This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Lost and Found

13 July 2012

Radiators and mantlepieces. That's my answer. Whenever you've misplaced a photo, where should you look?   Radiators and mantlepieces. And maybe refrigerators too.  Look above, inside, underneath, and behind. Where the dust mites and spiders hide. That is where lost photos go.

This weekend, the photograph theme for Sepia Saturday is a young girl, no doubt a domestic servant, pushing a baby in a wicker pram along a parkway in Vienna sometime in the pre-WW1 era.  It happens that I have photos that are a perfect fit, but in a departure from my usual topic, these are not musical. 

Instead my theme is photographs lost and found. You see, I live in an antique house. circa 1913-14, that has been the residence of several families over the last 100 years. Its generous size with 4 levels offers many secret places where small things may disappear. When we first moved here, a failure to check all the doors led us  to discover an entire extra bathroom we had never seen before. But any vintage house requires constant maintenance and this one has been a never ending labor to re-finish and restore. At times that effort has made me an archeologist collecting the shards of a ancient people. Who lived here? What did they do? What were they thinking when they did this?

One artifact is  this first photo of two babes in a push carriage. Twins I think, but brothers or sisters I really can't say. They were found behind and underneath a radiator when I refinished an old floor.

The back of the photo shows it is a cut-down postcard, and someone has added a note.

Picture made while your
mother was wheeling you on
Bonnycastle Ave. near
Chichester Ave,
the year you moved
to L - from Lexington.
I think it was in 1912 or 1913.

No names. No other clues.

Nearby in the cobwebs was a marble, a couple of domino pieces, some paper clips, a pen cap, and a second small photo. This one has no note, but I believe is is the same baby carriage with the same twins, only a few months younger, so perhaps 1911. 

They are on a porch, but it is not the porch on my house. In fact the streets named are not in my city.  So where is this  L -  town?

If you use Google maps, there is a fun but useful feature that lets Google make suggestions. When you type in Bonnycastle Ave., Lexington, KY does not come up, but Louisville, Kentucky does. And it also has a Chichester Ave. that intersects Bonnycastle.  So I may not know who these tots are, but I know where they are, and if you'd care to stroll the same streets as these two babes, you can see the Louisville neighborhood here in Google Streetview.

View Larger Map

As any photo sleuth might do, I have cruised these virtual streets looking for matching porch balusters, but alas, could not find any like these. There are similar columns, but of course this second earlier snapshot could be in Lexington instead of Louisville.

In any case, these few clues don't fit with the history of the first family that lived in my house. They came from Germany and their children were born after 1912. Several years ago, when I was remodeling our kitchen, I uncovered a monogrammed silver butter knife that had slipped behind a cabinet. Those engraved initials, and my curiosity, led me to build a genealogy of the house. Using the city library's collection of old city directories and news clippings, I could identify the several families that have lived here, put a name to their children, learn their businesses, determine their school and their religion. That small mark on the door frame of the main entrance to the house? A mezuzah, a prayer token attached to a Jewish home. That scrap piece of old packing crate bearing the stenciled name of a WW2 army officer? A future son-in-law, identified from names in an obituary. When little antiquities like this turn up, I save them, and they get included in the household shrine.

So these two may have come from another later family. A photo album left on the radiator, probably in the winter when the heat would loosen the glue affixing them on the page. Lost and now found.

The basement of my house covers the entire foundation. There are 4 rooms: a generous coal cellar with a small pile of unused coal remaining; a furnace room now running on  gas; a large laundry room with three cast iron sinks, and a small room once used as the lodging for a domestic servant.

The room was very roughly finished, and in the winter took warmth from only the exposed uninsulated radiator piping. But for some reason there was a simple mantlepiece attached to one wall even though there was no fireplace. During my renovation to convert the room into a workshop, I pulled it away from the wall and this small photo fell out from behind.

Who is she? I don't know. She may have been the housekeeper - the maid, or just a friend of someone who once lived in this room. But this is North Carolina, where Southern traditions and culture kept people in separate black and white worlds for many decades. This tiny photo-booth snap is a powerful reminder that there were other stories attached to this house that were not recorded in a city directory. Did she know the twins? Could she have pushed them on a stroll around Bonnycastle and Chichester?

I think the power of historical ephemera like these three photos comes from the frozen moment. What do we see? Stories and documents may describe and connect us in other ways to a history, especially to a specific place like my house, but they are always an interpretation. A photograph can often say so much more in an instant. And with these images, I can take some satisfaction in restoring what was once lost to something now found.

UPDATE:       Thanks to Brett's enthusiasm (see his comments below ˅) I decided to do a hunt from the other side for twins, i.e. rechecking the family names that I know are attached to this house.  Alas, I could not find any connection to Louisville or to Kentucky. Part of the problem is that their birth year of 1911-12 falls just after the 1910 census and by the next one in 1920 the haystack gets even higher for finding needles. 

