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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated two days after trip to Coblenz.

20 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Burg Eltz located between Koblenz and Trier

Front: Burg Eltz located between Koblenz and Trier

Back: Ferdinand has a lot to say, but unfortunately nothing about his visit to the castle!

Back: Ferdinand has a lot to say, but unfortunately nothing about his visit to the castle!

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m Sept. 20.12.  Freund Max und Lary ich habe mein Ticket für retur zu Fahren schon gelöst fahre am 26. Oktober mit Graf Walder See von Hamburg ab Franz Hahlm auch denke wir kommen in eine Cabine das Wetter ist jetzt besser wir hatten bevor immer Kalt und Regen fahre nächsten Sontag nach Baiern mit dem Auto Es grüßt, Ferdinand.  schicke ein Bundel Zeitungen Englisch ver………   Lass bald was hören von dir

Translation:

Offenbach a/m. September 20.12.  Friend Max and Lary. I already purchased my return ticket and will go on October 26 on the Graf Waldersee from Hamburg with Franz Hahlm also. I think we will take a cabin. The weather is better now, previously it was always cold and rainy. I will go next Sunday to Bavaria by car. Greetings, Ferdinand.  Sending a bundle of newspapers English (cut off, not legible). Respond soon.

Ferdinand has already set his return date – five weeks away on October 26 he will board the steamship Graf Waldersee in Hamburg with his friend Franz. In the meantime, weather has improved and he’s going to Bavaria soon. But Ferdinand fails to mention anything about view on the front of the card, the beautiful Burg Eltz. He must have visited the site on his way back from Coblenz, the last card he sent.

It’s too bad we don’t get his impressions of it. Unlike some of the other places he’s been so far, this one was unharmed by the Second World War and looks much the same as it does on this card…which is much the same as it’s looked for centuries! Burg Eltz has been owned by the same family for 850 years – that’s 33 generations. It is one of three castles on the left bank of the Rhine that were never destroyed over the centuries. The castle (or parts of it) is open to the public for tours and, luckily for anyone that is in Germany or will be soon, it just re-opened for the season two days ago.

Part 11 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his car trip to Burg Rheinstein as he drives back along the left side of the Rhine.

18 September 1912 ~ Coblenz, Germany

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Back: No time to write!

Back: No time to write!

The postcard reads:

Habe diese Karte auf dem Denkmal gekauft Hatte keine Zeit zu schreiben schr…. (or) Schwörie (?) in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand

Translation:

Bought this card at the memorial. Had no time to write. Schwörie in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand

There is slight confusion over Ferdinand’s handwriting on this card. My cousin was not sure about the word after schreiben (write) but I think it may be the elusive friend referred to as Schwörie. This would make sense if the message is he had no time to write at the memorial where he bought the card and he’s telling his friends that he is now in Bad Ems, quite close to Coblenz, with Schwörie?

If you’ve never heard of the town of Coblenz, that’s because the spelling was changed in 1926 to Koblenz. Situated where the rivers Rhine and Mosel meet is the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, who, as we’ve learned from several of the monuments visited by Ferdinand thus far, was celebrated for the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was built in 1897. The equestrian statue of Wilhelm was designed by a sculptor named Emil Hundreiser who was a student of Rudolf Siemering whose work we’ve met earlier in Ferdinand’s trip.

The quote on the monument read:”Nimmer wird das Reich zerstöret, wenn ihr einig seid und treu” (Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal). In 1945, an American artillery shell hit the monument and its remains were removed shortly thereafter. However, in 1993 – nearly one hundred years after the initial statue – a replica was inaugurated. It still represented German unity – only this time as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of East and West Germany.

Part 10 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the same day of his trip to Niederwald, but he has a lot more to say…

16 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Back: Ferdinand is "cruising" the Rhine by car

Back: Ferdinand is “cruising” the Rhine by car

The postcard reads:

Liebe Freunde bin gestern mit dem Auto von Offenbach den Rhein runter nach Rüdesheim u. Fahre Morgen nach Koblenz an dem linken Rhein Ufer da ist sehr vieles zu Sehen werde Euch eine Karte schicken Schwörie last fragen wan ich zurück fahre bin noch nicht gewiß wach denke Oktober 26 Graf WalderSee habe noch nicht fest gemacht. Euch Alle zu denken. Grüße Ferdinand. Grüße an Julius und Herman

Translation:

Dear friends, Yesterday I took the car from Offenbach along the Rhine to Rüdesheim. Tomorrow, I’ll drive to Koblenz alongside the left bank of the Rhine. There is a lot to see. I will send you a card. Schwörie asks when I will drive back. I am not sure yet but think October 26. Have not fully planned. Count Waldersee. Thinking of you all, Ferdinand. Best wishes to Julius & Herman

Ferdinand sends a much longer message than his last postcard, but given that it’s the same exact day he can be forgiven for his brevity last time!  He is once again taking a car for day trips from Offenbach, which is located just outside of Frankfurt. In 1912, I doubt that cars were common. How refreshing a car trip along the Rhine would be without hundreds of other cars doing the same!

He writes again of “Schwörie” who is apparently a mutual friend. He mentions possibly returning home on the Graf Waldersee on October 26.  Will he? Stay tuned… Also, in this postcard he sends his greetings to Laura’s (half)brothers, Julius and Herman Goetz, so he likely knew them as well. No mention of her brother who is my great-grandfather though!

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Today’s trip takes Ferdinand to one of the marvelous castles along the Rhine, Burg Rheinstein. Amazingly, the castle was constructed in the early 1300’s. However, after the Nine Years’ War in the late 1600’s, the castle was left in ruins. It was rebuilt from 1825-1844 thanks to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Although it is privately owned, it is open to the public for tours. It is rather impressive even if it’s not the original (then again, would I really want to walk around in a 700-year-old-castle that’s perched on the side of a cliff?)  I hope to visit it on my next trip to the Rhineland.

