Thursday, December 27, 2012

Today we have the latest installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, in which she's visiting places shown on old postcards sent to and from members of her family. (In case you missed it, previous installments in this series are available here, here, here, and here.)

Here's the latest from Charlene:

The next stop on my tour of Pennsylvania was Waynesboro, a town General Robert E. Lee passed through after the Battle of Gettysburg. A schoolmate of my great aunt’s had sent her a postcard from Waynesboro over the summer break in 1917. The postcard showed three grand houses along Clayton Avenue. I had no trouble finding the proper street, but I had to drive back and forth several times before I realized that the tiny trees shown in the postcard had grown so much in 95 years that they now largely obscure the houses, one of which you can just barely see peeking through in the photo I took [for all of these images, you can click to enlarge]:

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You can get a better view of that house in this shot, although it doesn't duplicate the original postcard perspective.

My next stop was the Bedford rest station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This spot was a big hit for my paternal grandfather, who sent many postcards back home to his kids from this place, including a view of a Howard Johnson restaurant known as "the Midway." I discovered that the building shown is on the south side of the roadway. Roadway traffic necessitated a high concrete wall dividing the directional traffic lanes, so a second, near-identical restaurant was built on the north side of the road. That one is still there -- but much like the houses in Waynesboro, it's now largely obscured by trees:

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My other grandfather, on my mother's side, also had a connection to the Turnpike. He had been the surveyor for this road many years earlier. My mother -- his daughter -- has regaled me with stories of when she was very small and he would take her along in the dead of night to “shoot the stars” with a sextant, which is how the workers plotted where to lay the roadbeds before GPS. It's fascinating to me that both sides of my family had a link to the Turnpike years before my parents would eventually meet.

That's it from Charlene for this time around. More soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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Earlier this month I wrote about story behind an old military jacket that had washed ashore after Hurricane Sandy, and how the person who found it was able to return it to the widow of the cadet who'd originally worn it at West Point in the early 1930s.

The jacket shown above is not that same jacket, but it's very similar. It was purchased 20 years ago at a consignment shop by a Minnesota woman named Mary Helen Taft. When she read a news article about the jacket that had washed ashore, she became curious about the one she had bought, which was stowed away in her closet. So she dug it out and then did what the person who'd found the other jacket had done: She contacted West Point and asked if officials there could use the marks on the jacket's tags to tell her more about its original owner.

In this case, the jacket had been worn by a cadet named Joseph Francis Albano, who graduated in 1971. (West Point cadet jacket design apparently didn't change much in the four decades.) He's still alive, although he and Mary Helen Taft hadn't yet spoken or met as of a few days ago.

Further details on all of this, along with a mention of yet another vintage West Point jacket being traced back to its original wearer, can be found here.

(Special thanks to Barbara Zimmer for pointing me toward this one.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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The three front/back photo pairings you see above are all from the book Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past by Ransom Riggs, who puts an unusual spin on a common hobby. He collects old snapshots that he finds at flea markets and junk shops (nothing new about that), but only if they're annotated with handwritten inscriptions -- usually on the back, but sometimes on the front.

Several hundred of photos from Riggs's collection are compiled in Talking Pictures, and the result is a compelling series of partially told stories that leave you wanting to know more. As you page through the book and read the annotations, you can't help but wonder "Hmmm, what happened to that couple?" or "How did that guy end up with a black eye?" or "Did that smallpox-ridden child survive?"

It's a great book, and very reasonably priced. Highly recommended to all PermaRec readers.

I'll close this entry with an assortment of additional images from the book -- enjoy.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

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I've written several times now about Russell Ries. As you may recall, he's the guy who purchased a cigar box full of old photos and other personal effects, all pertaining to the same person (who I refer to as John Doe). Russell did a little digging and discovered that John Doe was accused child neglect that resulted in the death of one of his children. Russell also discovered that while John Doe himself was now deceased, another one of his children was living in the Nashville area -- where Russell himself lives. He wondered if he should get in touch with the son and offer the photos and other items to him, or if he should keep his distance because the subject might be too painful. Several Permanent Record readers offered their own opinions on this.

Russell ultimately decided to get in touch with the son, whose name is Bill. (I had referred to him as Andy, to help protect his identity, but Russell is now ready to use his real first name.) Bill agreed to meet with Russell, and the meeting took place in Westmoreland, Tennessee, a few days ago. The photo above shows Russell on the left and Bill on the right.

Russell provided a detailed account of the meeting, including the following:

Until starting my drive to Westmoreland that morning, the full reality of the situation hadn't dawned on me. This was probably the final chapter of my connection to Bill and his family.

