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Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas

The photography of Sarasota’s Joseph Janney Steinmetz

It’s hard to imagine Florida before Disney, but these photos by Sarasota photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz may take you back in time to an Old Florida Christmas.

Steinmetz’ work appeared in many magazines, including the venerable Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and Time, plus he did commercial photography for the Florida tourism office and the Sarasota-based Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Old Florida Christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project

Steinmetz moved his family from Philadelphia to Sarasota in 1941 and photographed life there until his death in 1985.

Steinmetz photographed a wide range of celebrities of the day in Sarasota including iconic circus clown Emmett Kelly, high-wire daredevil Karl Wallenda and choreographer George Balanchine, who in 1942 received a commission from Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus to choreograph a polka for elephants.

old florida christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project

These images by Steinmetz were donated to the Florida Memory Project, which has digitally archived more than 180,000 photographs from the State Library and Archives of Florida. The photos are now part of the public domain. (I could spend hours looking at photos in the Florida Memory Project.)

The collection is “without question the most significant photographic collection we’ve obtained,” archives supervisor Joanna Norman once told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “The guy was a master photographer.”

old florida christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project

old florida christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project;
Old Florida Christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Santa makes an appearance at the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Baily Circus. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Old Florida Christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Decorated mailbox at Myakka (River State) Park. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Old Florida Christmas Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Christmas in Sarasota. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
old florida christmas woman with newspaper Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
A Florida classic: Steinmetz photogaphs a woman in Sarasota reading the March 5, 1940 edition of the Daily News paper story about winter storms up north. Note how the fabric on the shoes match the bathing suit! Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
old florida christmas girls in palm tree Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
Nora Carrol, left, and Joe’s daughter Lois Duncan Steinmetz sitting on a palm tree at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
An example of Steinmetz' work for the circus: An elephant dressed for Christmas. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
An example of Steinmetz’ work for the circus: An elephant dressed for Christmas. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project

Steinmetz Family Christmas Cards

In order to appreciate the Steinmetz family Christmas cards, you have to appreciate photo technology of the time. There were no computers. Instead of images being manipulated in Photoshop, the artistry occurred in the dark room or at the artist’s easel.

Before the days of Photoshop, such a picture could only be made by a darkroom whiz. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project. Old Florida Christmas card.
Old Florida Christmas: Before the days of Photoshop, such a picture could only be made by a darkroom whiz. Photo by Joseph Steinmetz via Florida Memory Project
Steinmetz family Christmas card for 1950. (Florida Memory Project)
Old Florida Christmas: Steinmetz family Christmas card for 1950. (Florida Memory Project)
old florida christmas steinmetz3 Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
Old Florida Christmas: Steinmetz family Christmas card for 1934. (Courtesy Florida Memory Project)
old florida christmas steinmetz2 Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
Old Florida Christmas: Steinmetz family Christmas card for 1942. (Courtesy Florida Memory Project)
old florida christmas steinmetz 1 Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
Old Florida Christmas: Steinmetz family Christmas card for 1937. (Courtesy Florida Memory Project)
old florida christmas steinmetz4 Nostalgic images for an Old Florida Christmas
A portrait of photographer Joe Steinmetz for LIFE magazine’s “Pictures” column. (Courtesy Florida Memory Project)

More Christmas in Florida from Florida Rambler

Where to celebrate the holidays in Old Florida: Best Christmas light displays

Christmas gift Ideas for the outdoors

Cut your own Christmas tree at Ocala National Forest

Florida’s 50 Holiday Boat Parades


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

from Florida Rambler!


Notes from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.

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IBikeNYC

Sunday 19th of December 2021

Love these! Thank you for the history and for posting them (and all your wonderful posts throughout the year).

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

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