Tales from the Attic: The Photo Album



The telephone call was a little unusual, but certainly within the realm of one that a photograph archivist might receive. The woman making the call was a genealogist and a historian. She said, “My son found a photo album in the attic of a home that he is renovating. We’d like to find out to whom it belongs, but the pages are stuck together.”

Photographs don’t like to be wet. When the emulsion, or the slick side of the photograph, gets wet, it also gets sticky, and when it meets the emulsion side of another photograph, they stick together, just like fast friends.

She continued, “I have the album in my house, wrapped in a plastic bag. My son brought it by several weeks ago, and I put it aside, meaning to call you earlier, but it just slipped my mind. May I bring it to your office tomorrow? Oh, and by the way, it also has a little mildew smell.”

The warnings were all there. A photo album that had been sitting in a damp attic for an unknown period of time, with stuck and mildewed photo album pages, now residing in a non-breathing plastic bag, and with a mystery locked inside. HAZMAT warning aside, this was a photo archivist’s dream.

The genealogist lived in a West End historic home. When she put the album in the plastic bag aside, she placed it on a radiator in her home, with the bag opened at one end, perhaps with the idea that it might help dry the album. By the time it was brought for examination, some of the pages had loosened their grip, and fortunately, not all of the photographs were ruined. Little by little, the album began to give up its secrets in clues that led to the identification of the owner.

“Pictures Tell the Story,” is a fitting title for the mysterious photo album. The first album pages are dated September 1925, and the photos show a car with a female driver, with captions such as “Sis,” and “Me.” The verso page is dated December 1925 and features a young, stylish woman, with the caption “Yoder and her friends in Florida.” Who is “Yoder”…who is “Sis”…and who is “Me?”

Sepia-toned images attached by black photo corners that are glued to the pages are captioned in white pencil or ink. The writer (presumably a female) has a back slant to her penmanship, making deciphering the names and descriptions challenging. The pages are neat, with photos grouped by event, usually three or four to a page, and she rates an A for adding many dates to the pages.

Grace E. Hettrick was born in 1892 in Pasquotank County, the third of four children born to Ella Amelia Simpson and Isaac Holland Hettrick. Grace was 21 when her mother died and 23 when her father died. Grace moved to Forsyth County and lived with her oldest sister, Daisy, and her family on Sunnyside Avenue about 1921.

When the album starts in 1925, Grace is living on Queen Street, boarding with the Charles H. Knight family. Mr. Knight is a clerk at O’Hanlon’s Drug Store, where Grace is employed as a bookkeeper. One of the photos shows Grace at her desk in O’Hanlon’s. She also lives on Miller Street, Lockland Avenue, Gales Avenue, South Stratford Road, and Brent Street. Many of the houses are pictured in the album, as well as her landlords and their families.

Beach trips, excursions to pick cherries, visits with family, outings with “the group,” and travels to the Wright Memorial in Kitty Hawk, to the overgrown Fort Macon at Atlantic Beach, and to the Lumina at Wrightsville Beach, are all captured in photographs. Grace is also photographed at Grace Court in Winston-Salem and probably enjoyed sharing her name with the park.

This album ends about 1934, but her story does not end there. Grace was never photographed with a “beau” in her album, but in 1954 she married Larry E. Skinner. They lived together at 1013 Nancy Lane until Larry’s death in 1961; Grace died in 1981. This is where the photo album was found, and now we know the “Me” in the photo captions. But one question is unanswered, “Who is Yoder?”

Coming in December: “Christmas Memories.”

By Molly Grogan Rawls, author of the Winston-Salem Time Traveler website. Contact Molly at mollygroganrawls.com or winstonsalemtimetraveler.com.