Seven adults are seated around a dining room table. A holiday centerpiece appears in the center of the table. They are likely eating dessert, as there are no serving dishes on the table.

Looking Within Photographs

In reviewing 1974 Christmas photographs, I remembered some fun details to include in the Caption field in Lightroom. I also realized that these images preserve my maternal grandfather’s last Christmas.

Fruit for Christmas

At first glance, this image captures my father explaining a new toy train to me. Then, the round red object in my right hand caught my eye. Is it a ball? Next, I noticed a round orange object on the new toy train – an edible orange! The object in my right hand must be an apple.

A father is on the right, pointing to a toy train. On the left, a 4-year-old girl is listening intently to what he is saying about her new toy. The train has an orange on it, and the young girl is holding an apple inner right hand.
I am listening intently about this train hauling fruit.

My parents were children of the Depression. They always received fruit for Christmas when they were young (a real treat in the 1920s and 1930s). Tradition required that me and my sisters would receive several pieces of fruit in the very bottoms of our Christmas stockings. This particular year, my fruit gifts served a dual purpose.

Fortunately, the Caption field in Lightroom has sufficient space for me to document the fruit memories as well as other details about this photograph.

Pictures within pictures

At least half a dozen times so far, I have used pictures displayed on a piece of furniture or hung on a wall to help date the picture in which they appear. In this photo of my grandmother, the bride in the wedding photo on the bottom shelf of the table was the daughter of close family friends.

A grandmother is seated on a living room chair. There are presents on the floor on both sides of her chair. She is wearing a green and white dress and has her legs crossed.
The wedding photo on the bottom shelf offers clues.

The friends’ daughter was married in 1974, so it must be Christmas 1974 or a subsequent Christmas. The back of the above photo indicates it was developed in January 1975, reinforcing that this picture is from Christmas Day 1974.

If you know the date of a picture within a picture, then the image you are attempting to date must have been taken after the known date.

A last Christmas

My paternal grandparents died more than a decade before I was born. I have limited memories of my maternal grandparents. As I come across photos of my mother’s parents, I find myself wondering when the images were taken relative to their deaths. I realized that these Christmas 1974 photos represent my maternal grandfather’s last Christmas.

Compared to photos from just a year or two earlier, my grandfather appears more frail.

Final time with relatives

My sisters and I know that the individuals around this dining table are relatives of my grandfather’s, who is seated with his back to the camera.

Seven adults are seated around a dining room table. A holiday centerpiece appears in the center of the table. They are likely eating dessert, as there are no serving dishes on the table.
A final holiday season.

This picture is also from 1974; from the centerpiece on the table, I know it is still the holiday season. My grandfather’s shirt is not the same one worn on Christmas (photos above), although my grandmother’s dress is the same (she is to his right). It must be a different day in late December. How heartwarming to see that my mother hosted these relatives of her father’s during the busy holiday season. We did not see these relatives often and cannot identify all of them. It seems likely this was the last time they saw my grandfather before his death in the first quarter of 1975.

I find that I have a broader appreciation for images when I consider them relative to other major events.

A father is holding a two-year-old daughter so that she can blow out candles on her birthday cake, which her mother is holding.

Two Candles; It Must Be 1972

Dating photographs and identifying the events in them is a continuous process with my family’s collection of images. Photos have been removed from albums, reorganized into new albums, or left loose. Some pictures have writing on the rear, but many don’t. Most don’t have a development date stamp on the front, either. I find myself assessing images multiple times, learning to observe hairstyles, clothing, and the number of candles on a birthday cake. My powers of observation are growing stronger.

The original assessment

I’ve written previously on the mistakes I’ve found with my mother’s dating of photographs (descriptions and dates on the rear). Such mistakes were made even when the writing of the dates occurred close to the time the pictures were taken. Of course, errors also occurred when we attempted to date pictures decades later.

When I originally reviewed the series of photos in this post with my mother (~30 years ago), she guessed they were from 1973 or 1974. So, that is what I wrote on the rear of each one of them at that time. I have now determined we were off by a year or two.

