Lake’s photographic history preserved, discussed at Tahoe Maritime Museum |

Lake’s photographic history preserved, discussed at Tahoe Maritime Museum

Linda Bottjer


In an instant a photograph is taken and history is preserved for centuries – or is it?

Unless marked with names of subjects, places and dates, photographs often confuse and frustrate those who hunt for clues of the past.

Peter Goin is such a hunter.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, his skills as a photographic Sherlock Holmes come to light as he discusses Lake Tahoe’s watery past at the Tahoe Maritime Museum.

“We love having Peter, as he always gives us great information and helps to clear up misconceptions,” said the museum’s executive director, Jessie Siess Hadley.

As a professor of art in photography and videography at the University of Nevada, Reno, Goin is familiar with uncovering history through scores of black-and-white, color and sepia-toned images.

The author of several books, including “A Field Guide to California Architecture” and “South Lake Tahoe: Then & Now,” he wants modern-day residents and visitors to understand how Lake Tahoe’s place as a recreation Mecca extends back to the early to mid-19th century. This was decades before the Gilded Age arrivals of San Francisco millionaires many say mark the beginning.

Washoe Native Americans who have been coming to Lake Tahoe for more than 9,000 years were documented in dugout canoes. However, without description, the trail to complete identification peters out.

Yet Goin perseveres.

He also wants to emphasize the historical aspects of the water itself.

“It is the water that matters,” he said. “We need to refocus from there rather than what occurred on the shoreline.”

Accomplishing this includes the establishment of a database with boats’ names.

He admits while boats usually do not survive, the narration does. Gathering the research for such narrations can require experimentation.

Sometimes it is mixed in with a big dose of mirth.

Such was the case with this past August’s research into the claim of famed hermit Dick Barter, who said he would regularly row from his cabin in Emerald Bay to Tahoe City.

Being that Barter was known to be a bit eccentric and an alcoholic, his boasts were usually disregarded.

However, it is part of Lake Tahoe lore and one question gnawed at Goin and his colleagues: “Was it possible?”

At 7 a.m. a boat, similar to one Barter used, set out.

By mid day, the rower had arrived in Tahoe City, and, much like Barter, who often showed people his self-amputated toes, a steady intake of alcohol was required.

When fully fueled by numerous beers, the return trip set forth.

Its accomplishment by 9:30 p.m. brought joy to the team and the 40 to 50 people who joined in the pick-up regatta with their own boats.

Often after a talk, Goin is approached by an audience member who utters the immortal words about having a stockpile of old photographs.

“Get them archived,” advised Goin.

He suggests contacting local historic museums, societies or universities.

Goin, who with staff and colleagues, has scanned thousands of photographs, is happy to offer other suggestions.

Perhaps the most basic is to simply document all images with dates, names and locations. This assures recognition on all for future historians.

As Goin said, “If we ignore any people, we are doing it to all.”

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