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated a whole week after his trip to Frankfurt. It’s also his shortest message to date…

16 September 1912 ~ Niederwald, Germany

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

The postcard reads:

Herzliche Grüße von Eurem Freund Ferdinand

Translation:

Warmest greetings from your friend Ferdinand

We’ve all done it…sent a perfunctory postcard with only the words “thinking of you” or “wish you were here” or even “warmest greetings from your friend.” But it’s definitely the thought that counts, and given that Ferdinand has written to his friends every step of the way so far, he can be forgiven for the rather brief message on the card that’s featured this week.

This postcard features the Nationaldenkmal in Niederwald which commemorates the foundation of the German Empire and the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was sculpted from 1877 to 1883 and reads (in German, of course): “In memory of the unanimous victorious uprising of the German People and of the reinstitution of the German Empire 1870-1871.”

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his road trip to Loreleifelsen. He continues to make day trips from Offenbach – this time he’s off to Frankfurt to see a monument similar to one back in Philly…

9 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Back: The bad weather continues...

Back: The bad weather continues…

The postcard reads:

Offenbach Sep.9.12 Freund Max und Lary, den mir sehr werthen Brief von 28. Aug habe ich erhalten und freude mich sehr, und sehe darauß daß es Euch Gut geth. mir geht es auch ganz Gut nur haben wir so schlechtes Wetter immer Regen wir hatten so weit kaum 6 Tage SonnenSchein mein Kopfweh ist auch besser. Schwörie hatte mir von Konstanz geschrieben, Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach Sep.9.12  Friend Max and Lary, I have received the precious letter from August 28 with much joy and see that you are doing well. I am also well but we only have bad weather, always rain. So far, we have barely had six days of sunshine. My headache is also better. Schwörie wrote to me from Konstanz. My best wishes to you all, Ferdinand

A few comments on the message before discussing the monument on the postcard. First, this is the first time we hear that the communication is two-way – he’s receiving letters from his friends! Second, the weather sounds a lot like my last trip to Germany…I think it’s a universal trait of human nature to whine about unpleasant weather while on vacation. Only six days of sunshine? Poor Ferdinand, he’s been there for a month! Finally, Schwörie must be a nickname or name of a friend…the name comes up in a few of Ferdinand’s postcards and must be part of their group of friends.

My research on the image on the card has given me a lot of information though! The card features a photo of the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt, a massive monument built in honor of Otto von Bismarck. The monument was created by German sculptor Rudolf Siemering who made quite a few monuments throughout Germany. It appears that this particular one, however, no longer exists – it was melted down during World War 2. But at the time of Ferdinand’s visit, it was relatively new. Wikipedia claims it was erected in 1908; however, Siemering died in 1905 so I’m not sure if that is correct or if it didn’t get put in place until years after he created it.

Public domain image of Siemering's Washington Monument in Philadelphia

Public domain image of Siemering’s Washington Monument in Philadelphia

In reading about Rudolf Siemering’s life, I found a very interesting parallel. Ferdinand didn’t have to travel back to Germany to view one of his monuments to a great man – because there was one in his new home in Philadelphia. In 1879-1880, an international competition was held for a Philadelphia monument to George Washington. Siemering submitted the winning design, and he completed it in 1897. President William McKinley presided at the dedication ceremony. The original location of the monument, which is where it stood at the time of Ferdinand’s arrival in Philadelphia as well as his trip back home, was in Fairmount Park. But it was moved in 1928 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and it still sits there today. Last summer I actually used it as a “meet me” point for some friends, and as I waited I admired the sculpture without knowing any of its history. I’d love to know how it was moved in 1928 – it is massive. At the top is the statue of Washington on his horse. The pedestal shows an allegorical America and two German-Americans from history, Peter Muhlenberg and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The bottom area has figures of native Americans, large animals native to America, and four famous American rivers – the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac, and Mississippi.

Was Ferdinand familiar with the Washington monument in Philadelphia? And did he know that the sculptor was the same as the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt? Both equestrian monuments are dedicated to great leaders. Bismarck unified Germany into one nation in 1871 from thirty different kingdoms, city-states, and principalities and during his 19-year reign as chancellor he kept Germany out of military conflict. Washington unified the thirteen colonies against Great Britain and became the father of America (and also kept America out of the conflict between France and Britain). Both leaders are so respected in their own countries that there are monuments dedicated to these two men all over their home countries. Oddly enough, I found statues of them in other countries as well, but I couldn’t find a Washington monument in Germany or a Bismarck monument in the United States.

Part 7 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). On last week’s card, dated 28 August 1912, Ferdinand was on his way to Munich. But the next card in the collection is over a week later! Either Ferdinand was too busy to send a postcard (highly unlikely!) or perhaps Laura gave the card to her brother who had lived in Munich for a while. Or it was simply lost over time. Unfortunately we don’t have details about Ferdinand’s time in between, but now it’s September and he’s been back in Germany for almost a month!

8 September 1912 ~ St. Goar, Germany

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river - in a car! Who got to ride "shotgun"?

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river – in a car! Who got to ride “shotgun”?

The postcard reads:

 Liebe Freunde haben heute eine Auto Tur gemacht nach hier von Offenbach. sehr schön. mit Bruder Karl und Frau wir fahren jeden Tag wo anders hin. Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand

Translation:

Dear friends, Today I did a car trip to here from Offenbach. Very beautiful. With brother Karl and wife we drive somewhere else nearly every day. With best wishes, Ferdinand

Ferdinand is cruising along the Rhine this week, only in a car, not a boat. The last card I posted had a car shown on the front which led me to research car makes and models in existence in 1912. I wasn’t able to identify it, but now Ferdinand remarks that he’s off on a car trip with his brother, Karl Müller, and Karl’s wife. I wonder what kind of car they had and how common that was (or wasn’t) at the time. I would assume that a car-owner at the time would be on the wealthier edge of society.