Reviewing never stops

As I digitize our family photos years later, I am learning to look within each image for clues. I know not to trust the assessments from three decades ago – useful information, but not always accurate. I realized that the key to dating these particular images was the number of candles on the birthday cake in one of the pictures. There are two candles, so it must have been my second birthday. Now I know this group of photos dates to 1972, not 1973 or 1974.

A father is holding a two-year-old daughter so that she can blow out candles on her birthday cake, which her mother is holding.
Mom, Dad, me, and a birthday cake with 2 candles.

Compare photographs

I loved the Peg Set in the lower right of this photo. It had a lot of small pieces, so I expect it wouldn’t be recommended for a two-year-old in today’s world. I remember it wasn’t large – about the dimensions of a legal-size piece of paper. It was colorful, easy to play with, and easy to disassemble. There were boats, vehicles, trees, blocks for buildings, and round pieces that I always thought of as globes for light poles.

A two-year-old girl is on the left, with a box of Finger Paint on her lap. Her mother is on the right. They are seated on a living room floor, and a Peg Set is on the far right of the picture.
Playskool Peg Set in lower right corner.

I reached out to my older sisters to ask them what they remembered about this toy. I wondered if it had belonged to them first, eventually being handed down to me. Perhaps it was something our mother picked up for me at a garage sale. They remembered the toy, but not anything else.

A two-year-old girl is seated on the left, her mother on the right. The girl has a Finger Paint box on her lap. To the mother's left is a toy Landscape Peg Set.
The text message reply from one of two sisters.

A week or so later, while digitizing these birthday pictures, I noticed the Playskool Landscape Peg Set box in these images. The box looked too big for the toy I remembered, but an online search indicated that, sure enough, it was the box for the toy that I recall so fondly. Comparing the series of photos yielded an answer to my question – the Peg Set was a gift for my second birthday.

I wonder who was brave enough to give a two-year-old Play-Doh and Finger Paint (photo on right)?

The big box is a mystery

None of these photos indicate what was in the large box, wrapped in brown paper and decorated by hand with stickers. For now, that remains an unknown.

Comparing photo formats

There are six images from my second birthday (all shown above), three with rounded corners and three with white borders. I deduce that two different cameras were used for the occasion. I can tell it is the same event because of my clothing, and the gifts. My mother’s clothing actually changed at some point during the day (white blouse and black skirt became a green sweater and plaid pants).

We do have three other photos with white borders that are not birthday related. All six of the border photos are unlike any others in our collection, so I think it is safe to assume (for now) that all six are from the same timeframe. Comparing photo formats (or development formats) can help determine (or at least narrow down) what time period photos are from. I feel fairly certain that these three photos are also from late 1972 or early 1973.


As I scan images for my family’s digital collection, I file the prints in a box, loosely organized by decade. I have repeatedly gone to the box when I come across an image that reminds me of something I scanned previously. As you work on digitizing, make it easy to refer back to the original hard copies of what you have already scanned. By comparing images in the ways described above, you can deduce a lot more than would be possible by assessing each image independently. Evaluating groups of images (even if the subject matter is unrelated, the image format may not be) may help you piece together a story. I love the detective work!

A young girl (~ age 3) celebrating her candy on the floor; she has returned from trick-or-treating.

Livingston’s in Youngstown

The questions and stories associated with a photograph may lead you someplace unexpected. A pink and black plastic bag used for trick-or-treating in the early 1970s prompted me and my sisters to reminisce about Livingston’s, a women’s department store in Youngstown, Ohio, in the mid-twentieth century. And that led me to our mother and her hats.

Launch point: 1970s Halloween photos

I went trick-or-treating ca 1973 dressed as a clown. I knew these two photos were from the same Halloween because of the red and white checkered shirt visible in both pictures. I was obviously happy with my candy haul; check out the old Nestle Crunch wrapper near the bottom of the candy photo. I was never a fan of Sugar Daddy’s, but one can’t go wrong with Hershey’s or M&M’s; I think I see Snickers and Milky Way in the mix as well. After assessing the 1970s candy collection, the pink and black bag tossed off to the side caught my attention.