I had purchased the cigar box over Memorial Day weekend in 2011. And since that time, I had come to see myself as something of a steward of the memories contained within it. I had always hoped this day would come. But now faced with it, I began to lament the loss of my role in the story.

The truth was, no matter how close I may have felt to Bill or his father, I was a complete stranger to him. Some guy who, only last week, sent him a letter about pictures of his dad. He had been a compelling character in my life for over a year but I had literally just entered his. Would I be able to find any real connection with this man when we met? How would I feel about preserving and returning these memories to him if he turned out to be a jerk? It was a petty and small way to feel, I know. Fortunately, it proved to be without merit when we finally met.

There's more -- a lot more. To see how it all turns out, check out the full story on Russell's blog.

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A few housekeeping notes: It's been over two weeks since the last post here on the site. Sorry about that -- been busy with other projects. But Permanent Record is very much alive and well. In the coming days I'll be posting about a very PermaRec-ish book that I'm extremely excited about, along with the latest installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, and hopefully a few other things.

Several people noticed the note at the end of last month's PermaRec article on Slate, which mentioned that there would be no more Slate articles for the foreseeable future. Just to clarify that, I plan to keep researching and investigating the stories behind the Manhattan Trade School report cards, and the Slate editors are happy to keep publishing PermaRec articles if I come across a student with a particularly powerful story. But they feel the basic goals of the series -- to tell about the school and its students -- have now been met. So any future articles will only be about report cards with particularly extraordinary stories to tell. (Of course, I think they're all extraordinary, but I understand the editors' point.)

My best wishes to all PermaRec readers for a safe and happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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Today we have another installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, in which she's visiting places shown on old postcards sent to and from members of her family. (In case you missed it, previous installments in this series are available here, here, and here.)

Here's the latest from Charlene:

For the next leg of my trip, I drove southwest from Harrisburg, and dropped in on Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg was originally named for Conestoga wagon mechanics who settled this area in the early 1800s. When the Cumberland Valley Railroad came through town, bringing more growth to the area, mechanics in the burg serviced the trains. The many train lines through Mechanicsburg aided in transporting troops during the Civil War. In 1923, Jubilee Day was started by a pre-Chamber of Commerce group. This fair, which takes place on the third Thursday of June, is now considered the largest and longest-running one-day street fair on the east coast.

Many of the same buildings from a century ago are still standing, including the ones shown in a postcard that was sent to my great aunt in 1917. I matched the view in the postcard by taking a photograph looking east from Hershey Violins on West Main Street [for all of these images, you can click to enlarge]:

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Continuing southwest, I arrived at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. The old church on King Street, completed in 1904 still survives, albeit with a few alterations to the tower. Still, it is recognizable as the same structure shown in this old postcard:

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My great aunt attended Shippensburg College just outside of town. The college recently completed a refurbishing of the ornate fountain in front of the main building. The fountain and the building both look very similar to how they looked in these old postcards:

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Back in town, the Sherman House has not fared as well. An old hotel originally known as the Union House, it was renamed and given new signage as Confederate troops approached, in hopes the it not be destroyed. Time has wrought worse alterations to “Shippen Place.” Looking carefully, one can see the original lines of the old hotel shown in this postcard, although xxpansion has pushed the wall outward, converting what was once a side street with rail tracks into an alley:

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That's it from Charlene for now. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from her soon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

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The two photos at the top of the page are West Point cadet Chester deGavre wearing his formal military jacket in his 1933 West Point yearbook photo, and that same jacket as it appears today. The lower photo shows the jacket being presented last week to deGavre's 98-year-old widow, Teresa deGavre, after the jacket had been found washed up on the Jersey Shore in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

The jacket was found by Donna Gugger (the blond woman in the lower photo), who discovered it while cleaning up debris near her home after the storm. She initially thought it was a costume jacket, but some of the interior tagging indicated that it was a genuine military jacket. With some research assistance from the folks at West Point, she was able to determine that it had been issued to Chester deGavre, who died in 1993. Some additional research led her to deGavre's widow.

That's some impressive sleuthing, although one serious mystery remains: Teresa deGavre had been completely unaware of the jacket's existence. It's not clear how it became separate from her husband, who may have owned it in the interim, or how it ended up in the ocean. In any case, it's now back where it belongs.

You can read more about this here and here, and there's a video report here:

Cadet jacket found in Sandy aftermath

(Special thanks to Sue Kendall for bringing this story to my attention.)