I was happily scanning and filing 1950s-era photographs and began to wonder what this thing was that my sister was on…or in…or walking in…or being pushed in. Turns out, it’s not just a walker or just a stroller – but a combination. Made in Ohio and later Kentucky, per my brief research. Taylor Tot’s were popular for several decades in the U.S.
It’s a walker…
I scanned this photo and quickly moved on. It’s just my sister (born 1952) in a walker, right? She’s outside, probably at my parents’ first home. Propped in front of a shrub for a photo op, and happy to comply based on the hands in the air. There are no toys or snacks on the metal tray in front of her, but I guess the outdoors was enough entertainment.
…no, it’s a stroller
I paused briefly when I arrived at this image, and then I continued scanning. A while later, I returned to it – what is behind her head? I finally figured out – it’s a handle for the same contraption as the first photo. Since the handle doesn’t appear in the other photo, I guess it was removable or collapsible.
I am not spending a lot of time researching each and every photo I scan, but I am tossing questions to both of my sisters when something strikes me. If I continue scanning and hold off on the questions, they might never get asked. I asked one sister if I was bothering her with too many photo questions; she responded that she is enjoying the connection. So I’ll keep ’em coming!
Vintage Taylor Tots are widely available on eBay (conditions vary). I’m not in the market for one, but mystery solved.
Consider the rear of your images as you are digitizing. Perhaps you want to preserve the handwriting of a deceased loved one, or your own childhood handwriting. Maybe whatever was written there made you chuckle. You might want a record of the stamped photographer information or numbering from the development process. Obviously, names and dates recorded on the rear can help you to organize your scanned images. A note of caution: based on my own experience, the information on the rear isn’t always correct; don’t get so deep into digitization mode that you fail to identify inconsistencies. And what’s up with my use of the term “rear” instead of “back?”
I miss their handwriting
My mother and father passed away in 2017 and 2018, respectively. I did a so-so job of keeping cards and notes in their handwriting. If I had known my mother would be diagnosed with Alzheimers in my early 30s, I would have kept more! As her disease progressed, I did commit to preserving more items my father wrote to me. When I find their handwriting on family photos that I am digitizing, I feel an urge to preserve it.
Infrequently, the writing appears on the front. I am not sure why my father chose green marking pen and the front of this photograph instead of the rear. I could crop this out, or use a brushing tool to paint over it, but I plan to keep it just as I found it.
Susy & Kenn
My eldest sister is 18 years older than me. She left home in 1974, and she was married in 1975. We don’t know the exact year of this photo, but she believes it was shortly after her marriage, so mid-1970s. The family archive has several copies of this photo: 8 x 10”, 3.5 x 4.75”, and two wallet-size images. On the back of one wallet image, someone wrote, “Susy & Kenn.” It’s a child’s writing, so I am pretty sure it is mine. This brought a grin to my face when I saw it, for several reasons. I don’t remember calling her Susy. I also think the spelling is interesting – I would have expected Suzie or Susie. I also imagine the excitement of a newly-married couple having a photo taken together: paying for copies in various sizes, wanting to share with family, and carefully monitoring the expense. Even a wallet image would have been precious. This was the 1970s, remember. Six-year-old me was probably pretty excited to receive this wallet photo.
A young mother, one year behind
I have only scanned about 30 images, but I have already encountered two errors on the part of my mother. This image of Susan says 17 months old, with a date of November 1952. But Sue was born in 1952, mid-year. This is clearly November 1953, not 1952.
For this series of formal portraits, most had both Sue’s age and the year on the rear. One was completely blank; fortunately, my sister’s changing appearance over the years makes it clear where that particular photo belongs. Another had only the age on the back (6), but then I noticed that the copyright stamp included a year with an “8” at the end. It read, “19 8” – but I know it was the 1950s, so 1958. That would be the correct year for age 6. One photo had a year and date, but they didn’t agree. The age was 5, but the year was 1956 (age 5 would have been 1957). By comparing the photos across the years, I was able to deduce that the age was correct, and the year was wrong. Plus, my mother had the year wrong on that other photo (above), so she probably made the same mistake here. I am not judging my mother for getting the years wrong on two photos of her young daughter. Time was probably moving very fast!
Storing the rear image
I wanted to scan front and rear as multi-TIFF images, which my Epson scanner will do. A multi-TIFF file has both images (front and rear) in a single TIFF file (just as you can have multiple pages in a PDF file). However, I was only able to create multi-TIFF files successfully in the scanner’s Document mode; in Photo mode, the output was two separate TIFF files, not a single TIFF file. Document mode is not acceptable to me for scanning photographs (the quality is insufficient), so I settled on scanning the front and rear as single TIFF files. Below is an example of my file naming convention.
