The lights dimmed and the mystery unfolded, frame after tantalizing frame.
The lady of the house dazzles in a strapless evening gown, pink gloves and glittery choker. There’s a champagne coupe in her right hand — Veuve Cliquot, it appears from the label behind her — and a mink stole drapes over her left arm. Where did she go that night?
Muscular chrome beauties line the driveway, a 1953 Pontiac with a car cooler affixed to the window and a 1955 Buick with portholes gleaming down its sides. Their owners apparently are world travelers, too, trekking to a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where almost no visitors are allowed. How?
The lights came back on. We were still in the dark.
“I’m just falling in love with this sweet family,” said Kristie Baeumert, the accidental guardian of their memories. “I’m fascinated. I want to know more.”
The Fairburn mom of five often shops for kids’ clothes at the Tyrone Goodwill store, and she was browsing there the other day when a sturdy contraption on the electronics shelf caught her eye. The Argus 300 Model III slide projector would be perfect for viewing the boxes of slides she’d inherited from her grandmother, she thought. She didn’t notice the original owner’s slides until later.
“I was instantly obsessed,” she said. “I made my whole family look at them. My friends came over and I was like, ‘We’re going to look at these slides!’ ”
The Argus appears to have been a valued possession; someone etched on its serial number. The carton it came with says “Kansas” in pencil and there’s a Colorado tag on one of the cars. What are these heirlooms doing in Georgia?
Some frames suggest global travel. One shows tourists at Nagasaki Peace Park in Japan (thanks, Google Image Search), one was snapped in what appears to be a tropical setting and one is marked “Wake Island,” a tiny, tightly restricted spit of land in the Pacific Ocean mostly used as a stop for refueling military planes. Was this a military family?
There are no pictures of people in uniforms, but there’s a cultural clue that suggests that might be the case: The family is African-American but some of their photos show black and white kids playing together.
“I don’t even think schools were integrated yet,” Baeumert observed.
The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way to school integration with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, years after President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 banning racial discrimination in the U.S Armed Forces.
There’s no telling who the donor was. Goodwill of North Georgia operates 59 donation centers and 60 stores in the 45 counties it serves. Last year it took in 2.8 million items and served 7.4 million shoppers. Sometimes items for sale at a particular store were donated there, sometimes elsewhere.
Eager to find the family the slides depict and learn more about them, Baeumert shared a few images on her Facebook page. Her post has been shared more than 160 times but so far, no dice.
“I was kind of sad about that,” she said. “If this was my family, I would want these.”
We met up with Baeumert at the Hapeville library this week, where the staff let her set up the Argus in the conference room. The slide show was a painstaking process, nothing at all like zipping through the scroll of snaps we all have on our phones. Unlike the zillions of selfies we preen for or the meals we feel compelled to document, they reflect a level of care in posing and composition.
“As far as photography goes, this person knew what they were doing,” she said. “They weren’t just randomly snapping.”
Having viewed them so many times now, the strangers in the slides have started to feel like friends.
“My grandmother had a velour sectional like that.”
“Someone probably made that skirt.”
“These girls matched, all the time, down to the shoes and everything, even when they’re just playing in the yard. Awww. I love them.”
Someone wrote on the border of this frame, a photo of a little girl posed sweetly in the front yard:
“Perfect Pic,” it reads. “The best of my baby.”
The note scrawled in pencil, maybe by another mother decades ago, clutches at Baeumert’s heart.
“They just look so happy,” she said. “They wanted to take pictures together all the time. I feel like I know the family now.”
Our thanks to friend and former colleague Mark Davis, now with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, for his help identifying various indigenous American species depicted in the slides: the vintage automobiles.
AJC photographer Alyssa Pointer took the photos of Kristie Baeumert and the photos of slides projected onto the wall during an impromptu slideshow at the Hapeville library this week. We don’t know who took the original photos. Yet. We hope to.
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