Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Saved from the Flames


(Our contribution to Sepia Saturday #13. Check out the other entries. Above is our subject unenhanced and below with a bit of tinkering.)

"I hope you're not planning to pull those out of there."

"I certainly hope you weren't planning to throw them into the dumpster."

"Why not. We don't even know who they are."

That was the dialogue between my aunt and me some 35 years ago as she was sorting through boxes in my grandmother's house shortly after she died. It doesn't take much guess work as to who spoke which line.
Well, I still don't know who these are but have some hunches. We have a photo in a similar frame of my Great-Great-Uncle Will who fought in the war with a Union regiment from New Jersey. He died around 1914, and his wife, Carrie was sort of a family legend whose story was often shared at family reunions. She was often called a "Civil War widow" even though she was only four when the war ended. However, when she was 14 and Will was about 35, they married. It was a second marriage for him since his first wife and their baby died during the birth.

My mother had tales of Carrie coming to live in her household in the mid-1930s when she was likely in her late 60s -- considered incredibly ancient back then but about the same age as Barbara Streisand today. Carrie was described with the catchall phrase of the era of being "senile" or "eccentric". But in an era where Social Security was just a germ of an idea, it was not unusual for the "senile widow" to go live with extended family. Carrie had been widowed for at least 20 years by then, and she lost her only child 35 years before that. Who knows if these events led to her declining mental capacity, but I remember my mother telling stories of how she and her friends made the best of the elderly woman who came to share their household.

"I know it sounds horrible, but my friends and I would play dress up and then go ring the doorbell and tell Carrie that we were some of her old school mates," my mother said. "She would be so excited and would prepare tea and pull out the most fancy cookies that our mother wouldn't let us eat. Then when our mother came home, Carrie would tell her about the wonderful visit she had from her old chums. Mother would look at us as if she knew the real story but never took us to task."

There were also stories of Carrie clutching the drapes and wailing during the fireworks on the Fourth of July crying, "The Confederates are crossing the Potomac! They're going to take Washington!"

She was also a night wanderer, and in that day of no one locking their doors, it was not unusual for the neighbors to be startled in the middle of the night as they saw Carrie at the foot of their bed. They would put on their bathrobes and politely escort her back home.

Could that be Carrie and one of her sisters in the photo? Since it was in the same box as Will's photo, I want to believe it is, making it likely from the late 1860s of early 1870s. I'll probably never know, but even if it's a mysterious stranger with no link to our bloodline I am still glad I saved it from the flames.

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16 Comments:

At 2:42 AM, Blogger Martin H. said...

A great tale of rescue. Thank heavens you saved these photographs.

How sad that Carrie suffered such a mental decline.

I do hope it's her in the picture

 
At 4:59 AM, Blogger Vicki Lane said...

So glad to think of Carrie as a girl! Good job, saving those pictures!

 
At 7:23 AM, Blogger Rhonda in OK said...

nice story - glad you saved the photos.

 
At 8:06 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Martin - Back in those days mental illness and the elderly were dealt with very differently, but families were also more inclined to take an ailing elder into their home.

Vicki - I should take this and pictures of her as an adult to one of those face recognition places and see if they can confirm if it's her.

Rhonda - Thanks.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Pat transplanted to MN said...

Fascinating tale and photos; now Carrie can wander around cyberspace! Good combo of history with the photos....

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Pat - Let's hope we don't find her staring at the foot of people's bed in the middle of night through cyberspace.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger L. D. Burgus said...

What a great story!!!! I have two albums of people that I don't know. My dad had bought the house, I had been in the house before it was torn down, and then my dad tore the poor thing down. I have a bad picture of the old house, but I have photos of the ones who lived there. I also have a diary of one of the woman who lived there. You've given me an idea for a new blog, if there were time. I bet the photos are hers.

 
At 1:22 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

L.D. - I'll be following that blog if you start it. Even if the photo is of some stranger, I am glad it has a loving home and did not end up on the ash heap.

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

I'm sure it's Carrie. And she's so glad you saved the photo.

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger tony said...

It Speaks Well Of A Community That Would Keep Carrie Intergrated Within It.Saying That.....I will keep One Eye Open Tonight & Focussed On The Foot Of My Bed!
A Good Bit Of Salvage-Work.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Barbara - Carrie must have visited your house last night to let you know.

Tony - She is a gentle spirit, just a bit eccentric. No need to worry.

 
At 3:27 PM, Blogger Meri said...

What great stories about Carrie -- I wonder if she knew she was losing her memory and reason. And how frightening for the neighbors to waken with an intruder in their room, however harmless.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Meri - I remember my mother said that from the time Carrie lost her husband until she came to live with them, she lived as a recluse as her house became increasingly derelict. She never went out or saw anyone. She must have had some comfort having loving family around her in her final years. I know it was a huge burden on my grandparents but something they did without ever thinking of institutionalizing her.

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger Christine H. said...

Oh, what wonderful possibilities! I'm so glad you saved those.

 
At 5:00 AM, Blogger Alan Burnett said...

I love the photos which find their way into family collections where you don't know who they are. They give rise to so many flights of imagination. Your post is - as always - quite fascinating.

 
At 8:06 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Alan - I think any photo that old does require a certain flight of the imagination.

 

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