Pink and black mystery bag

My mother always saved paper and plastic bags for re-use. There was a small wooden box at the top of our basement stairs, attached to the wall by my father. That’s where we stored the bags for a future need. I’m not sure why I didn’t carry a plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating, or a pillowcase (which I remember lots of neighborhood kids using). I was young, so maybe this small bag was deemed sufficient for what I expect was my first trick-or-treat outing.

The bag’s colors were soooo 1970s: pink and black. The first letter looked like an “H,” and I remembered hearing about Higbee’s department store. I texted my sisters, 15 and 18 years older, to see what they might recall.

Three sisters exchanging text messages regarding which department store a pink and black plastic bag was from in the 1970s.
I decided to pursue the Livingston’s theory.

Youngstown department stores

Wikipedia was helpful in terms of Higbee’s and Strouss department stores, but not for Livingston’s. I came across articles about a Livingston’s in Illinois, but it wasn’t the same store. Then I came across this Classic Youngstown: Livingston’s Comforter, and that confirmed the logo (not the colors, but pink and black comforters probably wouldn’t sell). There are over 43 products with the Livingston’s logo at Redbubble.

There was also a 1950s picture of Federal Street in Youngstown, mentioning Livingston’s. At some point, Livingston’s moved to the Boardman Plaza; my sister Sue shared this memory of a sophisticated aunt who worked at Livingston’s:


My research also turned up three vintage round hat boxes from Livingston’s. Our mother loved hats, so I have to wonder if she purchased any of hers at Livingston’s over the years. Her daughters and grandchildren were often embarrassed when she wore hats to church, but now the individuality she expressed is a fond memory. It occurs to me that we only have a few pictures of her wearing hats; I wish we had some from the late twentieth century.

My niece remembers that when she and her brother would enter the sanctuary of Boardman United Methodist Church, Aimee would always tell Justin to look for a hat; it was the easiest way to locate Grandma. Our mother always sat in the same pew, but two young grandchildren would not have known that.

Viewing by appointment only

Richard S. Scarsella’s book: Memories and Melancholy: Reflections on the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio, yields the most information I could find about Livingston’s (see the “Affairs of the Heart” chapter):

“Youngstown’s ‘ladies department store’ was named Livingston’s. This New York inspired downtown firm catered to an upscale clientele. Its bridal boutique was unrivaled in the valley. Within it [sic] velvet draped walls one could find exquisite garments tailored from French chiffon, Italian satin, Flemish lace, and Asian rainbow sequins. Fifth Avenue creations by Milady, Bianchi, Dior, Givenchy, and Chanel all were stocked for viewing by appointment only. These exclusive dresses were all featured in national publications and supplies were limited. Until it closed, Livingston’s was considered a trendsetter.”

I gotta say, I had no idea that the Mahoning Valley had ever had a store that stocked anything for “viewing by appointment only” – definitely before my time.

Livingston’s final decades

I came across an April 21, 2020, obituary for George F. Livingston, Jr. It shed a bit more light on the history of Livingston’s in the Mahoning Valley:

“In late spring of 1946, he returned home and attended Washington University in St. Louis where he studied retail management. He then joined the family business at the store in downtown Youngstown. After the store was sold, he owned and operated a children’s store in Warren and Juniorsville in the Boardman Plaza. Later he took back the family name with the opening of Livingston’s in the Eastwood Mall, where he worked for 20 years before retiring.”

A young girl (less than one) in a 1950s-era stroller. She has a cool-weather one-piece suit on with a hood up. Behind her is the handle for the stroller. She is outside with the side of a house in the background.

It’s a Taylor Tot!

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.

A young girl in 1952 or '53, in a walker. She is in front of a bush, wearing a hat and sweater. Her hands are raised and bent 90 degrees at the elbows.
Susan posed for a photo op in her Taylor Tot.

…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.

A young girl (less than one) in a 1950s-era stroller. She has a cool-weather one-piece suit on with a hood up. Behind her is the handle for the stroller. She is outside with the side of a house in the background.
Can you pick the baby up by the handle?

Mystery solved

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.

More about Taylor Tots

A 3.5" gray floppy disc with the label, Grandma. It is on a lime green background.

Letting Go

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.

