This old photograph has been floating around the museum since 1990 and, before that, was in Bill and Elgin Stuart's collection. But no one's ever been able to figure out exactly why it was taken in the first place, about 1890 or shortly thereafter.
The most likely explanation is that the owner of the Gasser Block, immediately to the left in the foreground, just west of the alley on the south side of the square, was celebrating the installation of a new concrete sidewalk.
What we now would call a "winter mix" of snow and rain seems to have been falling prior to the moment frozen in time here, so the new sidewalk would have been appreciated.
The Gasser Block was built during 1875 and, quite likely, an extension of the boardwalk in the foreground had carried pedestrians past it before the more substantial surface was installed.
We know that the photo was taken about 1890 because of the construction dates of the west-side buildings in the background, to the right, all of which still are with us (from left, the Good Luck Building, Day-Mooney Block and Exchange Block).
Enlarge the photograph a little, and interesting details appear. An umbrella and a boot are hanging from the storefront just to the left, advertising wares for sale inside.
The "Hides" sign in the distance may have been located in front of the Yengel Meat Market. The Yengel brothers conducted an extensive slaughtering operation just south of Chariton and hides would have been a byproduct.
Then look just beyond and you'll see a classic "cigar store indian" perched on his plinth at the edge of the sidewalk, again advertising the wares for sale in the shop nearest to it.
Because of slow shutter speed, moving figures tended to blur in a photograph like this. The gentleman walking toward us came through fairly well, but the person and the horse and buggy in the street to the right are "ghosts."
These could have been among the ancestors of many of us --- but we'll never know.