Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Search of "Frank Reinhardt" -- A "Sepia Saturday" Post

Today's Sepia Saturday theme is to be determined by each individual "player's" interpretation of the photo prompt that was offered, that of a NASA researcher in 1964, wearing a prototype space suit for the Apollo Moon Project.

Kinda reminds me of Mattel's Major Matt Mason, but I digress.

I ignored the space travel connection, and instead decided to go with the "researcher" aspect for today's post.

To mess with the old opening quote from Dragnet, "The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the subjects."

During the years I've spent as a flea market dealer specializing in (mostly) paper collectibles, I've chanced upon a lot of old family photographs. I've often wondered how these photos have managed to become part of estate sales and the like. It's a disconcerting thought that no surviving family members were around who wanted them.

In fact, a woman I knew who had dealt with antiques for 65 years before recently retiring had burned all of her own family photos. She was a childless widow who did not want her photos providing some other dealer with selling stock at her expense.

Sometime during the early 1990s, I purchased a sizable collection of "miscellaneous paper." I didn't really take the time to go through it thoroughly until less than five years ago. Among these collectibles, I found a few, rather small photographs from the World War II era. Most -- if not all -- of them were taken in Europe. Some featured the same man.

One of them featured a name (as well as a few other odd notations), written in large letters on the wall of a ruined building. (I doubt that the name was of the American soldier pictured in the shot, however. Just sayin'.) If you look at the extreme right of the photo at the top of this post, you'll see the beginning of these "notations." I cropped about a fifth of the photo to insure the man's privacy.

In fact, I'm going to make up a name for him right here and now, just for the sake of my story. Let's call him "Frank Fallon Reinhardt."

The other photos, reproduced below, show various soldiers and shots of buildings.

Looking at this small stack of photos, I wondered what I should do with them. Should I keep them together and try to get a couple of bucks for them at my flea market stand? Should I merely throw them away?

Frank Reinhardt's name -- as well as the listing of a town in Pennsylvania, emblazoned on that cropped-out wall in that same photo -- gave me an answer that would sit well with my conscience.

I would find Frank Reinhardt, if he was still alive, and send the pictures to him.

Fully realizing that "Frank" can either be one's given name as well as a shortened form of "Francis," I began an internet search for both "Frank Reinhardt" and "Francis Reinhardt." I found several entries. My most encouraging findings were a Pennsylvania listing in the 1910 census for a Frank Reinhardt, and the name of a Frank Reinhardt who operated a cleaning service right here in my home state of Massachusetts!

I took the liberty of making an after-hours call to the cleaning service, leaving as brief a message as possible describing my flea market acquisition.

Not too long after -- a day, maybe two -- I received a call from Frank Reinhardt! His dad, Frank senior -- Frank Reinhardt III, as it turned out -- was a World War II veteran, and was 80 years old, still alive, and living in Maine! (My 1910 Frank was probably the grandfather of Frank IV, but Frank and I didn't get into that.)

My communication with Frank -- Frank IV, that is -- continued via email. I filled the bed of my scanner three times with different arrangements of all the photos -- but regrettably, can only find the first two series of scans now -- and emailed the scans to Frank.

Shortly thereafter, of course, I sent him the actual photographs via "snail mail." The last time I heard from Frank was very soon after that. He explained that he'd been recovering from surgery, and said that once he was well, he would "head up to Maine and hopefully my Dad will recognize the photos or the individuals in them."

That was in 2007. I've emailed Frank a couple of times since, with no reply. So I've yet to learn if Frank senior appreciated and/or enjoyed receiving the photos.

Early Friday evening, however, when I began drafting this post, I decided to do a little more research.

Frank's cleaning business now has its own website. That's where I learned that Frank's middle name is Fallon, not a terribly common name.

Unfortunately, additional searches told me that a Frank Fallon Reinhardt from Maine had passed away in 2010, at the age of 82.

Alexander Pope once wrote that "[a] little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Sometimes, sadly, a little more knowledge can be somewhat... depressing.

Thanks for your time.


  1. Oh, so near and yet so far. I wasn’t expecting that ending. I always think it’s sad that stocks of photos get destroyed so easily. In our own families we all have stories of elderly relatives who have done just that.

  2. You've led us through the story of Frank in an intriguing way.
    My local flea market has volumes of old photos but these are at exorbitant prices I can't afford. There must be stories to be told in them.
    The wartime pictures always fascinate me.

  3. Are you conforming following a meme, oh dear what's the world coming to. Damn I said dear, Betsy I blame you.

    That's great that you actually found him, must have taken a good deal of digging on your part, ending kind of sucked though.

