Charles E. Johnson, or Charlie, was born in St. Louis, MO, March 21, 1857. His mother, Eliza, was the third wife of Joseph Ellis Johnson.
Charlie and his mother emigrated to Salt Lake City in 1860. Soon after, Joseph moved the family to Spring Lake Villa for a few years, then on to St. George. The St. George property was adjacent to that owned by Brigham Young. It was there that Charlie met one of Brigham Young's daughters, Ruth. They were married in 1878, and had 2 sons, along with a daughter who died in infancy.
While living in St. George, he developed his lifelong love of the theatre. He writes:
During my growing-up period I took the usual interest in amusements, but more especially in theatricals. In our local entertainments I frequently played humorous and other parts, and for a number of years was manager of our local theatre. Owing to the large family which my father had to support, it was necessary for all who could, earn or help to do so. For this reason I did not get much chance to attend school and what I did get was scattering. There were no schools at that time in our section that were higher than the Junior high of a leter [sic] date.
The couple moved to Salt Lake City in 1882, where he pursued a career as a druggist for ZCMI. He became interested in photography, first only as a business venture, then in the making of the "views". He joined with Hyrum Sainsbury (S&J Photo) and continued the association until the "Money Panic" of 1893. Both the drugstore and photo studio suffered considerable losses. The drugstore reorganized as The Johnson-Pratt Drug. Co. while at the same time, Charlie bought out Sainsbury (who chose to retire) and the studio was known as The Johnson Co.. Charlie took over operation of the studio, leaving the drugstore in the hands of Parley Pratt.
Business was slow for a while, but gradually picked up, and in time I rented the old Deseret News corner building, where now stands the Hotel Utah, and opened a Kodak and Souvenir Store.
The Johnson Co. studio made all types of photographs, including formal portrait sittings in the studio of any citizen with the means to have a portrait made, views of Salt Lake City, Utah and the West to sell as tourist souvenirs, images from the Salt Lake Theatre, both scene views and portraits of various actors and actresses, portraits of LDS Church officials and their families, and photographs of newsworthy events that happened in Salt Lake City. He made many views of the Great Salt Lake and the various bathing facilities (Saltair, Garfield Beach) and even ventured onto several of the islands in the lake.
In the early part of the new century, Madame Lydia Mountford arranged for Charlie to accompany her to the Holy Land, with the intention of creating an exhibition for the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Several months were spent traveling about, making photographs and gathering material for Mountford's lectures. Unfortunately upon their return, things had changed:
Returning to the Fair we found that circumstances had undergone a change for the worse, and a new administration had repudiated the contract made with Madame Mountford, and the chances of our making any money were very slim.
In 1917, Charlie moved to San Jose, California where he lived until his death on Feb. 21, 1926.
© 2008 Judy H. Kiel. All rights reserved.