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Wheeling Photographer Eddie Martin

By Jon-Erik Gilot

Fort Henry Bridge. Photograph by Eddie Martin, date unknown.

Wheeling has been associated with a number of accomplished photographers over the past 160 years. Names like Partridge and Plummer in the 19th century gave way to the likes of Kossuth and Gruber in the 20th century, among many others. A name certainly deserving to be included among the greats, although often overlooked, is Edward “Eddie” Martin.

Martin was born in North Wheeling on March 26, 1922, the youngest child of German immigrants Louis and Elizabeth Schoen Martin. Eddie suffered from a physical disability throughout his life, a spine disfigurement causing a short stature, hunched back, and broad chest. Often using crutches, he was forced to sit while going up or down stairs. He took to photography at an early age and would not let his disability hinder him from scaling walls or climbing rooftops to secure the perfect photo.

The Martins were devout Catholics and loyal parishioners at Sacred Heart Church on North Main Street in Wheeling. Eddie’s sister Gertrude would clean the church while his brother Robert operated the lighting and speaker system. Eddie and Robert operated two printing presses in the basement of their home, where for many years they would produce the weekly bulletins for Sacred Heart and numerous other Wheeling parishes. All three children were graduates of Sacred Heart School.

From 1944 to 1960 Eddie apprenticed under noted Wheeling photographer George J. Kossuth. Under Kossuth, Eddie graduated from an amateur to a professional photographer and became a carefully practiced colorist. (Prior to color photography, black-and-white photos were hand-tinted to achieve a colorized effect.) During this time, Eddie would photograph operatic greats Jerome Hines and Wheeling native Eleanor Steber, becoming her close friend and the famed soprano’s preferred colorist. 

Following Kossuth’s death in 1960, Eddie went to work for noted Wheeling photographer and Kossuth protégé, Charles F. Gruber. While working for Gruber, Eddie developed a close working relationship with the Diocese of Wheeling and the many Catholic schools in the area. Later operating under the Martin Photography imprint, Eddie would take class photographs and student portraits for many of the Catholic schools in the Wheeling area. His short stature and childlike appearance endeared him to the students.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.