The road trip he shares with his friends back home is to Loreleifelsen. The Lorelei (or Loreley) is a large rock on the bank of the Rhine River near St. Goarshausen. Maybe “large” is an understatement – it soars about 400 feet above the river along what’s known as the Rhine Gorge that runs between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The name come from a word in the Rhine dialect that means “murmuring” and a Celtic word for “rock” – the Lorelei is the murmuring rock with the strange sound coming from the currents, a small waterfall, and an echo effect off of the rock!

Of course, given the nature of the rather unusual natural phenomenon, many myths attempt to tell the true story. One story attributes the murmuring sound to dwarves living in caves nearby. An 1801 poem speaks of a woman named Lore Lay who is sentenced to a nunnery for an act of betrayal. On the way to her punishment, she asked to stop at the rock for one last view of the Rhine. But from the top she leapt to her death…and the rock has echoed her name ever since.

In 1824 poet Heinrich Heine built upon that theme with a beautiful female atop the rock bewitching sailors with her singing and causing them to crash. Whether or not a siren-like female was to blame, this part of the gorge is quite dangerous and ships have crashed in the area – most recently a big tanker full of sulphuric acid in 2011.

It may be just a big rock along the river, but it sure is beautiful. And one thing’s for sure – it’s as big a tourist attraction today as it was in 1912 for Ferdinand and his family.

Part 6 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Today he’s off to Nürnberg, about 135 miles away so he’s likely stopping there on his way to Munich.

28 August 1912 ~ Nürnberg, Germany

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

The postcard reads:

 Nürnberg 28.8.12  Es Grüßt Euch Herzlich aus Nürnberg, Euer Freund Ferdinand. morgen den 29ten Reise ich nach München Es war bis jetzt nichts als Regen und Kalt Näheres Mündlich nochmals die beste Gesundheit zu Allen

Translation:

Nürnberg 28.8.12  Sending you greetings from Nuremburg, your friend Ferdinand. Tomorrow, the 29th I travel to Munich. Until now it was only rainy and cold. More orally. Again, best wishes to all.

Ferdinand once again mentions traveling to Munich and he’s more than halfway there from his original location of Offenbach. But the weather! Some things never change – when you’re on vacation and it’s rainy and cold, you just have to complain about the weather. In fact, this is reminiscent of one of my own trips to Germany in 2006 where I had a string of cold and rainy days in late March.

So what’s a traveler to do when it’s cold and rainy? Whether it’s 1912 or 2006, the answer is the same – you find someplace warm inside and have something to eat!  And when one is in Nürnberg, there is only one meal to have – bratwurst! You can find all kinds of wurst all over Germany, but the first documented evidence of the sausage comes from the city of Nürnberg – all the way back to the year 1313! Six hundred years later, the weary traveler Ferdinand stops by the city to enjoy the same treat.

The bratwurst that’s particular to Nürnberg is a small sausage more akin to what Americans would consider to be breakfast sausage. It’s a pork sausage seasoned with marjoram that gives it a distinct taste and is usually accompanied with sauerkraut or potatoes.

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

The particular restaurant that Ferdinand stopped in – assuming the postcard photo represents the actual place he went – is called the Bratwurstglöcklein. It was attached to the Moritz chapel (note the stained glass window to the right in the postcard) and was renowned for its freshly made sausages. In 1944, the chapel and restaurant were destroyed in air raids, but there is a restaurant on the spot today bearing the name (not so for the chapel).

I tried my best to identify the automobile in the lower right of the postcard, but I didn’t have any luck. I did not think there were quite so many car manufacturers in the 1911-12 time period! After going through images of various German, French, Italian, and British possibilities, I decided to let someone who is much more informed about antique cars find the image here and leave a comment identifying it.

Sources:

Part 5 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Last week’s postcard was dated 21 August 1912, and he said he would “go to Munich next week”…but for now he’s off to Aschaffenburg, which is about 20 miles southeast of Offenbach.

27 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Lieber Max und Lary, Wir waren am letzten Sonntag in Aschaffenburg und haben sehr gutes Bier getrunken und habe zwei Liter mehr getrunken auf Euer wohl eine kleine Brauerei. Historisches Gebäude vom 16. Jahrhundert war auf den Bildern. Es Grüßt Euch alle. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Dear Max and Lary, We were in Aschaffenburg last Sunday and drank very good beer. Drank two liters more to you (translator note: literally “to your health”). A small brewery, historical building from the 16th century was on the picture. Greetings to you all, Ferdinand

There is some confusion as to the postcard’s date. It looks like Ferdinand wrote 2-8.27 and the stamp is removed that would have revealed the postmark date. However, based on the dates and locations on other cards, it would appear that this is the 27th of August during his 1912 trip. He writes of the visit to Aschaffenburg “last Sunday” – in 1912, August 27 was a Tuesday, so the date of his visit to Aschaffenburg was August 25.

The address on the back of the postcard reads: “Steigerwald’sche Brauerei von Wilhelm Singer, sum Schlappeseppel. Schlossgasse 28, Telefon 525. Spezialität ff. Lagerbiere.”

schlappeseppelWhen on a trip to Germany, who among us does not stop in a historic brewery? I’m amused that Ferdinand drinks two liters extra as a special toast to his friends…was this the 1912 version of a drunk dial/text/email? Because after a few liters who wouldn’t brag about enjoying their vacation? “Hey, guys, guess what I’m doing?…but I drank to your health!”

Ferdinand stops at the historic Steigerwald Brewery in Aschaffenburg known for “Schlappeseppel” and specializing in lager. To be historic in Germany, your history has to go way, way back. In the case of the Steigerwald, the legend of the brewery’s origins goes back to the 17th century. The story goes that when Sweden invaded the city back in 1631, the beer barrels were empty. A soldier named Joseph Lögler knew something about brewing beer, and he had good reason to make himself useful since he injured his leg in battle and was going lame. The nickname for Joseph in German is Sepp and Seppel would mean “little Joseph”. The word schlappe means setback or defeat, so little Joe with the limp became Schlappe-Seppel. But he was apparently really good at brewing beer, and he stayed behind long after the King of Sweden left town.

