Will Family Albums Be a Thing of the Past?

Several years ago an instructor for the photography class I was taking expressed concern that a whole generation of photography would eventually go missing. His thought was that right now, in this age of digital photography, we are still new enough to the concept that we are not taking care to preserve our images. In the future however, people will realize what’s been lost and they’ll take specific measures to once again produce hardcopy photos.

He’s right, you know. I’m a perfect example.

I put together photo albums for my family up to the late 1990s (albeit in great need of organization). Somewhere after that I went digital and no longer had them printed. Oh, I always mean to. But year after year goes by and I add hundreds of pictures to my computerized stash, yet I fail to make hardcopies. At any given time, my technology could fail and I could easily loose these irreplaceable family treasures.

Does posting pictures on Facebook count? Or in a blog?

Some say our photos are safer online than in the old-fashioned photo album. But there’s something to be said about sitting down with a tangible timeline of one’s beloved family. There’s joy in turning the pages of an album—those plastic sheaths that archive the pieces of our lives. Somehow the pass of a finger across a digital screen just doesn’t compare.

We don’t have a lot of pictures of the Amos boys when they were young. Those we do have are so very, very special. We’re lucky Gladys and others took the time to shoot those photographs—it certainly was much more expensive then than now—and we’re lucky they cared enough to save them for us.

Here are good suggestions for preserving family photos and data (click here). Do you have more ideas to add? How can we make sure the pictures we take today will be there for our grandchildren and their children?

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Bath School Disaster

Duane's 1940 class

Here’s Duane’s 4th grade class in 1940. Can you find him? It’s important to note that Duane’s class was not involved in the Bath School Disaster, but 13 years earlier children this same age were. Can you imagine the horror?


Today we’re going to have a history lesson. Today is the 85th anniversary of the Bath School Disaster, and while this tragedy happened five years before Duane, our octogenarian, was even born, because it took place in our family’s general neighborhood, I thought it worthy of mention.

Bath Township was, and still is, a small community located just off what now is I-69. It’s about ten miles southwest of Laingsburg. According to Wikipedia, in 1922, the community voted to close its one-room schools and merge them into the Bath Consolidated School system. They built a big, new school building, which, of course, necessitated an increase in property taxes.

One man, Andrew Kehoe, was particularly disgruntled by these costs. As treasurer for the Bath Consolidated School board, he fought to lower the taxes and blamed them for the financial difficulties he was having on his farm.

On the morning of May 18, 1927, Kehoe killed his chronically ill wife and set his home and farm buildings on fire. As fire fighters responded to this emergency, Kehoe detonated hundreds of pounds of explosives he had previously planted in the Bath Consolidated School building. And then, if that wasn’t enough, as people rushed to respond to the school explosion, Kehoe drove up in his car and detonated that too. It killed him, the school superintendent and several others who were nearby.

According to sources, all totaled, Kehoe killed 45 people and injured at least 58. Most of his victims were children in the second thru seventh grades, whose classrooms were in the north wing of building. During the rescue efforts, searchers found an additional 500 pounds of undetonated explosives in the south wing of the building.

Can you imagine something so horrific happening in your community?

At the time, Gladys would have been 16. She may have been living with her father in the Williamston area or with her mother in Lansing. Can you imagine how shocking it was to hear of this news?

I ask the Amos Boys about it. I wonder if they talked about it as children? Did people memorialize the date the way we do our tragedies today?

“We heard about it as we were growing up, but not too much detail,” says Duane.

“It happened before we were born,” says Bruce. “All we knew is what we heard, and that wasn’t a whole lot.”

“I don’t remember ever discussing it,” says Jerry. “Not in my neighborhood, or with my grandparents, or in school. Not even in junior or senior high school. Some history teacher may have mentioned it, but I don’t remember.”

Basically, as Jerry says, it happened and then people put it aside. They moved on.

Let’s talk about this a bit (we can have a psychology lesson as well as our history lesson).

If we look at modern-day school tragedies, like the Columbine High School Massacre or the Virginia Tech Massacre (neither of which had a death toll as high as the Bath School Disaster), we see public reactions that are very different. Nowadays, the media exposes every detail and we discuss it to great lengths. We send counselors into the classroom to help students deal with what they’ve experienced. And we soothe our pain with proactive measures to ensure nothing so terrible will ever happen again.

How different from putting it aside and moving on.

What do you think?

Living the Life in Lansing, MI

Bruce and Duane in front of Lansing Power & Light building

Bruce and Duane, with Lansing Power and Light in the background. Mid-1930s

As we get into this blog, it’s important to set the scene. We all know of the Great Depression and how it affected our nation, but most of us only know what we’ve learned in history books.

What about Lansing, specifically? How did the Depression hit that city and what was it like for the Amos Boys to grow up there?

Back then, Lansing was steeped in the auto industry—an industry hit hard by the Depression, just as it’s been today. Most ordinary folks, like what our family would have been, worked in manufacturing plants related to this industry. So when hard times hit there, they also hit the people in our family.

I wonder if the Amos Boys knew then that they were living in exceptional times? What was it like?

Here’s what they have to say.

Jerry

“I’ve talked to a family friend who is older and remembers this. Lansing had some big auto manufacturers then—Motor Wheel and Reo, and they just gradually shut down. First Reo cut down to half time, then to 1-2 days a week, and sometimes they just shut down (Reo ended car production in 1936, but continued its truck line).

“There were several other factories in town where our relatives worked, like the Nash Kelvinator, Duo Therm and Fisher Body.

“People were scratching around, trying to survive. It seemed normal to us.”

Bruce

“We were just kids then, so we weren’t old enough to know all the problems. Our family was as poor as anyone else. Everyone was in the same boat.”

Duane

“One time, I remember Dad wasn’t working and Mom got a job going to people’s houses. She installed coke bottle openers for them with a hand drill. I remember we celebrated because she could work that job for a couple weeks.”

Coca Cola Girls

Coca Cola Girls. Gladys (the Amos Boys’ mother) is in lower left. 1930s

Listening to these guys is fun and full of laughs. I ask them a question, then sit back and let them go with their reminiscing. So far, there haven’t been any lulls. In fact, I get the feeling I could leave, get a drink and they wouldn’t even know I was gone. I can’t though, because I’m scrambling to keep up with my notes.

They keep talking about all these street addresses—Willow, Pine, Kalamazoo, Beech, Michigan, and on and on.

How many places did you live, I ask.

“We moved a lot,” says Jerry. “Seems like every year we were living at a different address. That was common for us. It was probably common for most families because they couldn’t keep up with the rent.”

And for as many places that they lived, there were as many jobs that their parents’ worked—gas station attendant; serviceman for Garlock Refrigeration; die maker for Reo; die maker for Ford in Detroit; salesman for airplane rides somewhere away from Lansing; alleyman for Spartan Bowling Alley; bookkeeper for Liberty Highway; clerk at Capitol City Electric Shop; and many more.

Apparently, back then you just went wherever there was work. And, according to the Amos Boys, kids were left pretty much to their own devices.

What do you think—by any chance did these guys take advantage of that?

Who are these guys - Bruce, Duane and Jerry?

Bruce, Duane and friend Sheldon Homer, at Beech Street house, 1930s