Old Man Winter Caught on Camera

A snow-covered trailer wheel in Kentucky, 1953.
LIFE Magazine
A snow-covered trailer wheel, Kentucky, 1953.

At one time or another, most everyone has engaged in pareidolia — even if we had no idea that there was a word for it. Put simply,┬ápareidolia is the psychological phenomenon that allows humans to find significance or recognizable symbols in random scenes and stimuli. The constellations soaring in the heavens; the Virgin Mary “seen” in a water stain; a face on the surface of Mars — these and countless other examples testify to the human desire (perhaps the need?) to impose familiarity and order on an irrational universe.

Take the picture above. A viewer could be forgiven for, at first glance, mistaking it for a portrait of that ancient character himself, Old Man Winter — even if, in this case, the Old Man has chosen to reveal himself in the form of a sad-looking, snow-blanketed trailer wheel, rather than the mighty, weather-controlling, neo-pagan titan of myth.

The picture was made by an amateur photographer in Kentucky named John Winter (that’s right — his name was Winter) in 1953. It appeared on LIFE’s Miscellany page — a popular, long-running feature that debuted in 1952 and continued in the magazine for decades.

[See the first-ever Miscellany here, featuring Jimmy the roller-skating horse.]

In the coming weeks and months, LIFE.com will feature many more of these often-funny, sometimes utterly bizarre Miscellany photos — and the equally improbable stories behind how they were made, and who made them.

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