H. J. Purnelle (Seneca, Kansas)
Rail Road Photo Car
Harry J Purnelle
(1859 - 13 Oct 1919)
Not much has been found so far on this photographer. Research was plagued by record keepers who shifted back and forth between H. J., Harry and Henry for a given name. Sometimes it was the same person; sometimes it was a fork in the road.
His Railroad Car Photo Studio moved around often and so there are few city records of him. He visited smaller towns which often didn’t even have a city directory. And even if they did, the Railroad Studio didn’t stay long enough to get a listing in one. There are some little bits in newspapers but they don’t tell much about the photographer except his location on a specific date. One paper in 1994 even calls him Mrs. Purnelle and indeed his wife may well have been working with him.
H. J. Purnelle was also not the ONLY photographer using a railroad car as a photograph studio. Traveling in the same era also were several other railroad itinerant photographers, one source even claims there were hundreds. Here are a few names: Hutchings Brothers, J. B. Shane, J. J. Pursiey, Frank Jay Haynes and his Palace Railroad Photo Car, J. B. Silvis, Fallman, Orris Hunt, Wilson, Frederick W. Jorns, and William L. Harrod,
The time line here is assembled mostly from small news items from local newspapers. Since the cabinet cards he produced are imprinted only with “H. J. Purnelle, Rail Road Photo Car” it is unknown where he was when the photographs were finished.
1959 born Harry J. Purnelle in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England
1880 Living in Seneca, KS
1884 Photographic Times news item that H. J. Purnelle of Seneca, KS, has sold out
1891 May 29 Cherryvale, KS, suggests partnership with Willett
1891 Dec 15 Pittsburgh, KS
1892 Jan 19 Pittsburgh, KS
1892 Dec 16 Wellington, KS, sued the City of Caldwell, KS
1894 Oct 03 Ardmore, OK
1894 Oct 06 Ardmore, OK
1896 Dec 16 Belle Plain, KS
1910 May 12 Larkin, KS
1919 Oct 13 Dies in Syracuse, KS
Lakin, KS, 06 Oct 1894
Note that in a town that perhaps has an established local photograph studio, the arrival of an itinerant competitor is not always good news. In the above clipping, the portion on the left is apparently a paid advertisement.