A 3.5" gray floppy disc with the label, Grandma. It is on a lime green background.
This floppy disk promised a Grandma story but came up short.

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.

A text exchange between two people. An image of a 3.5" floppy disk appears, then the sender asks if the recipient remembers any details about the disk.
The recipient responds that he doesn't remember what the contents are. The sender ultimately informs the recipient that the disk was blank.

 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:

A site for research at Ohio public universities. The screen shot shows a particular project, "Remembering Idora Park: Landscape, Memory, and Discourse in an Urban Amusement Park."

On page 9, the Table of Contents lists three Appendices:

Three appendices to a graduate thesis are listed as A, B, and C. They appear on pages 203, 205, and 207.
A portion of the Table of Contents from Sympson, M. (2016). Remembering Idora Park: Landscape, Memory, and Discourse in an Urban Amusement Park. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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:

Eight lines from Appendix B appear. The columns include Name, Decade Began Visiting Idora Park, Former Employee (or not), and Hometown.
A portion of Appendix B from Sympson, M. (2016). Remembering Idora Park: Landscape, Memory, and Discourse in an Urban Amusement Park. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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.

People on a carousel. Three horses appear in the foreground.
Me on the Idora Park carousel, which now resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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.”

In Summary

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?

A grassy areas with a tree on the side of a campus building; tall buildings in downtown Denver appear in the distance.

Six Feet of Separation

I suspected that the Auraria Campus in Denver would be an easy place to maintain six feet of separation from others, and it was. A Saturday afternoon walk on March 21 was the first time I felt something amiss. There has continued to be a lot of activity outside of my home every day for the past week, so this walk was my first encounter with the emptiness wrought by COVID-19.

A surprise on the way to campus

I walked the Cherry Creek Trail to Speer Boulevard to access the Campus.  Off of Speer, I happened upon a connection to Youngstown, Ohio — my hometown.  Denver’s 14th Street Viaduct was built in 1896 and torn down in 1988.  The Youngstown Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded the contract for the superstructure of the 1,467-long trestle.  The viaduct is long gone, but pieces of it remain.

I had never heard of the Youngstown Bridge Company.  I found a six-minute video with some of the Company’s projects.  

It turns out that the Mill Creek Park Suspension Bridge in Youngstown, Ohio, was built by this company.  I recalled taking this photo of my oldest sister in front of the Suspension Bridge in 2011.

A woman in a yellow top stands to the left of a gray suspension bridge in a metropolitan park in Ohio; it is summer with
My oldest sister stands to the left of the 1895 Suspension Bridge in Mill Creek Park.

This Bridgehunter link shows that most of the Youngstown Bridge Company bridges have been replaced, but some are still open to traffic, including the Suspension Bridge above.

Three water quotes

Once on the Auraria Campus, I came upon three water quotes.  There was no water feature nearby, so I am not sure what inspired these quotes to be placed in a Campus walkway.  Both Cherry Creek and the South Platte River were flowing rapidly this week; I have stopped multiple times just to enjoy the flow of water, so the quotes seemed especially relevant to me.

Ease of maintaining six feet

I had never been on the Campus before, so I am not sure how populated it would normally have been on a Saturday afternoon.  Knowing it is shut down due to COVID-19 made it seem more desolate.

Church structures

There are multiple churches incorporated into the Campus; I saw two of them today. The Emmanuel Gallery began as an Episcopalian Chapel in 1876.  For the first half of the 20th Century, it served as a synagogue.  It is Denver’s oldest standing church structure. St. Cajetan’s Church was built in 1925 and served the area’s Spanish-speaking community until 1973.

Signs of the times

As I began to head back across campus, I was pleased to see spring bulbs in bloom; these crocuses and daffodils are the first I have observed in Denver. I noticed a single disinfectant wipe nestled among the bulbs and realized that the COVID-19 pandemic leaves a mark here too. A little further on, crossing Speer Boulevard, I noticed a pair of blue nitrile gloves.

I selected the Auraria Campus to achieve six feet of separation; my walk exceeded expectations in that regard. I anticipated I would feel safe. Instead, the outing left me feeling disturbed and saddened despite the notes of spring all around. As I finish writing this post, Denver has announced stay-at-home orders that will go into effect on Tuesday, March 24.

