Monday, May 15, 2006

LaPorte, Indiana

My mother, who was the unofficial keeper of all family mementos, spent a couple of years sorting the vast amount of photos, letters, pieces of crystal, linens and knick-knacks after we convinced her to sell her house. My sister and I did what we could do to help her, by locating distant relatives and mailing things to them, hoping they would appreciate the gesture.

After we had exhausted all of our resources, there were still hundreds of photographs of my family. I happily took them, with grand plans to put them into some sort of order and perhaps self-publish a book for our family. I managed to frame a few, but reality quickly set in what with the birth of my second daughter and our knack of moving every damn year. The countless photos I have are boxed and in the basement, waiting for me to look at them. One picture is a HUGE framed portrait of my great-busia on her wedding day. I have never seen a woman look so pissed off on her wedding day. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that it was found about 65 years later in the attic of her house wedged in the eaves. Apparently she stuck it there after he left her. The intricately carved wood frame is disinegrating and I fear the photo has adhered to the glass. I think I will have to call the professionals in for that one. Another day, another project I have yet to start.

Herr showed me a review of the book, LaPorte, Indiana in the Wall Street Journal last week.
Jason Bitner, one of the co-founders of one of my favorite websites and magazines, Found stopped by a diner in LaPorte, Indiana a couple of years ago. He became interested in some old photographs that were in the back of the diner for sale. He found out that it had once been a photography studio and there were thousands of photos in the back. Apparently, Frank Pease, the photographer, couldn't bear to get rid of the photos. After Frank died, the photos were forgotten, the building sold. Several years ago, the photos were found in the building. The back of the diner now has a room where the photos can be looked through and purchased. Jason spent several days looking through the 18,000 photographs and chose the ones he wanted for this book.

I have not been able to stop looking at these photos since I got my copy of the book. The black and white photos are of babies, older children, high school seniors and couples. There's a nurse in a very stately uniform. There are side by side photos of a little girl and an elderly woman who are both wearing the same horn-rimmed glasses. There are soldiers and a baton twirler. Some of the photos are silly. Some are sad. It is apparent that many of these people were clearly uncomfortable having their pictures taken. Some were naturals. One thing all of the photographs possess is sincerity.

My primary interest in buying this book is that LaPorte is my hometown. No one has ever heard of LaPorte. Not too many people go there unless they are passing through to go to Chicago, South Bend or Lake Michigan. It is a town that went from being a very prosperous place when I was a child, to a town that is struggling and dying in a lot of ways now. While I would never besmirch my hometown, I am always sad when I drive around and see how it has changed. When I look at the people in this book, I see people who were part of what is good about my hometown.

I keep looking at the photos and thinking that I recognize some of the people. One picture startled Herr and I because it looked exactly like my Uncle Linko. Maybe it is. Part of the allure of this book is that there are no names attached to the photos. So someone from anywhere else could look through this book and think they recognize a person in a photograph. I was most struck by the next to the last photo in the book. It is of two elderly men. One man is fixing the other man's tie. He is concentrating deeply, brow furrowed. The other man is gaze upward with an unreadable expression. If you look closer, one of the men is wearing a plaid blazer with a flannel work shirt and a black bow-tie. He also appears to have a really bad toupe. But all the fashion faux pas aside, he looks so dignified.

After getting this book, I am now feeling motivated to do something with all of the photos in the basement. My family has such an incredible history. Too bad we just put the house up for sale on Saturday. I guess I will wait until after the move back to the East Coast. Another day, another project.


The June Cleaver Diaries said...

I can't believe this book exists! How cool is that?!?!?

wordgirl said...

Uncle Linko? That's a name that evokes quite a bit from my imagination. I love the "Found" books and I have one. It's a great concept and I wish I'd thought of it.

Candace said...

I've heard of LaPorte!! Of course, I grew up in Noblesville, so maybe I'm cheating a little bit.

MetroDad said...

That is so freaking cool, Misfit. Even with no connection to LaPorte, I thought this was a great story and am considering getting the book. I just recently discovered "Found" mag and I'm hooked. Definitely should give you some inspiration to do something with all those photos. Maybe you can scan them into iphoto and have Apple do a photobook.

OTRgirl said...

I hear you on the 'another day, another project theme', especially with a move looming in your near future!

What a wonderful project you have ahead of you though...

L. said...

I`m guessing that your family photos also include a few "coffinside" gems?

These used to creep me out more than any others. At funerals, the family would pose with the deceased.

Sometimes, the only photos that existed of people were their death shots.

Misfit Hausfrau said...

There was only one "coffin" photo, and it was of my Uncle Kye. Fortunately, no one posed with him. I was completely caught off guard to see it as coffinside photos are not something our family has traditionally done. I think someone took the photo to just make sure he was dead.

Anonymous said...

OK I thought that my family were the only FREAKS to do this. Yes we have the whole "COFFIN" photo collection and maybe a video or two. Yes, some were taken I believe so that we had proof that the person was EXPIRED, but the sad day of my brothers funeral, I remember my father (Big Daddy) asking if I wanted one last picture with my brother Mike...NO!
I was not yet married to Jeff and was pretty sure this question sealed my fate as a spinster FOREVER. I knew for a fact this was not a tradition in his family and would never be. I remember My not yet father inlaw asking if he had gone crazy. But as Misfit knows, with all his faults Big Daddy is the best.
My sister and at times bring this up and laugh our asses off, because of the look I had on my face when front of Jeff.