Leap of Faith in the Wisconsin Dells

I was lucky to get this shot as a German Shepherd makes the leap made famous by Ashley Bennett in his father Henry Hamilton Bennett’s 1886 photograph “Leaping the Chasm at Stand Rock” in the Wisconsin River Dells.

On a recent driving trip through Wisconsin and Michigan, I was reminded in the Wisconsin Dells of how much progress has been made in photographic technology.  Photographers owe a debt to the early innovators, such as nineteenth century Wisconsin photographer Henry Hamilton Bennett.  Bennett originated the concept of photojournalism, invented a stop action shutter (which he called the “snapper”), improved the speed of the chemical exposure process and created other photographic innovations.  His photographs attracted throngs of tourists to the beauty of the sandstone gorges of the Wisconsin River Dells.  (The city of Wisconsin Dells is also now the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World.)

Bennett is considered one of the top landscape photographers of the 19th century, although I confess I’d never heard of him even though I’ve read a lot of history about photography. So I’m making up for that deficit now.

In 1886, Bennett took his iconic shot of his son Ashley jumping the five and a half feet from Stand Rock to a ledge and back to show how his shutter could freeze action. Ashley had to jump seventeen times before his father thought he had the perfect shot. Some people initially thought the photograph was a trick, because in those days capturing an exposure took a long time, which is why everyone looks so glum in their portraits. They had to stand still, not moving a muscle. Photographic chemicals took a while to react to light. Any part that moved during the long exposure time would be a blur.

In 1886, Ashley Bennett jumps from a ledge to Stand Rock in the Wisconsin River Dells in a demonstration of his father Henry Hamilton Bennett's new stop action camera shutter. The photograph is called "Leaping the Chasm at Stand Rock."

In 1886, Ashley Bennett jumps from a ledge to Stand Rock in the Wisconsin River Dells in a demonstration of his father Henry Hamilton Bennett’s new stop action camera shutter. The photograph is called “Leaping the Chasm at Stand Rock.”

When people saw Bennett’s numerous gorgeous shots of the gorge, they swarmed to the Wisconsin Dells, where they could get their own photographs taken as they made the leap. This, after paddling boats to the site, under the direction of a guide.  Eventually, tourist leaps were stopped because of the risk. (Think of the lawsuits!) Now tourists (such as myself) watch a German Shepherd make the leap. You have to be quick to take your own stop-action photograph, because the dog makes the leap only once. I was lucky to get a full-body view as the dog leaped in his return to the ledge. There’s a net below the gap to catch any dog that doesn’t make it, but our guide assured us that no dog has ever fallen. Bennett’s photograph makes the distance from rock to rock look a lot farther. Even so, call me chicken, but I wouldn’t make any leap father than a foot at that height.

Here’s my first attempt to photograph the dog leaping from a ledge to Stand Rock in the Wisconsin Dells. The leap looks scarier in this photograph than in the shot when I captured the entire dog spanning the gap.

There’s plenty more to learn about Bennett, photography and the Wisconsin Dells.   Here are the links. You make the leap.

Wisconsin Dells History and Information.

More about Henry Hamilton Bennett.

The Stand Rock photograph was featured in Terrence Malick’s opening credits of his movie “Days of Heaven.”

Terrence Malick’s blog post featuring Henry Hamilton Bennett’s iconic photograph of his son Ashley jumping to Stand Rock in the Wisconsin Dells.

In the center of this photograph is Chimney Rock, one of the sandstone formations along the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin Dells section of the Wisconsin River.

Photography Prints

For a full resolution version click here: Dog Jumping From Stand Rock in Wisconsin Dells.

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6 Comments

Filed under Photography

6 responses to “Leap of Faith in the Wisconsin Dells

  1. Wow, the Wisconsin Dells are gorgeous! It’s great to see what you did with your own “snapper.” I can’t believe that Bennett had his son jump across the abyss 17 times to get the perfect shot. Oh, wait a minute. I can… because I’ve been with you when you’re looking to get just the right shot!

  2. Wow, such beautiful landscape. Very interesting land forms. Great photos too and I really like how you emulated an older photo.

  3. Great timing! What a photo you took of the dog jumping. Leap of faith indeed, more on the part of the owner. And, about this leap by a human, and what, 17 times just for his father to get the perfect shot? Mind-boggling. Makes me think of William Tell shooting the apple on his son’s head. Thanks for a very unique post on a piece of the history of photography, Cathy!

  4. great pics! Places like that are one of the reason I love the States

  5. Wow. That’s very interesting. I’d never heard of that place before or the famous shot. Hard to believe they were doing stuff like that all the way back in 1886.

    Your shots are gorgeous.

    I once found a place like that that was way above of waterfall and pool. I did the jump, too. This place was not famous and was at the end of a hike in the woods. I was acting all goofy for my girlfriend but in reality it was very scary. There’s something about those places that demands we satisfy some ancient instincts in our DNA, I guess.

    Nice recreation of a famous photo and interesting history.

  6. Samantha

    Hi Catherine! My name is Samantha and I’m writing on behalf of the world’s leading pet travel website, BringFido.com. Since launching in 2006, we’ve helped more than 10 million people take their dogs on vacation, and later this summer, we will be publishing our first book! Ruff Guide to the United States will feature 365 of the best places to stay and play with your dog in all 50 states, and I’m happy to announce that the Wisconsin Dells has made our list of “best places” in Wisconsin!

    We are interested in using your photo of the German Shepherd leaping Stand Rock. We would need a 300 dpi version of your photo if you are interested in letting us use the photo. Please send me an email at Samantha@bringfido.com.

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