His image is familiar to millions, iconic to a generation of rock fans and a 52-year mystery finally solved: The old, bearded, hunched-over man toting a big bundle of sticks as seen on the cover of the 1971 album known as Led Zeppelin IV is none other than…
Lot Long. Won’t ring a bell now, but if you needed your Wiltshire cottage roof thatched back in the 1890s, the guy just might be your go-to dude.
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In a story of coincidence and happenstance, the identity of the Victorian-era roof-thatcher has finally been established, more than a half-century since a colorized copy of the original black-and-white photo captured the attention of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant. Neither of them knew who the man was when they came across the color copy while browsing an antique shop outside London way back when.
The intriguing story of the photo’s identification has been revealed in a New York Times story filed by the paper’s London correspondent Claire Moses. The big reveal comes exactly 52 years to the day since the November 8, 1971, release of the album many consider Zeppelin’s masterpiece, the album containing the FM radio standard Stairway to Heaven.”
The most recent chapter of the story begins with Brian Edwards, a visiting research fellow at the University of the West of England who was, as the Times reports, “scouring the internet for new releases at auction houses that might be interesting for his research, which includes the area’s well-known landmark Stonehenge.”
While web surfing, Edwards came across a Victorian photo album of landscapes and houses. Flipping through, he came across something he first saw when he bought Led Zeppelin IV the year it was released.
“There was something familiar about it straight away,” Edwards told the Times. He made a quick phone call to his wife – for a “sanity check,” he says – and concluded that yes, the photo was the guy on the cover, albeit a black-and-white version as opposed to the colorized version on the album (sometimes mistakenly thought to be a painting).
Edwards’ next call was to the Wiltshire Museum, where the Victorian album was up for auction. Edwards, who had curated an exhibit at the museum in 2021, learned that the photo album, titled Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury, was the work of a man named Ernest Howard Farmer, who had taken, compiled and inscribed the photo album sometime during the Victorian Era as a gift for his “Auntie.”
The man in the photo was identified as Lot Long, a 69-year-old man who thatched roofs for cottages in rural Wiltshire, a county in southwestern England, in the 1890s.
As for how the image ended up on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV, apparently Page and Plant were browsing an antique shop in Pangbourne, a village about 50 miles west of London along the River Thames, when they spotted a colorized version of the photo. Edwards theorizes that the photographer, who also taught photography, had used a black and white print of the image to teach students how colorize. (The colorized print purchased by Page and Plant apparently has long since been lost).
As for the solving of the mystery, Edwards tells the Times, “It sounds like good detective work, but in truth there was a lot of luck involved. I caught a few good breaks.”
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