And so the Schlappeseppel beer was born…and lived on through the centuries. In 1866, Josef Steigerwald took over the brewery. It changed hands again in 1899 to a man named Konrad Vogel. When he died in 1910, his wife Anna continued to run the brewery with her second husband, Wilhelm Singer. From what I could gather on the internet, the brewery today is still operated by the Vogel descendants.

The town of Aschaffenburg was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War 2. If the brewery was destroyed, however, it was rebuilt and still stands today. If I go visit one day, I hope to drink a liter or two to Ferdinand. Prost!

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann -  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann –
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Sources:

Part 4 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. So far, he arrived in Hamburg and stopped to see the lovely view nearby in Blankenese. Now he heads to Offenbach, which will be his “home base” for much of his trip.

21 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Zeppelin "Schwaben"

Front: Zeppelin “Schwaben”

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Liebe Freunde ich amusiere mich sehr Gut hier und werde nächste Woche nach München fahren und werde von dort Euch schreiben Ich hoffe es Geht Euch Alle Gut und Grüßt Euch beide recht Herzlich. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Dear friends, I am enjoying myself and will go to Munich next week and write to you from there. I hope you are all well. Greetings to you both. Ferdinand

This is a very interesting card! The caption on the front of it reads: Erster offizieller Postflug des Zeppelin-Luftschiffs “Schwaben” unter der “Reichs” Postflagge (Abwerfen der Post mittelst Fallschirm) which means “First official postal flight of the Zeppelin airship ‘Schwaben’ under the ‘Empire’ postal flag (dropping the mail by means of parachute)”.

The zeppelin, or airship, on the postcard, called the Schwaben, was built in 1911 for passenger service and is considered to be the first passenger-carrying airship that was commercially successful. It was 460 feet long, but the cabin only held 20 passengers and a crew of 13. It began passenger flights in July of 1911 and made 218 flights in the next year.

Advertisement in the  Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

Advertisement in the Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

But the Schwaben is significant for another reason that’s noted on the card – it was the zeppelin that first carried mail – in other words – the first air mail via zeppelin! Its maiden air mail flight was from June 10-23 in 1912 when the airship went between Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz, Offenbach, and Worms. But the story gets even better – it wasn’t just air mail that the zeppelin carried during that trip – it was postcards.

The Hessen Royal Family created a home for mothers and children, and as a charity fund-raising event Postkartenwoche (Postcard Week) would have mail delivered by air from both the Schwaben and a propeller biplane called the Gelber Hund. The Schwaben carried the bulk of the mail and was piloted by the most famous airship captain at the time, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Funds were raised for the charity from the sale of special airmail postcards and stamps and admission to the parade grounds to watch the mail drops and pickups.

To put this in perspective, the distance between Frankfurt and Darmstadt is about 20 miles. It took the Schwaben about 13 minutes to make the trip.  Theoretically, that’s even quicker than a trip on the autobahn by car today, which according to Google should take about 34 minutes. Considering that the entire concept of flight began less than ten years before, this event in 1912 was huge by today’s standards. Crowds showed up to see the airship make the delivery, and there was a party atmosphere that included food, military bands, and an appearance by the Duke and Duchess. It was reported that 460,700 postcards were transported (between the airplane and zeppelin) and 35,000 marks was raised for the charity.

Shortly after Postcard Week, on June 28, 1912, the Schwaben was destroyed while landing. Strong winds and a buildup of static electricity caused a fire that destroyed the airship; over 30 people were injured in the accident.

Back to Ferdinand… On 21 August 1912, it was just weeks after the Schwaben came to its demise after over a year in the spotlight as a successful airship. While he didn’t have this postcard carried by the airship or mailed during the famous postcard week, I imagine it was one of the very last postcards of the airship still available for sale. Later on Ferdinand’s grand tour, airships will again be the subject of his greetings to friends in Philadelphia.

Sources:

Part 3 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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Many times old photos come with mysteries…have I solved this one? I recently acquired a number of photographs from a kind cousin. Many of the photos were either labeled or we knew who the people were from having other photos of them. Most of the photos were of Julius Goetz, my cousin’s grandfather, who was the half-brother of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. I still only have one photograph of Joseph, but I have many of Julius who was a very photogenic young man. In one photo, Julius is standing with another man – could this be his brother Herman? I’ve written about Herman before – because he died so young, no one in the family even knew who he was much less had any photographs of him. But, my cousin had two First Communion photographs of boys, and we knew which one was Julius. By assuming the other photo is brother Herman, and by using other available information, I’ve deduced that this is indeed a photograph of the Goetz brothers.

The Photograph

Julius Goetz is on the right - is the man on the left his brother Herman?

Julius Goetz is on the right – is the man on the left his brother Herman?

The Facts

Herman was born on 14 May 1885 and Julius was born on 09 November 1886. While the two men may not resemble each other very much, I know a lot of siblings that don’t look much like each other because each favors a different parent. From Herman’s passenger arrival record in 1911, we know that Herman was 5’9″. On Herman’s WW1 draft registration card, filled out shortly before his death, he describes himself as tall and stout with grey eyes and red hair. Julius was not as tall as his brother. On both his Declaration of Intent in 1908 and his 1919 U.S. Army discharge papers, he is listed as 5’5″. Also on both his is listed as having blue eyes, brown hair, and a medium build.

If the above photo does show the Goetz brothers, it would have been taken between April 1911 (when Herman arrives in the United States) and October 1918 (when Herman dies). The brothers would have been between 25-26 and 32-33 though I’d guess it was taken shortly after Herman’s arrival when they were reunited. Julius had been in the United States since age 16 in 1902, so nine years had gone by since the two had seen each other. One can easily assume they would want to commemorate the reunion with a photograph!