  4. Oh what a tough break to be just a bit too late to speaking with him...I hate when that happens, you reach so far, get so close and it all slips away...he would be smiling now if he read your blog! Thanks!

  5. I wouldn't feel did a great thing in tracking down his son and delivering the photos to him. Maybe he got to see them before he died. There isn't any more that you could have done. I would take some satisfaction in that. And 82 years is a good, long life.

    and Pat ~ thanks, dear. lol.... that put a smile on my face for sure!

  6. I've found I have no desire to find the people in the photos I have. The photos are what they are and now belong to me. I don't feel sorry about it anymore because often they're just copies of photos family members already have. You do have to be wary of people who contact you making claims because way too often they are false claims. Opening yourself up online tends to bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  7. What a great story. I have often looked at old photos on eBay, toying with the idea of purchasing ones I found particularly appealing. Yet I've stopped short of doing so because I know I wouldn't be satisfied having a nameless face in my possession. I'd eventually have to know more. I think you should be commended for your effort.

  8. What an intriguing story. Research like this does lead us down some interesting paths.

  9. Have I told you lately you are simply amazing! When the tough ol'poetry world sends me running's here I land! I would love to come across your table at a flea market...only hubby refuses to indulge that side of me, hmmm! I'll make a deal with you...if you share your Ramones tales, I'll share my Doc Martin, shaved head pics :) You were close on this one, which're probably doing better than most! Loved the post and most of all, the pics!

  10. @Pat: I've done several Sepia Saturday and Theme Thursday posts before now. I don't object to memes in general, just the chain-letter kind, or those that somehow stifle your own creativity while purporting to do the opposite!

    @Natasha: Wow, thanks for all of that. As far as the Ramones & Doc Martin trade-off, is this for our blogs, or for private emails? (I have no qualms about putting my reminiscences on view here, but you may hesitate to publicize those old photos to those who know you as a "serious artist!")

  11. Silver, I'm not sure I know of any who think me a serious artist, and if they did...well, silly fools for thinking such a thing! I'm far from serious I fear :)

  12. Well, I did put "serious artist" in quotes...

    And you still haven't answered the question, haha!

  13. Well now...I do have my highschool grad pic where the fuzz is just starting to grow back. (You can imagine mother's delight over that!) OR...I suppose I could post the big hair pic, (What is a girl to do when she just starts rebelling along the same time line as the 80's hair band trend...Poison had nothing on me!) If I post to my blog, well, then I'd have to write a poem to accompany the shot...and I would have to take a pic of the pic to post...You tell me, How much time do I have? And...would you prefer bleached blonde or blue black? (20 years later and I'm still trying to find the real me!)

  14. Well, you have plenty of time to figure out all of that, haha! I have a lot of posts on deck, so the Ramones/Ramainz post won't show up on my blog for at least two weeks.

    Oh, well, I have to sign off for this evening. I have to get up early for tomorrow's flea market... and I also have to try to chase a bat out of my apartment!

  15. Wow! Are you saying a bat flew in your window while you were sitting in your black silk bathrobe and contemplating, "Criminals are a cowardly lot. I shall become a creature of the night. I shall become..." And you know the rest. ;)

  16. @Skip: Believe me, as a lifelong comic book geek in good standing, that is the very first thing that occurred to me when I noticed the fuzzy little b@$t@rd flying around overhead as I worked at my computer!

  17. I must admit I am completely addicted to lost old photographs - the more obscure and unknown the better. What they enable us to do - as you demonstrate so well - is weave a story. There is a land - somewhere between Fact and Fantasy - that old photographs inhabit, a land I love to visit. Now look what you have done - made me go all serious.

  18. A very intriguing story that brings out important questions for all of us collector/bloggers. Years ago I did much the same as your story with an old identified photo. But at the time copying a photo was an expensive project only a camera store could do. And there was international postage, too. But I never heard a thing. Nothing. (This was years before email)

    Then years later after I got into collecting photos, I was researching a name on a photo, and found someone online who had a photo of the same person. She was looking for descendants who might want the photo. When I inquired about it, she said no relations had turned up, so she sent ME the photo, AND a collection of photos of anonymous people that were possibly related to it. That's the karma that comes back when you do thoughtful things!

  19. why depressed?
    you took it as far as you could.
    that's something, ain't it?!?

  20. @Alan: Yeah, I kinda thought this post would bring out your more serious side.

    @Ticklebear: "Depressed" because I found out that the elder Mr. Reinhardt had passed away. In fact, when I wrote the post, I emailed his son yet again and he answered me today. Sadly, due to health issues, his dad never got to see and appreciate the photos.


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