Man with blanket in Cleveland by Thomas T. Sweeny

The man in this carte-de-visite portrait isn’t identified.  Why does he have a blanket wrapped around him?  He seems to be pointing at it:

Man with blanket in Cleveland by Sweeny 3


The photographer, Thomas T. Sweeny (1831-1891), worked in Cleveland, Ohio, throughout his life.  Although he was active for about three decades, information about him is scarce online.  Census records indicate that he was born in New Jersey to parents who had immigrated from Ireland.  When he was about twenty-one, he married an Irish immigrant named Mary Wilson, who was about eighteen at the time.  They would go on to have ten children (inferred from Census records).

One website mentions that Thomas T. Sweeny opened a studio in 1859 at 249 Superior Street, Cleveland, in partnership with a photographer named Edgar Decker (1833-1905).  I assume it was Sweeny’s first studio, but I don’t know for sure.  He was about 28 years old.

In 1861 Sweeny served a four-month tour as a 1st Lieutenant in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I.).  The Civil War began on April 12, 1861.  Sweeny’s tour began on April 22 and ended August 22.  He later registered for the draft in June 1863, but probably wasn’t called up, since he had already served.  The page with his name on it in the draft registration book is interesting.  Of the twenty men listed on the page, only three were born in the United States, including Sweeny.  Another of the three, Allen Scott, was Colored (African American).  He was born in Michigan and his occupation was Sailor, suggesting he was a mariner on the Great Lakes.  Of the other seventeen men on the page, ten were born in Germany, three in Ireland, one in Canada, one in England, one in Prussia and one in Holland.  It would be interesting to know how many of these men were called up to bear arms for their adopted country.

Thomas T. Sweeny - Draft Regist. (1863) 1
Cuyahoga County draft registration, June 1863, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration and

(See the full-size scan of the page in a separate tab here.)


The portrait of the man with the blanket could have been made during the war, as late as July 1864.  The back of the carte-de-visite is blank.  If it had been made between August 1, 1864, and August 1, 1866, it would have had a tax stamp on the back, so we can be certain it wasn’t made during that period.  It could have been made after August 1866, but probably not long after.  I’m sure it was made in the 1860s.  So, what did this man want to convey about himself when he stood in Thomas Sweeny’s studio?

Man with blanket in Cleveland by Sweeny 2


36 thoughts on “Man with blanket in Cleveland by Thomas T. Sweeny

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  1. My first thought about the blanket was it’s a Pendleton because they also use bold stripes in their wool blankets. But Liz’s observation about Hudson Bay is more likely since Pendleton, while established in 1863, was in Oregon.

    Does the man’s jacket and the hat he holds offer clues? Any relation or resemblance to service uniforms of the time?

    For all we know, the blanket was handy and Tom Sweeny thought it would be fun to include, getting people wondering why it’s there as a prop!

    Mostly, I’m distracted by the subject’s luxurious mustache and curly mane!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His jacket and hat don’t look familiar, but I’m definitely not an expert on Civil War uniforms. Blankets must have been in high demand during the war, so I can’t help but wonder if there was some connection.

      When I first beheld his hair and mustache, I thought he bore a passing resemblance to Mark Twain. Twain was a dapper dresser, though, famous for wearing a white suit. This fellow looks more like a character from one of Twain’s books!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My first thought was that the fellow with the blanket had received it as a gift from some tribe that he’s spent time with. While Navajo chiefs’ blankets are the most famous, there were several tribes that reserved the wearing of blankets to those held in esteem. If the blanket had that kind of history, the man would be rightly proud of it, and would want to show it off.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I like that theory! I have to say that the man and his blanket seem incongruous with the putti on the wall behind him. Such a Baroque backdrop is unusual, making me wonder if this was actually a theater. He could have been impersonating a figure from Ohio history. On the other hand, even if the photo was taken in a theater, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that the man was an actor.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It just this minute came to me: could he have been involved in declamation? It’s not much in favor these days — if it’s even practiced at all — but it’s the sort of thing that was done individually, and sometimes with a prop or two that emphasized the nature of the presentation. The section on the “classical revival” of declamation here might be relevant.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’d never heard of declamation before. It makes me think of actors standing on a stage, shouting their lines so people in the back of the theater can hear. Nineteenth century declamation would probably sound stilted to us now. In Britain it was preceded by the Elocution Movement in the eighteenth century. I hadn’t heard of that, either!


  3. I was intrigued by the draft register and the fact that some gave their country of origin as “Germany” (which wasn’t actually a thing at the time) but one more precisely as “Prussia”. “Germany” as a unified country really only starts in 1871, but there had been a movement for decades to unify it. Many had to flee for holding that political view, and I wonder if the people on the register were among them and were making a point by stating “Germany”. But perhaps that is a speculation too far. But the infamous “Deutschland uber alles” originally meant “a unified Germany above all those bitty earldoms etc”.
    What you call a Hudson’s Bay blanket could very well have been made in Witney in Oxfordshire, 15 miles from where I’m sitting now…this website tells the story:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a very interesting website, thank you! The term “point blanket” is new to me. I have a Hudson’s Bay blanket on my bed, so I’ll have to look to see if it has any points!

      I also wondered about the references to Germany in the draft register. It could be that Americans used “Germany” as a catch-all place of origin for German-language speakers, even though the country itself didn’t formally exist yet as a nation state.


  4. This is a wonderful carte-de-visite portrait and mysterious too, since we don’t know anything about him. I love the way the blanket is draped about him. It reminds me of a flag, an honor of some sort and a comfort, perhaps a touch of home. His look is engaging and his stance suggests he’s ready! For what, I wonder. Thank you, Brad! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Immigrants faced a lot of prejudice during the 19th century. Most were poor. On the other hand, if they went to war and survived, they gained a lot of respect. It seems like immigrants always have to prove themselves worthy–even now.


    1. His right hand (pointing) looks like it might be in a glove, but his left hand (holding the hat) doesn’t appear to be. His suit is unusually casual for a studio portrait. The hat might be distinctive, but darned if I know!


    1. Yes, his feet seem to give him away as striking a pose. I wonder if he has a connection to the Southwest or Mexico. I know very little about the history of that area.

      Imagine a catalog full of people modeling blankets, haha! Who knows, such a thing probably exists.


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