Interview with Capone's The Old Time Picture Studio owner & son - Peggy Anderson and Jason Oksanan

Visitors to the Dells have been getting Old Time pictures taken of themselves at various studios around town for nearly four decades, but the oldest of the bunch is Capone’s The Original Old Time Picture Studio. It’s a place where you can fulfill your fantasy to dress up as a cowboy, gangster, or to wear Civil War and Victorian era costumes and not feel too silly while doing so. Owner Peggy Anderson and her son Jason Oksanan recently took the time to tell me a little about their unique business, and why they feel their studio is the best.

The Wisconsin Dells offers quite a few places to take old time photos, but I hear your studio was the first. Is that true?

PEGGY ANDERSON: Yes, we’re the original.

Was it always called Capone’s?

PEGGY: I added Capone’s last year – cause everyone mixes us up with Old Time Portraits.

What year did The Original Old Time Picture Studio open?

PEGGY: 1973

Wow, did you own it way back then?

PEGGY: No, that was a man named AJ – I’m not sure what his last name is. He started it. I guess he had a shop in Minocqua before then. He came here in ’73, and basically when he started it he had one stage. He had a saddle; he had some gangster props, civil war and western.

Was it at this same location?

PEGGY: No, it was next to Nigs (bar) at that time. I think the last 16 -17 years it’s been here.

When did you become owner?

PEGGY: It was two years June 19th that I took it over.

Are you originally from the Dells?

PEGGY: No, I’m originally from south of Chicago, around the Oak Lawn area.

What made you come up here?

PEGGY: I’ve been up here since 87 – I had family move up here – and then my parents moved up, my sister moved up, so then I moved up.

So did you take it over from AJ?

PEGGY: No, after he had it, his ex-wife had it for a few years, then Phil Doro, then Paul who was my old boss had it, and I was working for him. I’ve been here fourteen, fifteen years, and then I ended up purchasing it.

Did you always have an interest in photography?

PEGGY: I started out doing costumes – I liked that – I was real good at it. For four years they tried to get me to take pictures, but I would get really nervous about it. They were like – you’re always telling us we should do this or that – so finally after four years I decided to start taking pictures. I love it. It was something different. It’s kind of funny. I was like you want me to dress people? I can barely dress myself!

So how many costumes are there?

PEGGY: A lot!

Where do you get the costumes? Thrift shops?

PEGGY: Some of it, but a lot of the flapper dresses and things like that - chaps and stuff - you have to get that at costume companies. Showgirl dresses, civil war stuff, a lot of our suits – our white pinstripe stuff - is from costume companies. We’ll find them, and split them up (split the backs for easy access). But we definitely have a lot of costumes from when I started here – four or five times as much. When I started we didn’t have 2x’s, 3x’s and 4x’s.

I think it’s pretty cool that you’re able to work together as mother and son. Any other relatives in the mix?

JASON OKSANEN: We have a lot of family that work here – me and my mom are family – a lot of us are like family. Victoria’s cousin used to work here. Her sister used to work here. Gina is
one of our managers, a great worker, and near and dear to us. Her sister works with us and her mom did for a while. One of our others managers Michelle – her father works here, and both of her children worked here before they moved away for college. Andrea, affectionately known by me as "speed bump", is on her second year and rocks. Her daughter's first job was with us this summer. It’s a pretty tight nit group.

So besides the family atmosphere, what differentiates you from the other photos studios around town - or are you all pretty much the same?

PEGGY: We have the REAL stages . . .

JASON: Our employees really enjoy what they are doing . . . most of the time.

PEGGY: We hear we are a lot friendlier – we take more pictures – we do more goofy stuff. We can also do the biggest groups – our biggest group is forty-five. A lot of people like our stages – we don’t do backdrops with a screen pulled down behind ya. It’s funny, we’ll have people that will go next door (Old Time Portraits), and then come by and see the car and say: “Son-of-a-gun – we didn’t know you had a real car!”

I’m guessing that’s the most popular setting. Tell me a little about it – where did it come from?

PEGGY: Sometime in the 70’s AJ got the car. I think at first he used to have the car in front of his shop because the pictures are done in the front, and then the car was in the back . . .

JASON OKSANEN:  It was parked out back in the ally, and he would take them outside to shoot the pictures. It’s a ‘34 Chevy – it’s only got 27K miles on it.

I’m assuming it doesn’t run anymore?

JASON: Well it could, it was running when we drove it in here. It would take a weekend to change the fluids and a tune-up.

PEGGY:  The after-hour drunks are always fun – “Is that a real car?” – we get that all the time. 

Speaking of fun, what are some of the most memorable things that have happened in your days working here?

PEGGY:  Oh boy, that’s a loaded question! This is going to be in the newspaper so we’re gonna keep it clean . . .

JASON: I get asked about “after hours” pictures all the time. Or we’ll get a lot of women that will come in, and their husband will be overseas or something and they’ll want to take something sexy or different for them.

PEGGY: There has been so many crazy things I’m trying to think . . . we’ve done dogs and cats. One time I had a guy bring birds in here. One guy asked if he could bring his pig and horse - I said you’re pushing it a little bit. But we’ll do motorcycles; they’ll bring their bikes in.

JASON: We’ve had people bring in their own weapons.  

PEGGY: I had one man bring his own canon in! He called me up and was like - can I bring my canon in? And I was like yeah. He was like: Don’t you want to know how big it is? I said: Is it as big as a ‘34 Chevy?

You ever had any celebrities come in for a photo?

JASON: We just had a famous person come in – remember that TV show Family Ties? – I forgot what his name was, but the guy that played Skippy came in – he was doing stand-up for the comedy club. 

Anything else out of the ordinary?

JASON: There is this one group of superheroes and characters that come up every year, and I had them come in so I could get a picture with Gumby - there was like twenty of them. 

PEGGY: So that’s what the staff does when I’m not here! They drag strangers off the streets and have them take pictures.

Since were on the topic of childhood characters – how is it working with little kids?

JASON: There are times with toddlers that are pretty funny – once I get rid of the parents - I get the shot!

Does it take a lot to get the perfect shot?

JASON: When we get kids together usually you can keep their attention – it’s the parents we sometimes have a problem with. They’re always trying to get their kids to look. They don’t think they’ll listen to you and one will be off to the side, and over here is the camera where you want the kids looking. Then you have another parent over there – and everyone is talking at the same time – and the kids look like their head is about to spin off because they’re looking back and forth the whole time! 

I saw on your website that you keep pictures on file forever, is that true?

PEGGY: I have all the negatives from 1973 – I have like 180K negatives – we went digital in 2005 – so that’s all on the computer. When we were doing darkroom, we would take two or three shots, and then you would open it up and look at it. Not like now where we will do 10-20. If were slow sometimes even more. But the negatives I have you can literally fill every shelf in this room and that’s just basically keeping the one negative that they pick!