You would think this would be a simple task….my favorite photo. I look around my house and on my phone finding favorites of my husband, children and pets.
But thinking about progenitors, this becomes a big task. I’ve amassed hundreds of photos. Most still in boxes or slowly deteriorating old albums. I began going through the books I made of my husband’s mother’s family, looking for one picture in particular. A picture of my husband’s grandfather, Joesph, great aunt, Mary, and 1st cousin 2x removed, Charlie.
It is a picture postcard. I did a little checking around. The National Postal Museum says in 1898, the cost to mail a postcard was authorized to be lower than first class mail rates. Cameras became a bit more affordable for the everyday person. My take is that it became a fun, inexpensive way to share pictures.
There are many things that intrigue me about this particular photo. The corn. Not being a native Iowan, on my first visit to Iowa I had to take my picture beside the corn. (I did that in Arizona beside a Saguaro cactus too!). The fields today still look as vast as the field in that photo. Corn as far as the eye can see. The clothing. Looking at Mary’s dress, I wonder if her mother made it for her or an older sibling. The corn pipe in Larry’s grandfathers mouth and the handmade ax in his cousin’s hand. I wonder who made them. It appears Mary may have brought them lunch. I am guessing she is holding a lunch box and jug of water….or something. What was the occasion for the photograph?
This particular photo hadn’t been mailed but did have names written on the back. At the time I was putting the book together, I didn’t know who the third person was. I assumed he was a neighbor. While completing the scrapbook, I ran across the story of Charlie. My husband’s cousin, Gloria Ellwanger, has done extensive research of this particular branch of the family. In her 1992 Book, The Schaller Saga: Bohemia to Iowa, she describes what is known of Charlie’s life. He was a foster child, never adopted, but raised as the child of my husband’s great great aunt and uncle. Details of his childhood are sketchy, but it appears he was born in Germany in 1877, came to America around age 8, only remembering his mother. Gloria states that Charlie was orphaned shortly after coming to America and was found roaming the streets of Chicago. He was picked up by police and placed in a home. A social service type system existed in the 1890’s, who knew?? Gloria goes on to say that Charlie ended up in West Bend, Iowa, via an Orphan train. Ironically, Charlie became known for his photography.
What keeps driving me forward wanting to tell the stories behind pictures, letters and documents is that sitting in a box they may never be told. As each generation hands them down, less is known. I will admit I do find greater satisfaction in the detective work my progenitors bring about than putting modern day photos in a book. I must remind myself of the importance of both.