PARIS — Two Oxford Hills Middle School students and their teacher are on a quest to identify the names and places depicted in dozens of old photographs found in an album that was purchased in an antique store in Bridgton.
OHMS eighth-grade English language arts teacher Jolene Twombly-Wiser and eight-grade students Thomasina Lester and Quinn Hartnett are spending hours each week pouring over close to 100 black and white photos, believed to have been taken in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in an attempt to identify who the people are and where they are pictured.
“We have decided to work to return the photos to their family, or families, and to learn as much as we can about the people in the photos,” said Thomasina.
There are few clues.
“As far as we know, there is no local connection,” said Twombly-Wiser of the photographs.
Twombly-Wiser said she purchased the album at the Main Street Mercantile, an antique shop in Bridgton.
“I asked about a previous owner and was not able to get any information,” she said of her initial attempt to identify the photographs.
She then enlisted the two students and together they have removed the photographs, scanned each, researched places and people’s names using the few identifying marks on the photos, contacted historians in areas they identify, and used whatever means they could think of to figure out the mystery.
The students use their critical thinking skills to seek out clues in the photos, including clothing, buildings, and other identifying clues.
“What happened to this family? What was their path through the generations?” asked Quinn.
Quinn said he and Thomasina have been using a number of tools to identify the pictures including the Internet, finding words in the pictures or certain phrases they have to translate, looking for the same people in pictures or similar places and other means.
What is known at this point is that many of the pictures were taken in Connecticut, New York, Washington, D.C., and possibly Virginia. The pictures date back as early as 1925, many being marked as 1926 and 1927, plus some in the early 1930s.
Locations such as Bayville and Appledale in New York have been identified either through the photograph itself or by markings on the photos.
From there the students and their teacher reached out to historians to try to further identify the photo.
Appledale, for example, was a popular resort in South Cairo, New York, where some of the photographs were taken, showing well-dressed young people enjoying the outdoor resort.
Twombly-Wiser said they contacted the historian in South Cairo, who said the Appledale building still exists but was no longer in use.
A few names have been marked including Preston M. Marble and Jonathan Eberhard and that’s where a lot of the mystery is at the moment.
Twombly-Wiser said they believed one photo is a three generational photo marked “3 Jonathan Eberhard” of the Faber-Castell family. They have been in touch with those familiar with the American side of the famous German family of one of the world’s oldest and largest manufacturers of pencils, pens and other office supplies.
There seems to be a discrepancy among those contacted about whether or not the pictures depict Faber-Castell family members and more research is needed before it can be confirmed.
If anything the trio is even more adamant to get to the bottom of the mysterious photo album.
They hope to create some sort of website where all the photographs can be uploaded and shared in hopes that someone out in cyber space will have the answers they seek.
“I don’t want to give up,” Twombly-Wiser said.