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Friday, April 5, 2013

The Lost and Recovered Memories of Pauline Smeltzer

I like collecting pictures of strangers, usually found at antique stores, flea markets, and occasionally ebay.  I have been told this is strange, but I love the mystery behind the photos and the stories they tell.  It seems a little sad for other people's family photos ending up in the possession of a stranger, but I like to think of it as giving the memories a new home.

One of the most fascinating encounters was one I had with a woman named Pauline Smeltzer.

I was at a local antique mall and I found and old photo album from the 1940s with wonderful pictures.  Someone had even taken time to mark the photos with typewritten notes.  I mulled over this purchase, but being a cheapskate I decided against buying it.  The next day my wife walked in and handed the album to me.

I had a great time going through it and trying to figure out the stories being shown.

The album was somewhat pilfered, as about half the photos had been torn out.  Obviously someone had stripped the album for the pictures they wanted, and discarded the rest.  I was amazed that such a family treasure could wind up in a antique mall in North Carolina.  The photos appeared to be based in Kansas City, with some travel to Pennsylvania and Montana.

The album was centered around a lady named Pauline Smeltzer and her friends and family.

Here is Pauline and her camera.

Here is her mother Blanche Smeltzer.

Here father Monroe Smeltzer

And here quirky little brother Jerry

Here is her friend Winnie

And her friend Helen

The album is put together well and has some beautiful design to it.

Pauline had an undeniable spirit to her.  Check out these photos of Pauline having a good time.

Here is Pauline hitchhiking on the Pennsylvania turnpike 2 weeks after it opened.

There are some other great stories told by the pictures in the album, such as this intimate series of photos of Pauline and her friend Ray Chapman taking each other's photos in the woods.

Photo appeared upside down in original album
Other photos in the album stand on their own as beautiful bits of photography.

At one point I decided that to not keep Pauline to myself and started posting her photos on my Flickr Photostream.  I was quite pleased with the positive response I received from my friends on Flickr.  Pauline's bright personality was infectious and people seemed as taken with her as I was.

My Flickr friends even helped me start identifying people in the album and filling in some of the background.

A friend was able to determine that Dale was Pauline's first cousin, who was born in 1920 and died in 1988, which means it looked like he made it through the war.

Mystery still surrounded Pauline.  How did her pictures leave the family.  What happened to her?

I never expected to find the answers to these questions until one of my Flickr friends shocked me by finding Pauline's obituary.

SMELTZER, Pauline E. 89, passed away Saturday April 7, 2007 at the Otterbein Lebanon Retirement Community. Pauline was born December 4, 1917 in Glendive, Montana, the daughter of the late Monroe & Blanche (Hollinger) Smeltzer. She is survived by a niece and nephew and a host of friends. Pauline was an elementary school teacher in the Dayton area for many years and retired in 1989 after 25 years from Franklin Elementary, Dayton Public Schools. She had been a long time member of Hope United Methodist Church and was active in the UM Women's Hope Circle. She was a lover of nature, especially birds, with her favorite being cardinals. In keeping with her giving spirit, Pauline has donated her body to Wright State University School of Medicine. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Tuesday May 1, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. at Hope UM Church, 5980 Wilmington Pike, Dr. Thomas E. Brown, Sr. Pastor, officiating. Donations may be made in Pauline's memory to the charity of your choice.
Published in Dayton Daily News on April 25, 2007 
I was floored. Pauline was actually alive at the time I started posting her pictures and died only about a month later. She was never married and never had any kids, which explained how the album wound up getting abandoned.  It saddened me a little that such a bright woman who obviously was quite close with her family would wind up alone.  She was however a teacher for 25 years, so obviously children were her first love.  I found her decision to donate her body to science quite touching.
My experience with Pauline would not end here.  Pauline's family members began tracking down my photos.
A distant relative of hers provided me with this photo of a younger Pauline with a broken neck, looking shockingly well groomed and chipper.  
Eventually it became clear that it was no longer appropriate for me to keep the album.  There was a family member who was desperate to have the album.  I simply asked for them to provide me with a later photo of Pauline to prove that they were a genuine family member.

And there she was, still with her trademark smile after all those years. With much saddness I returned the album to the family.  

UPDATE: I have found out an amazing secret that Pauline had been keeping.  Find it here.

The Carpetbagger

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