Frederick W. Mueller's Baltimore Backyard in the Round

Sunday Sun Magazine, January 5, 19?? (no date visible on copy)


A note from Frederick Mueller's grandson was received and it reads as follows: Dear Dr. Davidhazy - I am Justus Albert Muller (without an umlaut), son of Justus Frederick Muller (with umlaut). The only son, as I understand, from his disasterous first marriage, which lasted long enough to produce me. Those were the Roaring Twenties! I've received the article about my grandfather from son no. 1, Eric Muller. I thank you! All I knew was that we were Krauts from Baltimore. Please put me in the loop! Aloha! Justus Muller Justus@aloha.net, 21 23' N, 157 43' W
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The old carpentry shop at 1617* Ashland avenue was jammed with tools, odd items which only a collector of everything would hoard. There were queer-looking cameras and developing trays and huge bottles of liquids. Piles on the floors, on shelves and in cupboards of what-is-it junk greeted the two sons and daughter of Frederick W. Mueller when they entered it after his death in June.

Frederick Mueller was a man who lived alone for many years over the shop at 1617* Ashland. Among the few papers found in the place was a newspaper clipping which quoted him: "I live alone and like it."

Trying to find out what all he had gathered (why the basket of chandelier crystals?) and its value, if any, were: Dr. Justus F. Mueller of the Syracuse University School of Medicine faculty, editor of the Journal of Parasitology; Oliver Mueller, founder and head of Precision Sensors, Inc., of Bridgeport, Conn., and Mrs. Isabella Coons, of Windsor Mill road, a retired Baltimore art and science teacher.

Outstanding when they entered the shop were huge trays for developing and printing photographs. And odd-appearing cameras of various sizes and types. These, the brothers and sister soon decided, might be of interest to the Smithsonian Institution.

Although Mr. Mueller had collected a great variety of items, he left few papers. But he did have patent papers on at least one camera, a device that could take the "dome" of the sky, including the horizon.

Also were found panorama and cylcorama cameras which ranged in size from about 3 inches in thickness and 16 in diameter to some as large as a small bass drum.

The larger ones turned out to be among his earliest, those covered in patent papers. They worked on the principle of a revolving lens which focused on a moving slot through which was exposed film on the inside of a cone. Some of the later cameras used flat, circular film, also with the revolving lens. One printing frame with a negative from this latter type was found in the shop. It was a scene taken in the center of City Hall Plaza, showing the dome of the sky and the 360-degree horizon including City Hall, War Memorial, Fire Headquarters and other structures.

Yes, the Smithsonian was interested. It wanted the cameras and the files, said Eugene Estroff, curator of photography.

And Robert M. Vogel, curator of heavy machinery and civil engineering, wanted the carpentry toolsósome more than 100 years old.

Mr. Mueller had followed his father as a builder. The father had erected many of the homes around the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two generations of Muellers accounted for many of the houses in that section of Baltimore. 

It was Frederick Mueller who built the famous circular staircase in Evergreen House when that mansion was redesigned. One of the pictures Mrs. Coons found was a front view of the mansion. One print is destined for the Peale Museum because a duplicate would be impossible to take today. Wilbur H. Hunter, Jr., Peale director, says that since Mueller took that picture, much of the mansion has been screened by trees and shrubs.

There are notable pictures in the files which Mrs. Coons has been showing at her home. The most famous, perhaps, is a 360-degree cyclorama taken in the center of Baltimore and Charles street the day after the great fire of 1904 was brought under control. Copies of this copyrighted 4-foot-long picture, mounted on muslin, sold by the hundreds at $4 each.

Mrs. Coons recalls that her father was an expert mathematician. Among the items found in his shop were detailed calculations of lens settings and arrangements for his cameras. Attached to one camera was a check-off sheet detailing each step in taking a picture with that machine.

The Mueller cameras, film holders, tripods and printing frames (some more than 4 feet long) all show the marks of a skilled craftsman. He made such small detailed items as lock taps and springs.

Fame and photographic fortune apparently eluded Frederick Mueller.

Mrs. Coons recalls that when she was a girl her father went to Pensacola, Fla., where he took some of the first aerial pictures from a Navy plane, among the first taken from a powered craft.

His patent states that the pictures taken at Pensacola show it possible to make accurate land measurements from the prints. On the basis of this finding he attempted to sell his camera to the Army, and was offered $2,500. First the British, then the French, Mrs. Coons says, made bigger offers, then the Germans offered $25,000. But World War I had begun and the Government blocked the sale.

At the Smithsonian, Mr. Estroff said that looking back from the 180-degree "fish-eye" camera of the 1960's, Mr. Mueller's design of a panorama camera was interesting, especially considering that it could scan the sky dome and horizon.

 "But" he says, "there was not much need for such equipment at the time. As with other things, when a need develops, equipment is designed".

Among the curious items found in the old shop were about 20 large brown bottles containing liquid. The contents were poured in a sink. After the bottles had been emptied and the dust was brushed off one of the labels, it was discovered that they contained snow water. The dates of collection were given.

When Dr. Edwin Otton, geologist at the Johns Hopkins University and for the Maryland Geological Survey learned that this snow water had been dumped, he was shocked. It would have been valuable in his Carbon-14 study, he said. Any liquid which has been dated and kept sealed can contribute to his research, he told Mrs. Coons. The monetary value was negligible; the scientific value big.

While the Smithsonian and Peale are preparing to exhibit Mueller cameras and pictures, the heirs still are combing the old shop to determine just what they do have and what to do with it so they can settle the estate. 
 
 

If you have more details about Fredrick Mueller and his inventions and you would not mind sharing them if you send them to me, Andrew Davidhazy, at andpph@rit.edu and I will add them to this document. Thank you!