On Thursday, July 19th I was finally able to visit the Willamette Heritage Center and meet all of the people who have done so much for me. I have written about the wonderful file of 80 family photographs and their journey to our generous donor, Mary O’Meara and finally to me. If you haven’t read that post please click here and read this great story.

I was lucky enough to be visiting Portland, Oregon for the wedding of a good friend’s daughter. The wedding was a wonderful excuse for a meeting with a group of old friends, so I was accompanied to the museum by my husband and three good friends, including the mother of the bride.

Before our visit to the museum Norman and I were able to visit the family graves and the house that Amy and Jessie Martin lived in  during much of their time in Salem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kylie Pine, the director of acquisitions was waiting for us at the museum. She was accompanied by Mary and Mary’s friend Carol and our fabulous volunteer Kaylyn Mabey.

Mary, Judy, Norman, and Kaylyn

I can’t begin to tell you what an exciting day this was for me and for my husband, the actual descendent of the Martin sisters. We had a good look at all of the photographs, talking and laughing and telling some family stories with the entire group.
My dear friend Pat, the alternate author and administrator of this blog was in Portland with her husband for the wedding. She was unable to make the trip to Salem, but thoroughly debriefed me on my return to Portland.

As we looked through the photos we were all struck by the excellent state of preservation. My new best guess is that these photographs were cherished and protected by Amy Martin, until her death at 101. At that point there were no family members in Oregon and the photos probably came to Mary’s neighbor when he was given the task of cleaning her room. I don’t have any idea if this is true but it seems a good guess.

Before we arrived Kaylyn went above and beyond my wildest expectations.  She assembled death certificates, cemetery info, and William Martin’s probate file.  Thanks to Kaylyn I now have information about William Martin’s first wife, daughter and grandsons.

After viewing the photos and talking we were able to tour the museum.  It is a wonderful place with permanent and changing exhibits.  This month’s exhibit about beer brewing in the Willamette Valley was enjoyed by all, even though there were no samples.  There is even a small glass case with photos and information about the Martin sisters.

If you live near Salem or are traveling through I highly recommend a stop at the Willamette Heritage Center.  I will look back on my visit with the warmest of memories for many days.

If we could take a trip back in time it would be very much like a visit to another culture.  Cultures are living entities and like families and the individuals that comprise them cultures change.  What was common, acceptable, even expected and lauded 100 years ago may well be unacceptable and even a bit nauseating to us today.  Sometimes change is good, sometimes it is bad, and sometimes it is just different.

An old photograph can take us on a journey to another culture.  I took such a journey recently thanks to a photograph I received from the Willamette Heritage CenterI have already written about the journey this photograph took to find me, now I am writing about where the photograph has taken me.

William F Martin

This photograph caught my eye because, in our modern world, it is quite macabre.  It is a photo of a beautifully dressed child in a stroller. It looks fairly normal at first, but the child is dead.

The child is William F. Martin.  He was born in August of 1877 in Muskegon, Michigan and he died there in September of 1881 of “congestion of the lungs”.  He was one of six children born to William Martin and Rosa Cleantha Blood.  One of his older sister’s was my husband’s grandmother. What drove them to take their dead child, dress him in his best clothes, put him in a life-like pose and have this picture taken?  The answer is custom.  Postmortem photography was quite common in the Victorian Age, for both children and adults.  An early photographer’s advertisement said, “secure the shadow, ere the substance fade”.  Securing the shadow slightly after the substance had faded became the custom.  Adults were generally pictured in bed or in the coffin, but children were posed, often with their families. Here is another example from Stanley Burn’s Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America.  These are two postmortem daguerreotypes of the same child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another oddity of Victorian mourning is  jewelry fashioned from the deceased’s hair.   These pieces might just be a lock of hair encased in glass or truly elaborate necklaces and bracelets of woven hair.  A bit repulsive to us , but a declaration of love and loss to those who wore it.

Here are two examples.  Both are made of human hair with gold embellishments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young William Martin lived in a time when people did not die in order as we expect today.  Most of us expect to bury and mourn our parents, but not our children.

It has been said that in times when medicine was mostly useless and death was common that life was cheap and the pain of loss less deeply felt. Anyone who has wandered through an old cemetery and read the tender inscriptions on the tiny tombstones or considered the photographs and jewelry on this page will be forced to a different conclusion.

 

Thanks to the Willamette Heritage Center for the use of the picture of William Martin, their catalog number P 2012.011.0023

Some days I become tired and discouraged about trying to produce a blog post every two weeks.  When I have the time to write something I consider interesting or useful I would like it to be read. Sometimes it feels like no one is looking.  Then there are the other times.  These are the times that keep me blogging.

Here are some of the things this blog has brought me:

1.  Contact with cousins I already know, but don’t hear from very often.  I am a dreadful correspondent and it is wonderful to know that my cousins are reading this and enjoying some of the stories I am telling.  As an additional bonus one of them occasionally is able to identify a photograph or add details to a story.

2.  I have found new cousins in many of my family lines.  This is fun just on the face of it, but has also opened up new areas of research and but new branches on my tree.

3.  Inquiries and invitations from all sorts of places.  I have been invited to softball games in Washington state, cemetery cleanups and dedications in Michigan, and bed and board in many places by kind and trusting relatives.

4.  I have received information and permission to use materials in this blog from all over, but the latest and best falls into the kindness of strangers category.  I tell this story mostly because it was such a wonderful experience for me, but also to remind us all that it is possible and wonderful to preserve a piece of someone else’s family history.

 

I have written  about my husband’s great aunts, Amy and Jessie Martin before.  You can read that post here.

 

The Martin Sisters

 

 

A few weeks ago I received an email from a volunteer at the Willamette Valley Heritage Center.  I am leaving the names of the various people out of this piece to preserve their privacy.  The Center had come into the possession of 80 photographs belonging to the Martin sisters, many of which were family photos.  They had searched the internet and found my piece on Amy and Jessie and wondered if this was indeed my family and if I could fill in any details of the family history.  I filled in precious few details and in return I received 80 thumbnail photos with their catalog entries including the information written on the back of the photos.  Almost all of the photos were labeled or dated or both.

 

I wondered how the center had come into possession of these photos and they passed the donor’s name on to me with permission to contact her. My donor, let’s call her Jane, passed on the story of the journey of the photograph’s to me.

Jane’s mother lived across the street from the janitor who worked at the school where Amy Martin taught.  One day Jane’s mother was visiting the janitor’s wife, when the janitor arrived with a sack of old photos and handed them off to Jane’s mother saying, “I know you like old stuff.”

The photos were then passed on to Jane who has an interest in Victorian era things.

They sat in a closet for 10 years until Jane decided to take a serious look at them and saw that most of the photos were dated and signed.  On the advice of a friend Jane took the photos to the Willamette Heritage Center.

A wonderful volunteer and the Director of Acquisitions for the Center took an interest in the photos and in the ladies to whom they belonged.  They researched the Martin family and in searching the internet found my piece on the Martin sisters and contacted me.

 

And so the photographs which could so easily have found their way to a dumpster found their way to the museum and to me.

 

A complete stranger took the time to take these photos to a history center and the center made the effort to track me down.  I am so very grateful to them both.

 

I live in Connecticut, but will be attending a wedding in Portland, Oregon soon.  Our time there will be limited, but I am trying very hard to work in a trip to the Willamette Heritage Center to meet the people who saved these photos and thank them in person and to see the originals for myself.

 

 

 

 

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