What: This year’s bicentennial birthday of James McCosh, one of Princeton’s greatest presidents, passed unnoticed. Photographers captured his likeness in old age, one taking a blue-tinted cyanotype, above.
As a young minister, McCosh first sat for his picture in the late 1840s for a historic calotype, left, by pioneering Scottish photographers Hill and Adamson.
“Jimmy” — deemed a “model ex-president” by his successor, Francis L. Patton — enjoyed six years of retirement in Princeton before dying in 1894, age 83. He wrote pamphlets expounding Scottish Realist philosophy and denouncing “vulgar agnosticism.” He attended services at the University’s chapel, becoming such a familiar sight on the tree-shaded path between the chapel and his home on Prospect Avenue that it was dubbed McCosh Walk.
His mind often turned back to childhood, when he played with his collie, Famous, on his pious father’s farm on the River Doon. He walked miles across the moors to attend two church services each Sunday and resolved to become a minister.
McCosh never lost his brogue. Once a friend rushed to help the old man when he tottered, but could hardly hold up his massive frame. McCosh quipped, “Hech, mon, ye had an awfu’ tussle!”
Where: Collection AC117, Princeton University Archives; Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University Library (inset)