But I did discover that I had overlooked a line in the 1930 Census and the first family who lived here had not one, but two domestic servants, a man and a woman, both black. Scott Hester and Nora Grayson. Nora was listed in the 1938 Asheville City Directory at this address, along with her husband Theodore Grayson, butler. And then I found both again in the new 1940 census, ages 35 and 31, occupations: cook and houseman.   So I may not have identities for the twins, but I can at last provide real characters for my own edition of Upstairs/Downstairs. The old enameled baking table on which Nora undoubtedly made many biscuits was still in the basement when we moved here. It is now back in daily use as the central countertop to the kitchen that I rebuilt a few years ago. 

And for additional trivia, while examining the draft card registrations and passport applications of the father and son who lived here from 1915 to 1952, I learned that Dad was only 5' 5" but his son was 6' 4½"! (the draft board was very exact)  By strange coincidence that is only ½" taller than my son.

These two fellows could hardly be mistaken for twins, but I feel this recent sepia photo makes a nice coda to my story this weekend. The fuzzy one on the left is myself standing with Alan Burnett, who Sepia Saturday regulars will recognize as our esteemed theme master and a wonderful writer and photographer on his own blog, News From Nowhere . On a trip to Britain last month, my wife and I were able to meet Alan at his home and I can wholeheartedly confirm his notion that friendship between bloggers works even better in the real time and space continuum. It's almost as if we had adjoining desks in the same newsroom or played next to each other in the same band. I look forward to future visits.

Follow the link for more babes on  Sepia Saturday


Wendy said...

Are you sure that's not you and Alan in the carriage? Even though there's no music in this post, you've done what you always do: you don't merely show us what's IN a picture, you show us why we should care. I also think your house shrine is a fine idea.

Karen S. said...

Oh that's a funny comment by Wendy, but maybe it's true! :) You sure look great in the years later! This was really a delightful post! Thanks!

Little Nell said...

If that’s you and Alan in the first (absolutely delightful) photo, why is Alan looking so surprised? Another delightful post Mike,and now I picture you in a house which is more like a mansion! It’s amazing that you have found these remnants from the daily life of previous occupants whilst renovating, and then done the detective work to find out about them.

Brett Payne said...

A bona fide photo sleuth you certainly are, Mike. An intriguing story you've woven from the clues ... and I'm afraid I can't resist. The rest of the Sepia Saturday posts will have to wait - I'm off to do some sleuthing of my own, and see if I can add anything to your discoveries.

Postcardy said...

Great post! You found lots of interesting things and information, but I couldn't help thinking about my postcard of the "a carriage and a pair" when I saw the first photos.

Brett Payne said...

Well, I've spent a while hunting through the streets of District 88, Ward 3, Louisville in the 1920 Census, looking for any twins aged about 8 or 9 years old, to no avail. The closest I got was William C and Lula R, aged 6, living with their parents William R and Ruth Johnston around the corner at 1573 Bardstown Road. There was another set of twins aged 15, but I guessed they were a bit too old.

Queen Bee said...

Every house has a history and I think it's wonderful that you are documenting the "genealogy" of this home. Can't imagine what else you'll find. Maybe there's something left in the attic or stuck in the back of a closet... Your post reminds me of an old HGTV show entitled "If Walls Could Talk."

Kristin said...

More twins!

About that secret bathroom you discovered, I have dreams about houses we used to live in where there are additional, formerly hidden rooms. Sometimes there are whole formerly hidden wings that appear.

The house we live in now was built in 1979 and the woman who built it was in her 70s and lived here until her death. We bought it several months later and haven't found any interesting photographs. She does still get mail here even though she would be 107 if she had lived so long.

Sharon said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I read it word for word twice. Your house sounds wonderful and intriguing. I also think it is terrific that you have saved the keepsakes. In a recent edition of "The Block", the renovators found hidden old letters and photos. They put some into frames on the wall of the house and helped to track descendants. I love stories like this.
I hope that you can find the twins families.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post, Mike. I love the idea of finding your various treasures and researching the families who lived in your house. I hope there are some more treasures waiting to be found :-) Jo

Bob Scotney said...

I go to a weekly session at the local library called Books and Banter. We have had several talks by a man who bought an old house and found a treasure trove of old photos in the attic. His detective work has taken him from England to South Africa and the USA tracing the story of one woman. He will publish a book soon called "Secrets in the Attic."
It strikes me, Mike that you may have the basis for an article on your finds if not a book. A very interesting post.
Should we all set out to lose some photographs behind the radiators or in the attic for others to find?

Kathy said...

I've always romanticized about living in an old house with hidden rooms, attics, and treasures to discover. It was fun reading about yours!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Mike, this is a fantastic post and I enjoyed it very, very much. Fun to see you and Alan together, but I would love to see pictures of your house that you have worked so hard on too.

Kathy M.

Christine H. said...

Those twins are surely hiding a harmonica or small trumpet under the blanket. We just can't see it. In any case, I have not found anything as wonderful in my house, just the remains of the wine-making operation from the days of Prohibition.
Delightful and fascinating post, as always.

Alan Burnett said...

"It's almost as if we had adjoining desks in the same newsroom or played next to each other in the same band".
Perfectly put, Mike my friend.

anyjazz said...

A fine post. It certainly is inspiring when a few clues in a photograph lead to stories and a family tree. I know the feeling. Good post.


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