The Brothers as Boys

These are the two First Communion photos. Both were taken at the same photographer in Regensburg, Germany: Gustav Wild on weisse Lilienstrasse G. 93. It even looks like the same exact pedestal, crucifix, and background!

Herman on the left, Julius on the right. Julius' photo had the year 1897 on the back, so he'd have been 10 years old. This is consistent with a First Communion certificate for his half-sister who was also 10 when she received hers in 1890.

Herman on the left, Julius on the right. Julius’ photo had the year 1897 on the back, so he’d have been 10 years old. This is consistent with a First Communion certificate for his half-sister who was also 10 when she received hers in 1890.

Comparing the Boys to Men

Do you think the man on the left is Herman?

Do you think the man on the left is Herman?

In comparing the photos, the shape of the ears, noses, and mouths appear to be the same from the children to the adults. This, as well as the confirmed height difference of the two men as shown above, makes me believe that it is Herman with Julius. What do you think, readers?

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In last week’s first installment of this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, just arrived in Hamburg on 10 August 1912. The postmark is illegible on the next postcard, and he didn’t indicate the date, but the postmark is definitely from August. Based on a map, this location would have been his next stop on the tour based on the date and location of the following postcard.

August 1912 ~ Blankenese, Germany

Front: Postcard from Blankenese

Front: Postcard from Blankenese

Back: a rather short but nice message

Back: a rather short but nice message

The postcard reads:

Blankenese  Freund Max und Laury Es Grüßt Euch Herzlich Euer Freund, Ferdinand

Translation:

Blankness Friend Max and Laury, sending you warmest greetings. Your friend, Ferdinand

Blankenese was a small town located on the banks of the Elbe River; today, it’s a suburb of the city of Hamburg. But one thing hasn’t changed since Ferdinand visited – it’s still a tourist destination and a resort town! The winding stairs, the castle at the top of the hill, and the picturesque views of the river remain the same. Ferdinand may have been just passing through on his way to his destination, but I hope he stopped and stayed a while and enjoyed the view.

This card reminds me of the quick “wish you were here” greetings that I’ve sent on postcards when I was younger and in a hurry. Spoiler alert: his messages to his friends get more interesting as he settles into his trip. I just like the fact that he’s sending his friends “warmest greetings” along the way so they can see what he’s seeing.

I found an image on Wikipedia very similar to the 1912 postcard – 100 years after Ferdinand’s visit, the view is just as beautiful. You can also view some great historical photos at this site.

A 2012 photo of Blankenese's view from the hill by Kroppe - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg-Blankenese(01).JPG

A 2012 photo of Blankenese’s view from the hill by Kroppe – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg-Blankenese(01).JPG

Part 2 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In 1912, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, took a trip back to Germany. While there, he sent postcards to his friends Max and Laura Thumann. Laura is the sister of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, and she saved her friend’s postcards in a scrapbook. They offer a fascinating look at travel just shortly before the Great War. While not directly related to genealogy other than the familial ownership of the collection, as ephemera these cards give us a glimpse into travel, communication, and connection with friends before the days of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Each week I will post a different card from Ferdinand’s “grand tour” of his homeland, and in the final installment I’ll try to provide more information about who Ferdinand was.  I welcome you to follow along with Ferdinand on his journey home…

10 August 1912 ~ Hamburg, Germany

Postcard from the Prinz Adalbert of the Hamburg-America line

Front: Postcard from the Prinz Adalbert of the Hamburg-America line

Back: Ferdinand has arrived in Germany!

Back: Ferdinand has arrived in Germany!

The postcard reads:

Hamburg 10 Ag 12   Leibe Freunde ich bin so weit gut angekommen gute Reise gehabt und bin gesund soweit Es Grüßt Euch Alle  Herzlich  F. Müller

Translation:

Hamburg 10 Ag 12    Dear friends. I have arrived well.          Had a good trip and am healthy so far.                                Sending you warmest greetings. F. Müller

The Hamburg-American line was established in 1847 and was the first German transatlantic steamship line. The SS Prinz Adalbert was launched in 1902. It was one of several ships that spotted the iceberg that sank the Titanic months before Ferdinand’s crossing. Most of us are familiar with the trips from Hamburg to the United States – I can only wonder what the trip from Philadelphia to Hamburg was like. I am sure the ship was a lot less crowded than the western voyages that would bring hundreds of new immigrants to the U.S.

Advertisement for the Hamburg-American line from the Washington DC newspaper, The Evening Star, July 23, 1912

Advertisement for the Hamburg-American line from the Washington DC newspaper, The Evening Star, July 23, 1912

The SS Prinz Adalbert left Philadelphia on Saturday, July 27. If the date on Ferdinand’s postcard is his arrival in Germany, it took two full weeks for the transatlantic passage.

What I love about this first message is the fact that he immediately let them know he arrived safely and he’s healthy. I also like how Ferdinand sends “warmest greetings” – the affection he has for his friends Max and Laura come through with every card he sends. I wonder how long it took them to receive the postcard in the mail? The journey begins…

Part 1 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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On January 12, 2009, I wrote a post entitled Research Plan: Finding Death Dates for Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz, my great-great-grandparents. I knew their birth dates, but hadn’t yet found their death dates. I could go backwards several generations on Joseph’s side to include birth, marriage, and death dates, but I was still perplexed as to when he died. So, I developed a solid plan based on what I knew. Plans are great, but in order for them to work you actually have to put it into action. I didn’t. However, luck was on my side…without trying, I found the death date of Ursula!

Corrections!

I had some errors in my original post. I wrote:

Ursula Dallmeier was born in Aichach on 17 Mar 1847, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier from Aichach and Ursula née Eulinger.

The bold items were incorrect. The correct information is as follows:

Ursula Dallmeier was born in Prittlbach on 21 Sep 1846, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier  (or Dallmayr) of Asbach and Ursula née Eichinger.

