Monday, July 03, 2017

Pictures of the past

I have thousands of pictures I’ve taken through the years. I also have old photographs scanned from family photo albums and other sources. I’m a fanatic about protecting these pictures. I’d heard horror stories about people who lost all their possessions in a fire or tornado. When cloud storage technology improved, I started storing copies of my precious pictures electronically. Sometimes I scan through my online picture albums for inspiration. Old photographs are like time machines.
Several years ago, I discovered a cache of images of Old Dora in the city’s archives. George Sides Sr., who was the mayor at that time, gave me permission to make electronic copies. I’d been researching the old library. At one time, it stood on a hill overlooking the railroad. It was a stone structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps before World War II. I discovered that the shell was still standing. It was one of those Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal projects that helped feed America during the Great Depression.
What I found in the city’s archives was a rich collection of black-and-white photographs. These images were of the town and its people just after the turn of the last century. There were pictures of baseball teams, social events, coal miners, and the stores lined up along the main street.
Many of the pictures had handwritten notes along the bottom edges describing the objects in the image and the names of the people. Some of the names I recognized were of people I’d met years ago. Others were names I saw on tombstones at Davis Cemetery.
Every year or so, when I’m not wearing a watch, I’ll take a side trip down through Old Dora. The concrete road has buckled and bowed in places. Any speed over 5 miles an hour is begging for a busted shock absorber on your vehicle. It’s best to have the windows rolled down. The road was a little rougher than the last time. I would not have thought that possible. Weeds, vines, and privets as thick as a broom obscured much of the east side of the street.
The roofs have collapsed on most of the structures. When passing the old Masonic Lodge, I noticed through the entryway that the afternoon light was shining on vegetation growing inside the shell of the old building. The scene inside was how I imagined the secret garden looked in author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic book by that title. Stepping out of the truck, I pulled the phone from my pocket and snapped a few pictures for my Instagram page.
The day was warm, and I leaned against the ticking hood of my truck sipping bottled water as I took it all in. The smell of creosote from the railroad crossties hung in the air. I closed my eyes remembering that smell from when I was a kid. It was a scent I’d smelled a thousand times. Back then, the wall on the west side of the main street was as gray as a tombstone. The wall was the only thing between main street and the trains that rumbled through the old town like clockwork, as the old saying goes.
The only paint on that wall these days was sprayed on by teenage lovers and seniors from the high school a few miles away. WE ARE AWESOME, WE ARE GREAT, WE ARE SENIORS 98. And so on. I snapped a few more pictures before getting in my truck and snailing (is that a word?) on through the street toward the highway.
I thought as I left town that the pictures I’m taking these days might one day end up in someone’s archives. I hope they give someone as much joy and sadness as the ones I rediscovered this past week gave me.


  1. Wow, what a trip down memory lane. We, too, love our old pictures and the pictures that my father (1904-1998) took. His Dad owned a newspaper and print shop in Hallstead, PA, so he and my Dad were on the front edge of modern photography. It's amazing what my Dad witnessed in his lifetime and we are fortunate that he photographed so much of it.

  2. My family didn't keep photos. And now, as part of the oldest generation still living, I mourn their absence.

  3. funny isn't it? even pictures of folks you did not know, if they are from 'YOUR ERA' captivate you. Love this entry my friend. as my grand son would say, SWEET!

  4. I just read your last book again. I first told my wife that was you and Jilda at different years of your lives. She said NO! that is his and Jilda's parents. I did agree with her but to make it official I was wrong. dial BR 549. or LOL She is always Right!

    1. Yep. The little lady is right. Jilda and me on the bottom in 1980. Upper left was Jilda's mom and dad during the war and my mom and dad on their wedding day in the late 30s
      Sorry Jack, but you should know by now you won't win many disagregents with the women :)

  5. Old photos are wonderful. I have a lot that I need to something with. The town I was born and raised in and still living in isn't what it used to be but still here.

  6. I always enjoy looking at vintage photographs and wondering about the people depicted, the lives they led.

  7. Anonymous11:28 AM

    I love vintage photos!!

  8. I'm touched that you've the desire to be the Caretaker for those who've gone before ... so many nameless faces. (Lump-in-throat material.)

  9. I have also scanned every photo I can get my hands on. The real thing tends to fade a bit. With cell phones doing a lot of the picture taking today they may be lost when new pictures are taken. Each one is valuable. I liked your closed eyes memories. They are much the same as many people of our generation. I felt nostalgic.

  10. I love looking at old photos like that, a lot of history and memories are stored in vintage photography.

  11. We have lots of old photos. I have them stored in a vintage suitcase. Sometimes we will look throught them and laugh. Something kids now days will not have to share with thair grands and so. All photos now are taken from a phone and rarely not edited.

  12. I've collected stereoviews and old photos for many years, keep them in steel boxes but I know that's not enough. 30 years ago, I loaned parts of my archive to the Sacramento History Center and the Portuguese Historical Cultural Society (pronounced "phcs") for duplication, publication and broadcast. Sure glad I did, because it took photos that were preserved over several generations and removed them to general access. All photos were returned to me and I've considered putting them on line but still haven't decided whether my great-grandparents would approve. Until then, I recommend a book by Lionel Holmes and Joe D'Alessandro, "Portuguese Pioneers of the Sacramento Area".


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