Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Sunday, November 09, 2008
by Deb Nicklay

John Cunningham holds the photo of the Human American Eagle sent home in 1918 by his uncle,
Carl Cunningham

MASON CITY Most knew the late Carl CUNNINGHAM as a quiet, unassuming guy but he stood in the middle of art history.

A Floyd County Army enlistee and Dougherty native, CUNNINGHAM helped create a living art form made popular during World War I.

CUNNINGHAM, who died in 1958, was one of an estimated 12,500 military officers, enlisted men and nurses who stood in formation to create the Human American Eagle, an unusual photograph taken at Camp Gordon, in Atlanta in 1918.

The photograph was one of about 30 made by the team of Arthur MOLE and John THOMAS. The pair choreographed thousands of people who, when placed and photographed from a height, formed patriotic images. Other famous images included the Liberty Bell and President Woodrow Wilson.

His nephew, John CUNNINGHAM of Mason City, has his uncle's original photograph, obtained by Carl at the time of its creation.

"I consider this to be a treasured picture," he said, although no one is exactly sure where in the photograph his uncle is standing.

John CUNNINGHAM learned of his uncle's participation in the photograph several years ago. Carl CUNNINGHAM was one of several of Floyd County's first World War I draftees and along with fellow infantrymen, was sent to Camp Gordon for training. Those on the base were enlisted to help create the American eagle image.

Carl CUNNINGHAM sent one of the original prints back to his parents in 1918, with information about his participation. It is assumed other Floyd County draftees are also included in the photograph, but how many is unknown, said John CUNNINGHAM.

"I wish the quality was good enough so he could be identified but when you start looking, there are just so many; you get lost in it," John CUNNINGHAM said.

He marvels at the huge effort undertaken by MOLE and Thomas.

"Just the thought of putting this many human beings into one photo is mind boggling," he said.

~ ~ ~ ~

Arthur Mole & John Thomas WWI Photographs

Arthur MOLE and his associate John Thomas, both of Chicago, Illinois, would spend a week or more planning and assembling these fantastic 'human' photographs in the years of 1915 - 1920. These photographs were conceived as a patriotic gesture to show American strength and to help boost homeland morale.

The team would first draw the outline they needed on their 11 x 14 inch view camera from a constructed tower some 70 feet high. By taking test photos 10 to 20 men standing shoulder-to-shoulder across and deep and deep at various points, they could then calculate how many people were needed to complete a line. They also needed to calculate whether the men were to wear dark or light shirts to complete the arduous task of making the tones of the picture correct. Published reports of these projects state that the soldiers endured full days in wool uniforms standing in heat and other conditions to complete the photograph. Many of the soldiers went on to fight in the trenches during World War I. Sales of the photographs raised funds for the troops and care of the wounded upon their return to the United States.

The portrait of Woodrow Wilson, taken in 1918, was composed of 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio.

The bottom row of the Statue of Liberty, taken in 1917, was composed of 18,000 officers and men at Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa.

The Human Shield was composed of approximately 30,000 officers and men from Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan.

Originals of these photographs, depending on the condition, sell in galleries for well over $1,000.

Click on thumbnail photo or the link to see an enlarged view of the photograph.
Click on "back button" to return to this webpage.

Living Flag, 1917

Human Shield, 1918

Camp Dodge, 1918

Camp Dix NJ, 1918

Human Eagle, 1918

Woodrow Wilson, 1918

Paris Island SC, 1919

Machine Gun Div, 1918

Uncle Sam, 1919
1st Field Artillery
1st Division, 1919

  Transcription and Mole-Thomas information by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011


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