The Plan

Based on the dates of the births of her children, I made some assumptions on the death date of Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz. Based on the fact that she was alive at the time of her son Joseph Bergmeister’s marriage and she was not by the time of her younger son Julius Goetz’s marriage, I assumed she died between 1897 and 1919. The place was assumed to be Regensburg.

The Find

Funeral card of Ursula Götz

Funeral card of Ursula Götz

As I said, I never actually put the research plan into action, but I continued to research the family by tracking down some cousins. When I found her son Julius’ grandson, he shared a treasure trove of documents and photos with me. Among the pile were some funeral cards…and suddenly, I knew when Ursula died – 21 January 1911.

I still don’t know when her husband, my ancestor Joseph Bergmeister, died, and I don’t know when she married her second husband, Herman Goetz. But I now think that both events happened in Regensburg based on some of the information my cousin gave me. But there was something even better than filling in that piece of information about Ursula’s life. Some of the photos were labeled, and some were actually of Ursula. This is one of Ursula, approximately from the late 1870’s, taken at the Photographie von Martin Kraus, Ostengasse H 163, Regensburg:

Ursula Dallmayr Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911)

Ursula Dallmayr Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911)

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On April 17, 2009, I wrote a post that asked “Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?” I only had one photograph of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, but I wondered if others existed. I’ve had trouble tracking down my mother’s first cousins because they were born in the 1940’s and some used the rather common surname of Miller instead of Pater.

Here’s the one photo that I posted back in 2009 – Elizabeth is the woman seated in the middle:

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

On August 30, 2012, I wrote about “A Great Discovery” – finding a photograph of Elizabeth on her 1954 naturalization certificate. Here’s a copy of that photo:

My great-grandmother!

My great-grandmother!

I was thrilled to receive it, and it came as a surprise since none of my other ancestors’ naturalization records had photographs. I didn’t want to be greedy, but I still wondered if anyone had more photographs of my great-grandmother.

Update!

Well, someone did…all this time, a photograph of Elizabeth Miller sat in a box in a basement three thousand miles away from where Elizabeth lived, owned by someone whose surname I never heard of when I began my research many years ago. The naturalization document led to a search for the original bearer of the name “Elizabeth Miller” – her mother – since the alien registration document indicated a parent lived in the United States. I tried the mother’s name first and found a possible match. A death certificate confirmed some information, and led to more questions with the name of the informant. That in turn led to more research on that name…and suddenly a missing piece of the family puzzle was found.

My great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater had a sister named Mary Miller Schultz who lived in Metuchen, New Jersey. My mother always said she had relatives in Metuchen, but she assumed it was on the Pater side. Mary had some photographs of her sister (as well as another sister and two brothers…more on that in a future post!), and she passed those on to her youngest daughter, Julia. Julia married a gentleman of Italian descent in 1935 and the couple moved out to California.

Following the trail led me to Julia’s daughter – my second cousin once removed! We had the opportunity to meet last June, and my “new” cousin graciously pulled out a box of photographs and family documents that had belonged to her mother. Actually, the word “box” doesn’t adequately describe it – to me, it was a treasure trove! I was able to fill in many missing details about my great-grandmother’s siblings. With a name like Miller, it was difficult to pinpoint the correct people, but now I know more about them as well as their spouses and children. As for photographs, not only did my cousin actually have a photo of my great-grandmother – but she had THREE! And two of the three included my great-grandfather as well. As if that wasn’t enough to cause a genealogy happy dance (and tears of joy), I am also now the proud owner of three photographs of my great-GREAT-grandmother – Elizabeth’s mother. And one of her father! And some of two of her sisters and two of her brothers!

But all of those photos and their stories will be told in future posts. For now, here is my newest prized possession. Fortunately, the photograph was labeled with my great-grandparents’ names – I’m not sure I would have recognized them given that the only photos of her are shown above and the sole photo of my great-grandfather is from 1947 when he was 53 years old. The amazing photograph below shows the couple on (or near) their wedding day, August 27, 1910, in Camden, New Jersey. My great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater, had just turned 17 years old days before. He immigrated to the U.S. from Żyrardów, Poland, in August, 1907 with his siblings to join their parents. The bride, Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller, was 19 years old and immigrated from the same town in April, 1909.

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater, August 1910

It may sound dramatic, but the gift of this photograph was a dream come true. The moral of this story: don’t give up searching for family photographs! Because you never know which photos were shared with siblings and which descendants inherited and saved all the goodies!

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This week’s Sepia Saturday has a kissing theme, and I have just the photo in my collection:

My parents on Christmas Day in 1955

My parents on Christmas Day in 1955

I don’t see any mistletoe in the photograph, but it was Christmas day! My parents were not married yet – that would happen in about four months. I love the detail in the background of the photo – this was my paternal grandparents’ house. Note the 1950’s decor with the flowered wallpaper and flowered carpeting, upholstered wing chair with doilies on the arms, the steam radiator, and an ashtray stand next to the chair. I wish there were more photos from other parts of the living room! (There is another of my parents and aunt sitting together on the sofa – my mother must have had a change of clothes, because she is wearing a different dress but my father is dressed the same.) I also love the fabulous velvet dress on my Mom and the suit and tie on my Dad.

I would have to ask to be certain, but my guess is that my aunt took the photograph. She was 13 years old, and isn’t it just like a teenaged sister to annoy her big brother by taking a photo of him kissing his girl? Heck, I think I remember doing the same exact thing to my brother and his girlfriend about 25 years later when I was 13 and he was 21!

2012.12W.02

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This is a great photograph of my mother in 1950. She was only 14 years old yet to me she looks glamorous and sophisticated. But what’s funny about this photo is that my mother always said she never really learned how to ride a bike. I saw her ride one once, but she was a bit unsteady and gave up quickly. Even if it’s not her bicycle, you have to admit it makes a nice fashion accessory!