If I had used the term “back,” those images would have sorted before the corresponding “front” images (“b” comes before “f”).
Stacking images in Lr
I am using Lightroom (Lr) for managing my photos, and there is an ability to stack images. Using this feature, I can associate the front and rear images in Lightroom and only display the front.
Simply click on the number in the upper right corner to display whatever is stacked:
Stacking is also useful when you have digitized a variety of related images. These formal portraits and proofs from my sister’s senior year of high school are also stacked in Lightroom.
I do not have an overwhelming number of photos with information on the rear. Certainly, scanning the rear of photographs makes for a longer digitization process. I intend to be selective. I am not scanning the rear just because something appears there. I consider whether the content has meaning to me or to others in my family and scan accordingly.
Part of digitizing a family’s memorabilia is acknowledging when to let something go. Not every thing can be retrieved. You can continue to regret what is lost, or accept that it was just not meant to be discovered. Folks really do try to assist you in your quest, but despite everyone’s efforts, some things will not reveal themselves to you. Focus on what you have instead of what remains elusive. Keep moving forward.
A Single 3.5” Floppy Disk
My sister provided me with a select number of items to digitize on behalf of her family and our family. One item was a 3.5” floppy disk labeled, simply, “Grandma.” We imagined it to be a transcript of an interview that my nephew conducted with her, or a school paper he had written about her (she died in 2017, after living with Alzheimers for over a decade). My nephew graduated from high school in 2008, so we assume the disk dates to the 2000s.
Over four years ago, at a prior workplace, someone lent me a USB floppy drive that enabled me to read a bunch of 3.5” work disks. I would have borrowed it again to read this single disk, but I don’t work there anymore or even live nearby. The work experience did assure me that many floppies can still be read successfully, and that most of the documents on them can be opened in word processing software. Based on this past experience, I was optimistic.
I researched buying a USB floppy drive. I would only be using the drive to read a single disk, so buying one seemed impractical. My husband suggested I locate a business that specializes in outdated media. I found Reborn Audio/Video. I called first, and was told the charge would be about $20.00. I took a USB drive with me so that they could copy any files found on the floppy onto the USB drive for easy access by me when I returned home. They even said they could finish it up that same day, as long as I dropped it off early. This was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so they were only open one day a week. I called later that same day and was told that there was nothing retrievable on the disk – that it appeared to be blank. I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed. I had expected to encounter difficulties actually opening and reading files on the disk, but it had not occurred to me that the disk itself might be blank.
I picked up the disk and the USB drive and brought them home. I returned to the idea of buying a USB floppy drive. Maybe a different drive would yield better results. Maybe the person at the shop hadn’t done a thorough job. They ended up not charging me, so I began wondering, “How do I even know they tried? What if they got distracted by another project and just told me there was nothing on it to get me out of the shop?” So, I researched purchasing a USB floppy drive. I came across a helpful How-To Geek article from May 2020. I was happy to see I am not alone in still trying to retrieve data from old media.
The article provided terminology on what kind of device to search for. I considered eBay as well as B&H. The item at B&H was out of stock; I returned to eBay. My husband pointed out that the quality of an older device from eBay would probably be better anyway. I could buy a USB floppy drive for a few dollars more than what the gentleman at the shop had quoted me if he had been able to access and copy the files. So, why not? I made my first eBay purchase. The drive arrived in the original box, with original packaging and even instructions! It worked when I connected it to my iMac. But, alas, when I inserted the floppy – it did indeed read as a blank disk.
I am sure the employee at the shop really did look at the floppy. I just wanted to believe there was something he had failed to do, or that his hardware couldn’t read the disk properly, or something. But, it was not meant to be. It’s blank. Maybe it always was. Maybe the Grandma file was lost years ago. Per the text exchanges below, my nephew doesn’t even remember what was supposedly on this disk.
As I write this, the disk is propped up on my desk. Once I post this, it will be time to dispose of the empty Grandma floppy disk. Whatever story it held (or never held) is gone. I’ll focus instead on the many memorabilia items that we do have.
An Idora Park Transcript
In August 2015, my 89-year-old father was interviewed by a graduate student at Ohio University. The title of her research was, “Remembering Idora Park.” Idora Park was an urban amusement park on the south side of Youngstown, Ohio. My father grew up in the nearby Fosterville neighborhood and worked there as a young man. Idora Park’s famous ride was the Wildcat wooden roller coaster (per Wikipedia, in 1984, it was still ranked among the top 10 roller coasters in the world). I recently finished a book about Youngstown titled, Steelworker Alley: How Class Works in Youngstown, by Robert Bruno. The book mentions wildcat (i.e., unauthorized) steel mill strikes multiple times, and it occurred to me that this is probably where the roller coaster got its name. The book notes there was a local high school baseball squad with the name Wildcats.
