Details are below but I wanted to mention that what amazed me about this photo was the shear number of people involved and the fact that it was taken in 1918. There weren’t any two way radios or cell phones to communicate to everyone on the field and I’m sure the guys at the top of the photo (a quarter mile away) were wondering when the picture was going to be taken.
During the WW I years, Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas made some incredible human pictures by using thousands of sailors or soldiers in uniform to create images.
The displayed photograph of a “human Statue of Liberty,” formed by 18,000 posed soldiers, was taken in July 1918 at Camp Dodge, Iowa, as part of a planned promotional campaign to sell war bonds during World War I:
On a stifling July day in 1918, 18,000 officers and soldiers posed as Lady Liberty on the parade [drill] grounds at Camp Dodge. [This area was west of Baker St. and is currently the area around building S34 and to the west.] According to a July 3, 1986, story in the Fort Dodge Messenger, many men fainted — they were dressed in woolen uniforms — as the temperature neared 105°F. The photo, taken from the top of a specially constructed tower by a Chicago photography studio, Mole & Thomas, was intended to help promote the sale of war bonds but was never used.
The design for the living picture was laid out at the drill ground at Camp Dodge, situated in the beautiful valley of the Des Moines River. Thousands of yards of white tape were fastened to the ground and formed the outlines on which 18,000 officers and men marched to their respective positions.
In this body of soldiers are any hundreds of men of foreign birth — born of parents whose first impression of the Land of Freedom and Promise was of the world’s greatest colossus standing with beacon light at the portal of a nation of free people, holding aloft a torch symbolic of the light of liberty which the statue represents. Side by side with native sons these men, with unstinted patriotism, now offer to sacrifice not only their liberty but even life itself for our beloved country.
The day on which the photograph was taken was extremely hot and the heat was intensified by the mass formation of men. The dimensions of the platting for the picture seem astonishing. The camera was placed on a high tower. From the position nearest the camera occupied by Colonel Newman and his staff, to the last man at the top of the torch as platted on the ground was 1,235 feet, or approximately a quarter of a mile. The appended figures will give an adequate idea of the distorted proportions of the actual ground measurements for this photograph:
Base to shoulder: 150 feet.
Right arm: 340 feet.
Widest part of arm holding torch: 12-1/2 feet.
Right thumb: 35 feet.
Thickest part of body: 29 feet.
Left hand (length): 30 feet.
Tablet in left hand: 27 feet.
Face: 60 feet.
Nose: 21 feet.
Longest spike of head piece: 70 feet.
Flame on torch.: 600 feet.
Torch and flame combined: 980 feet.
Number of men in flame of torch: 12,000
Number of men in torch: 2,800
Number of men in right arm: 1,200
Number of men in body, head and balance of figure only: 2,000
Incredible as it may seem there are twice the number of men in the flame of the torch as in the whole remaining design, while there are eight times as many men in the arm, torch and flame as in all the rest of the figure. It will be noted that the right thumb is five feet longer than the left hand, while the right arm, torch and flame is eight times the length of the body.
Information on the background of this image and similar photographs by Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas:
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.