Posted for Sepia Saturday #138

 

 

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The following article first appeared on January 9, 2010 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed magazine.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.While these were my “top ten photo resolutions for 2010″, they can apply to 2011, too.  Besides, who keeps the resolutions they make? We can merely recycle them from year to year!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Beginning a new year is a time for reflection when most people think back on the previous year and try to challenge themselves to improve various faults and foibles.  Of course, before beginning a new year we have to end the previous one, and that’s usually a time for partying.  Therefore, most of our resolutions to change ourselves may have been half-heartedly assembled in the throes of a party-induced hangover, which is why these great ideas tend to fizzle out quicker than a cheap sparkler.  So take your time before making resolutions – think about it!  To help you out, I’ve decided to come up with my top 10 resolutions specifically for Shades of the Departed readers, so they are all related to photographs.  But they are also written by me, the resident humor columnist, so…let’s just say you might want to think about these as well before making any final resolutions!

10 – If you are photographing a group of children, add a “silly face” photo in the session.  It will keep them interested, less cranky, and may even make them smile for more photos.  Plus, they’ll be laughing at the silly photo for years to come.  That is, until they reach the age when they begin dating and you share it with their prospective paramour…then it’s not so funny.

 

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ262-128224

 

9 – Don’t wait – get all of those damaged photos restored.  I recently had a professional restore an old photograph of my mother as a child with her older sister and parents.  My mother commented, “I haven’t seen the photo look like this for sixty years!”

8 – Pay attention to the background in your photos – or even the foreground – so your shot doesn’t have any distractions from the main subject.

7 – Remember to “strike a pose” for a memorable shot!

 

 

6 – Be creative and have fun with your photography!  Consider creating optical illusions with some forced perspective shots to liven up your vacation album.

5 – Remember that pets are people, too.  They really don’t enjoy dressing up in costumes any more than people do – except they are less vocal about it.  Come to think of it – your babies are people, too.  They will show their displeasure by their expressions, but remember that they will get vocal about it once they’re old enough to talk!

4 – When it takes forty or fifty tries to get the kids to a) sit still, b) look at the camera, c) smile, and d) do a, b, and c all at the same time, it is okay to delete some of those motion-blurred, crying, and cranky shots.  Save a few though – they could prove useful to embarrass those children fifteen years later. (Also see #10)

3 – Since you are always the one taking photos, make sure you get some of yourself.  Only ask someone else to take it – unless you have very long arms or a timer on your camera, most self-portraits are not very flattering.

 

Image designed by footnoteMaven

 

2 – Keep shoes in shoeboxes, not your photographs.  Get them out of the boxes – and off of your hard drives – and into frames or albums to display around your home or office.  Don’t be too busy taking photos to remember the joy in looking at them and remembering the fun.

And the number one photo resolution is –

The Cross Counter, which is useful for mugging your relatives. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-USZ62-105001

1 – Forget mug shots – mug your relatives for copies of family photos!  Are you, like me, tired of waiting for family members to dig out those precious photographs you’ve heard so much about but have never seen?  It’s time to take matters into your own hands.  I resolve to sit on doorsteps until they find the photos and reveal them to me.  I have a feeling some of my cousins may be entering the Relative Protection Program, a distant cousin of the Witness Protection Program, that seeks to protect the innocent from a hungry photograph-hound like myself.  But hey, I’m a genealogist, so I ought to be able to track them down!

#

All photographs from the collection of the author except as noted.

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The following article first appeared on May 30, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.  Of course, the subject was “in season” at the time, but I’ve decided to re-print my columns in the order they were published.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine for some excellent writing and photography!

As May leads into June and the sweet promise of summer, I am reminded of two spring and summer “rites of passage” of my youth that were also big photographic events: proms and graduations. Both events require you to wear somewhat “unnatural” clothing – that is, outfits you will never again wear in public. Because of these outfits, the photos of these events are often seen as humorous many years later.

My brother parodies the classic prom pose in 1985.

The unnaturalness of a prom is the fact that you dress up in wedding-like costumes of tuxes and gowns, yet you are warned by every adult in your life to refrain from all things lewd, dishonorable, romantic, and/or fun. In other words, you dress like you’re getting married but can’t do anything that would be associated with an actual marriage event. Nearly everyone who attended a prom has the obligatory photos taken at either your house or your date’s house or both. Often there is a shot of several couples who have decided to drive together, usually because only one lucky person had the license and the car. In these group shots, the couples look uncomfortable and anxious to go have some fun. Of course, they also look blinded by flashbulbs in what was likely the thirty-second photograph taken of them before even leaving the house.

My face is frozen into a smile…can we leave now?

Once at the prom, couples lined up for their “official” prom portrait. These are often the most humorous because you are put into the official Prom Shot position, an unnatural pose that you and your date will never find yourselves in unless you are standing way too close together while you wait in a buffet line.

Does anything say “1977” quite like a white tuxedo?

The best thing about these photos is that they seem to become dated almost immediately. They “depreciate” faster than driving a new car off of the lot. Looking back at the “old” hairdos and fashions is a scream, especially if your children or nieces and nephews find your ancient photos. In my junior and senior prom photos, I appear to have lived during the Victorian age since I am wearing decidedly un-cool dresses that barely showed my neck much less anything lower. What’s funny is not the fact that my mother chose these dresses for me, but the irony of it. I was not in need of any protection from the wandering hands or eyes of my dates – both were good friends who had already decided to enter the seminary after high school. My prom dates became Catholic priests! Well, at least I didn’t tempt them in those outfits!

With the future Fr. Rob in 1984 and the future Fr. Lou in 1985. Yes, I had a reputation, but it was the reputable kind – “Dance with Donna and you’ll enter the seminary!”

When it comes to uncomfortable poses, nothing beats a good graduation photograph. The classic portrait of the graduate wearing a judge-like gown and a “mortarboard” cap has not changed much over the years. In fact, you might even have a hard time dating a graduation photograph if it weren’t for hairstyles changing over the years, or perhaps styles of eyeglasses. The trick with these portraits is the ability to balance the board on your head – without messing up the “do” – and look natural in the process.