In addition to offering fun for the kids and families of Youngstown, Idora Park provided summertime employment; as someone who had visited the Park and worked there, my father was an ideal research participant. He signed a consent form for the research project, and he kept a copy. On the consent form, my father checked “YES” for agreeing that a written transcript of his recorded interview could be placed in an appendix of the final product of the study. He also indicated that he had been employed by the Park.
This was exciting! I wanted to locate the transcript, or perhaps even the recording. My father passed away in 2018, so hearing his voice again would be a true gift. I went online to locate the final product. OhioLINK has an Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center, where it was easy to find the completed thesis:
On page 9, the Table of Contents lists three Appendices:
My heart began to sink. “Appendix B: Interview Participant Basic Information” didn’t sound like it would contain full transcripts of those interviewed. I proceeded to page 205. My father’s name appears there (last name in image below), but the information is indeed basic:
OhioLINK does list the advisor. I went to the Ohio University (OU) site, and he is still at OU. I sent him an email, explaining the situation. He reached out to the author on my behalf. I was hoping that the detailed information was archived somewhere else at OU, but apparently not. The author did indeed get in touch with me. Unfortunately, for privacy reasons, she had deleted all relevant files after a period of time had elapsed. She didn’t include the transcripts in the appendix based on advice from her committee, due to length concerns. The author indicated that the only other place the transcripts might still exist is at her parents’ home. She said she will check next time she is there. She may or may not remember to do so; either way, I appreciate her taking the time to exchange a few emails with me about the situation.
The missing transcript is another piece of memorabilia that felt like it was within reach, but in pursuing it, I came to realize it would remain inaccessible to me. All I can do is take the time to read Megan Sympson’s thesis and capture a bit of what Idora Park was like for the many kids who enjoyed it and worked there over the years. A quick search for my father’s name indicates he is referenced several places throughout the thesis.
Negatives and Photos Tossed
My parents moved to a continuing care community in 2009, several years after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Within the first year or two of moving into the community, my father tackled the family photo albums. They were well organized by year, but without a lot of labeling. For the 1970s in particular, many photos had suffered from the self-stick album pages deteriorating over time. The images had yellowed considerably. I remember our father proudly telling me and at least one of my two sisters how he had gone through the albums and gotten rid of images that were, in his opinion, compromised.
I pleaded with him not to toss anything else, explaining that technology was getting better all of the time, and that images could often be restored. He felt very bad about the actions he had already taken. He had no way of knowing about restoration. He promised not to toss anything else, but of course many were already long gone. I was especially disappointed, as many of the images that had suffered the most (and thus been tossed) were those from my childhood. The images from my sisters’ childhoods (15-18 years older than me) had fared better (they were in the same crappy albums, but somehow benefitted from a superior development process).
The negatives were also gone. Scanning images from the negatives would have been perfect, given how compromised the prints had become. But, the negatives never made the move to the continuing care community. I know exactly where they were kept in my parents’ home. The back closet, near the screened-in porch. Upper right corner, on a shelf, same area as the photo albums. My mother always kept the negatives in the development envelopes and just continued to shove them up there when the prints came home. When did the negatives disappear? I don’t know. My mother kept them for years. Did she decide, one day, to toss them? Were they thrown away when a caregiver helped pack that closet prior to their move? I don’t know. I’ll never know.
Some prints from that timeframe do survive, and the others are just gone. There were no duplicates back then. By the 1990s, duplicates of prints were common. But not in the 1970s, at least not for my family. So I will have to learn to treasure the ones I have and to not dwell on the ones that cannot be recovered. I tell myself that the albums belonged to my parents. My father didn’t mean any harm. He thought he was doing us a favor, getting rid of items that, in his opinion, had no value anymore due to their deterioration. It was his right to redo the albums, reorder them, and toss things. It never occurred to him to consult us. What he did made perfect sense to him. As my mother would have said, “It is what it is.”
As I reflect on these lost items, I am also grateful. In the first two instances, individuals really made an effort trying to help me retrieve memorabilia. In the final instance, the harm done was unintentional. In each situation, you proceed with what you do have. Take comfort in knowing that you did your best. Some things are meant to carry forward with us, and others are intended to be lost to time. Treasure what is still with you and let the rest go.
And now for the final question: is anyone out there in need of a functioning 3.5″ floppy disk drive?