A U.S. Army Sergeant with a bag over his left shoulder looks at the camera. Behind him, many other men with bags are visible.

Photos Provide Context for WWII Memorabilia

It’s been almost five months since my father passed away in November 2018.  Much of the paperwork and immediate action items are behind us.  This month, we acknowledged what would have been his 93rd birthday.  Coincidentally, I had recently turned my attention to his World War II memorabilia, which we set aside as we tackled more pressing matters in the months immediately following his death.  There are three daughters, and I volunteered to research what the various badges, ribbons, lapel pins, etc. represented. The day before his birthday, I mailed my findings to my two sisters.

We agreed it would be difficult deciding what to do with these items without actually understanding the significance of each one.  That’s where photographs and a three-page itinerary of his travels in WWII came to our assistance.  When did he earn each of these items?  For what reason?  How were they worn?  Of course, online research was also a big help.  Our father was in the U.S. Army, and I learned about insignia for infantry divisions and regiments, the Third United States Army, overseas service (“Hershey”) bars, Chevrons, and items worn on the home front.

Part of the itinerary of a U.S. Army Private, in World War II. It is four sections, each with 2-13 lines.
A sample of my father’s itinerary, February – April 1945.

As I reviewed our father’s documentation, “My United States Army Career,” I calculated his age when he went through basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, at the end of 1944:  he was 18 1/2.    By the time he was 20 1/2, he was home.  I remember him saying his basic training was accelerated due to the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred as his training was wrapping up.  I know his parents visited him at Fort McClellan (they would have traveled from Ohio), but his itinerary also indicates he was home (due to a delay) for about five days in January 1945, before sailing for Scotland.  I am certain the images below were taken during one of those two timeframes.  From these formal pictures, I know which lapel pins were issued to him before he departed for Europe.  I know that he had already earned the Sharpshooter Qualification Badge on his left breast (the clasps read:  Sharpshooter, Rifle, Carbine).  The shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on his left shoulder (red, yellow, blue) is for the Replacement and School Command.   

Our father was made Private First Class (PFC) in April 1945.  In fall 1945, he was assigned to a Quartermaster truck company in Germany. He made Corporal in January 1946.  I can’t make out his enlisted rank insignia in these photos, but it looks to me like he is still a PFC (a single Chevron on his arm).  He has also acquired some medal ribbons, on his left breast.  Two of his ribbons were the World War II Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal.  Our father’s itinerary noted the end of the war in Germany (May 9) and in the Pacific (September 2); since these photos include the medal ribbons, they were probably taken in the second half of 1945.  

When someone saw the below image of my father, he expected it was a basic training (“boot camp”) photograph.  After conducting my memorabilia research and comparing this image with other Army photos, I now know he was homeward bound.  He is wearing his Combat Infantry Badge on his left breast, which his itinerary states was earned in April 1945.  But, he is also wearing Sergeant insignia on his right shoulder (earned February 1946).  I believe his Ozark insignia (102nd Infantry Division, assigned March 1945) is barely visible on his right shoulder, above the Sergeant Chevrons.

A young Army Sergeant with an Army duffle bag over his left shoulder. Behind him are many other men with similar bags.
The insignia in this photo tell me it is 1946; similar photos indicate he is preparing to depart Germany for the U.S.

The most helpful photo in understanding how memorabilia were worn is this image with three individuals (my father in the center).  My father has the “A” insignia of the Third United States Army on his left shoulder (assigned July 1945), above his Sergeant insignia (three Chevrons).  His left wrist has two overseas (“Hershey”) bars; he ultimately earned three of them.  His lapel pins read “Up Front,” the distinctive unit insignia for the 405th Infantry Regiment to which he was assigned in March 1945.  The medal ribbons are more clear in this image, but without color, it is still hard to determine exactly which ribbons these are (he ultimately earned three).  The gentlemen on his right and left both have 26th Infantry Regiment insignia (“Blue Spaders”) on their caps (my father was transferred to that regiment in May 1946).  His itinerary notes he headed home at the end of June, 1946.  