Father and son graduate high school 25 years apart.

It somehow seemed easier for the boys to look more natural than the girls wearing the silly hat, perhaps because they were far less concerned about their hair. For my portrait, the photographer chose a very large cap and used a clothespin in the back to hold it in place. As with any portrait, the photographer then turns your head in an odd angle and your torso in another. The fact that it was portrait day was stressful enough! “How’s my hair?” “How’s my face?” “OMG is that a zit?!” It doesn’t really matter how you look – later generations will laugh at your photo anyway.

Graduating Class of St. Peter’s Grade School, Philadelphia, PA, 1948.

Next week I’ll watch my oldest niece attend her first big “dance” – not quite a prom since dates, gowns, and tuxes are not required. Two weeks later, I’ll watch her don the funny hat and graduate from 8th grade. As the proud aunt, I’ll take a lot of photos. They will all be quite serious. But I’ll have to remind her that she’ll see the humor it them years later – when she is old enough that she thinks she looks like a baby in those photos! Happy dancing and graduating to all, and remember to smile for the camera!

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My grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski, with her children James and Jean in front of their Philadelphia home.  Note the spiffy pants on my dad!

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The following article first appeared on March 28, 2009, as my debut appearance writing The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine for some excellent writing and photography!

When I was a child, I assumed that photography was an art form beyond the reach of mere mortals. It just had to be the most complicated thing in the whole world. But I didn’t think that way because of the “magical” nature of taking photos and seeing a two-dimensional image of yourself and your surroundings. No, I believed photography was a difficult endeavor because in most of our family photos we were missing our heads or other body parts.

Here is a typical photo session at the Pointkouski household, Christmas, 1968:

This is a family portrait of all four of us taken by my grandmother. The ear is my father. My brother didn’t make it at all except for the tiny hand on my shoulder. But that’s a lovely sofa, isn’t it?

Dad took this shot…we’re all almost in it!

Okay, Dad, I’m ready for my close-up! Even at not-quite-two-years-old, I was a child prodigy. You see, I had already learned the secret of how to get into a family photo – sit on the left. If you weren’t on the left, you didn’t get in!

By now, my brother has caught on. He’s slowly sliding me over on the coffee table. If he had slouched a little, he might have made it.

This photo had the borders cut off for some unknown reason, but it’s clear by our smiles that we’re elated – we just knew that by the thirtieth picture we’d both make it in the shot! Well, almost make it into the shot – my brother’s just a tad bit too tall to make it.

What’s funnier about these photos – the pictures themselves or the fact that my family actually saved them all these years? What exactly was the thought process here? “Well, it’s not too bad…look, you can see this is him by his left ear…” For families in the pre-digital age, even a bad photo became the sole remnant of a memorable event. Cameras, film, and developing were expensive! And you never saw the result until the whole roll of film was used up, taken to get developed, and picked up. So, at least in my family, these “bad” photos became as valuable as “good” ones because they were the only ones.

My mother quickly became dissatisfied with the results of her unique photographic talent for taking photos of her beheaded children. She simply gave up. I don’t think I ever saw her take another photo. “I can’t take pictures” became her personal mantra. Thereafter, Dad became the official family photographer. It was probably a good thing, too, because without mirrors in the home I would have grown up believing that I was missing an ear.

Mom was always blamed for the missing body parts, but Dad was an occasional culprit, too. Just because Dad was taking the photos, we still weren’t immune from having our heads cut off. It just happened less frequently than back when Mom was taking the photos.

This was my sixth birthday party. My guests were my friends and neighbors, the Ferguson girls. Unfortunately, Shona wasn’t as smart as her older sister, or she had yet to catch on to our family secret – stay to the left!

It’s ten years later and I’m now sixteen. I’m perfectly centered, but the view of the cake took precedence over my head.

I was used to it, though. This was me several years earlier. I was tall for my age, but not that tall! Can you notice the family resemblance between my and my half-headed brother from the earlier shots?

It took many years for me to discover that my family was not unique in this extreme photographic ability. In fact, there is even a name for it! What you see in the above photos is called parallax error. Now, to me that sounds like Star Trek plot number seven in which a transporter accident lands the crew in a parallel universe. But it really means that what you see isn’t always what you get because the viewfinder wasn’t necessarily connected to the lens. Older cameras, especially the inexpensive 126, 110, or point-and-shoot 35mm’s that my family used, had a viewfinder that was separate from the camera’s lens. So what appears to be “framed” in the viewfinder isn’t really framed at all by the camera lens itself, and it isn’t what the lens captures. See, Mom, it’s not your fault after all! It really was the camera!

Here’s another example from the never-before-published photo collection from a well-known genea-blogger who shall remain nameless to protect my new job as a columnist here at Shades. This is an attempt to capture MavenSon’s great catch. But wait – is that really him?

Like our family, which learned to scoot to the left to be seen in photos, the Maven’s learned a technique to keep their heads on – aim for the face only and hold that catch up high! See the result:

Nowadays, you rarely see the beheaded shots anymore. It’s a shame really, because they can be quite amusing. Today, most cameras have a single lens reflex that eliminates the parallax problem because what you see really is what you get. Many digital cameras don’t even have a viewfinder at all and instead use a screen to show you what the lens ‘sees’. When my mother first saw the 3 inch screen on my tiny digital camera, she exclaimed, “Wow – even I can take a picture with that!” And it’s true – my 3-year-old niece is able to take a well-focused, well-balanced photograph (obviously a child prodigy like her aunt). The only time her brother is missing a limb is when she tries to do that the old-fashioned way – by jumping on him to beat him up.

In the modern digital age, it’s time to say good-bye to our beheaded family photos. But, of course, there’s still a chance your family might see one. For even without viewfinder errors, there are still simply bad photographers. Here’s hoping we’ll see you in your next family photo session!

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