By Jean Innamorati

Louis Leon McAllister practiced photography in Burlington, Vermont, for more than sixty years. Known by generations of high school and college graduates for his group pictures, he became something of an institution himself.

To commemorate graduations and other ceremonial occasions, McAllister would set his very large panoramic camera atop a tall tripod, climb a step ladder next to it and from there direct his subjects to form a composed group.  When satisfied with the image in his viewfinder, McAllister would call out his trademark ‘cheese’ with the words “Stiddy! Don’t move! “The camera would pan to encompass the whole group.  Sometimes two or three jokesters would run from one side of the assembly of people to the other in order to be photographed twice in one picture.

McAllister treated his photographic equipment painstakingly. At the end of his career he was still shooting with the varnished black 8 x 10 and 12 x 20 box cameras acquired decades earlier.  In an article about his career written by Ralph Nading Hill and published in Vermont Life in 1960, McAllister dismissed the newer technology.  “No detail in those midget cameras,” he said. “Can’t blow up a negative without losing something.”

Hill visited McAllister in his photography studio on North Winooski Avenue. The basement, in addition to serving as his darkroom, also contained the products of some of McAllister’s other interests.  He built violins, whittled wood chains from broom handles and stored the iron traps he used to hunt foxes, raccoons, bears, and even bobcats, across the state.

In his memoir Salute to Burlington, Vermont, published in 1991, Robert B. Michaud recalled McAllister as rather an eccentric. “He was a lanky, raven-beaked, bespectacled character, always attired in a wool coat sweater and wearing a wool touring cap.” Michaud further reported that during the 1930s McAllister was a leader of a local spiritualist group which held services and encampments at the Queen City Park in South Burlington.

Born in Nebraska, McAllister moved to Randolph, Vermont in 1897. A few years later he set up his photography studio in Burlington. His father had grown up in Warren, Vermont, and made tintype prints in Bristol before the Civil War.

Although best known for his large outdoor panoramic photographs, McAllister also did studio portraits and other commissions.  Among the large collection of his prints and negatives at the University of Vermont’s Bailey-Howe library are hundreds of images McAllister took of Burlington streets, donated by the city’s Street Department.  These 8 x 10 photographs document road construction and repair work carried out by the city from circa 1928 until 1950.

Historic Burlington Project
Burlington 1890 | Burlington 1877 | Burlington 1869 | Burlington 1853 | Burlington 1830

Produced by University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program graduate students
in HP 206 Researching Historic Structures and Sites - Prof. Thomas Visser
in collaboration with UVM Landscape Change Program
Historic images courtesy of Louis L. McAllister Photograph Collection University of Vermont Library Special Collections