictures are 92 years old.


  8. I also have this picture, and it looks very very old. I am trying to find out if my grandfather is in this picture. All relatives that would know, have passed. Is there any site where the names are listed? My copy does not have anything written on the back, but it does have C and the date 1918 and Mole & Thomas & the address & chicago, Ill. in the right corner. Any info would be appreciated.


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