Three men in the U.S. Army in World War II. All are wearing caps and jackets with various insignia (lapel pins, badges, and shoulder sleeve insignia).
My father, in the center, with others from the 26th Infantry Regiment (note the “Blue Spaders” pins on lapels and caps).

I was also touched by two different kinds of pins, worn on the home front during WWII.  I expect these were worn by his parents.  The one on the left is a Son in Service-Infantry lapel pin; the number of stars indicated how many sons were in service.  My father was an only child.  I remember commenting to my parents, “It must have been difficult for Dad’s parents to see him go off to war.”  They immediately responded, “Everyone was sacrificing, that’s just the way it was.”  Mutual sacrifice was accepted by all and expected by all.  The pin on the right has a single Chevron symbol under USA, so I expect his parents acquired it sometime after he was made Private First Class in April 1945.    

There are still some questions that the photographs and the itinerary don’t answer (left to right, below):  When did he receive his Good Conduct Award?  When did he earn the Marksman Qualification Badge (with five clasps)?  Was he ever affiliated with the 406th Infantry Regiment (he had one of the lapel pins)?  What happened to the SSI for the Replacement and School Command (referenced earlier)?

I am at peace with not knowing the answers to all of these questions.  The documentation he left behind paints a mostly complete picture, so I am content.  I am grateful for this glimpse into his distant past – the young man he was before marriage and fatherhood.  After returning home in 1946, he attended college, where he met our mother (they married in 1949); he always said that the G.I. Bill was critical to his education. He never would have considered college due to the cost; the G.I. Bill made college feasible for him and many others.

A 24-year-old man in a cap and gown for college graduation in 1950. He is standing outside with the side of a house behind him and plants at his feet.
College graduation, 1950, courtesy of the G.I. Bill.

In summary

I have scanned and photographed each of the memorabilia items; the photos from this timeframe are partially digitized. I am envisioning a photo book that pulls together his itinerary, images of the memorabilia, and the photos from that time period. Perhaps the story can finally be recorded, with some degree of completeness, in one location.

If you have a family story with bits and pieces in various locations and formats, pause and consider all of the materials available to you as you work to understand the context of memorabilia and photos – different kinds of items may work together to complete much of the puzzle. 

For our family, the three-page itinerary of his U.S. Army career, typed by our father in the 1940s, was in a three-ring notebook of unrelated material.  It was part of the story, but separate from everything else.  The pictures were in a photo album; unfortunately, they were glued in place, so any helpful information on the back is no longer accessible to us (there are some cryptic notes in the album).  The medals, badges, lapel pins, etc. had been framed years ago in a shadow box but had no identifying information.  Online research was key for these items, as well as photos where he was wearing at least some of them.  If the itinerary told us when an item was earned or when he was reassigned, then we knew that a photo with an associated item must have been taken after the date from the itinerary.  Slowly, a story of two formative years in this young man’s life has emerged.  Yes, there are a few unknowns, but the story is sufficiently complete for my satisfaction.  I’m just going to treasure it.

A club chair with white floral fabric. There is a paper sign on the chair asking that it be saved for the family.

One Chair Through Time

So often, photos tell the stories of people through the decades. Objects have stories too. This chair has seen people come and go, holidays, and pets. Off and on for decades, it was paired with what my mother always called the “drum table.” It has had multiple homes and “worn” four different fabrics. As of December 2017, I became its owner. The chair has been with my family for at least 60 years; this is only part of its story.

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A family seated at a table for a 1969 holiday dinner. Grandparents on left, mother standing at the end of the table, teenage daughters on the right.

The Context of Our Photographs

In June 2017, I heard Enrique Martinez Celaya interviewed by Krista Tippett on On Being; they discussed “The Whisper of the Order of Things.”  He is a painter who trained as a physicist.  The 50-minute interview addressed many topics, but I was most intrigued by his comments on photography.

Krista Tippett asked him about a comment he made previously:  “Photographs whisper that to look at them is to lose or overhear something.”  She then invited him to elaborate on how much more is going on in pictures than what we attribute now. Continue reading