Snapshots of the 1917 Russian Revolution

Erin McCarthy
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Europe

In 1917, American pastor John Wells Rahill traveled to Russia, where he photographed scenes from the Russian Revolution. When he returned to the U.S. a year later, he converted his photographs into glass slides for a magic lantern—a predecessor of the projector—so he could share his adventures overseas with a wider audience.

But in the 1920s, people who had worked in Russia were labeled socialist sympathizers and blacklisted, so Rahill packed the slides in chests and stored them in the basement of his Northern California home. And that’s where they remained, until they were discovered by his granddaughter who, in 2005, called Russian-born photographer Anton Orlov to come and examine the contents of the chests.

Image courtesy Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The slides capture everything from soldiers wearing gas masks near bunkers to ruined buildings in Moscow. Orlov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the slides "were hand-colored by what must have been one of the very best photo-finishing businesses in the U.S. I am still hoping to find out who did such a wonderful job with them."

Image courtesy

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The collection also features images that Rahill snapped as he was evacuated from Russia through China and Japan. You can check out more of the slides here.