Old photos, free to a good home
From the 1940s through the 1960s, professional photographer Don Brown of Bethel took photos of dozens of subjects: graduations; weddings and anniversaries; elementary school classes and sports teams; Eastern Star, Grange, and Mason members.
He died in 1996, and his wife, Arlene, died three years ago. As their daughter, Danna Brown Nickerson, was cleaning out their house, she found old negatives, proofs, and photos. “There were thousands of them,” she said.
All of the proofs were labeled with names. Most of the photos were loose and unlabeled in boxes – likely test shots as Brown developed photos.
“I just couldn’t throw them away,” said Nickerson.
She gave the negatives to the Bethel Historical Society. But the rest continued to sit in boxes in her own home for a while as she pondered what to do with them.
Then early this year fate intervened, in the form of the Facebook page, “I Grew Up in Bethel, Maine.”
People were posting old photos from their youth.
“I’d seen a picture and say, ‘I’ve got that photo,’” said Nickerson. “It was a good way to comment and tell people I had pictures of their family members. That’s what got me moving on the photos.”
She also posted photos on the page so people could help with identification. In one day she had the names of a 1950 Bethel Grammar School basketball team.
Nickerson started making up packets of pictures that she identified, and gave them to individuals and families.
“It was probably mid-February when I started giving out photos, and the more I gave out, the more the interest grew. I even mailed some to people. They were tickled pink,” she said.
There have been phone messages from people who have gotten the word. “I had a message from a lady who said, ‘Someone said you had pictures of me.’ I had her wedding photos.”
In some cases the people still have other originals of the same photos. But they are grateful for additional copies.
On Mollyockett Day, Nickerson set up a table on the Bethel Common and connected with more people. “People had so much fun going through the envelopes of proofs looking for familiar names, and sifting through the boxes of loose photos, too. I was able to get quite a few of the unknown ones identified that day, too.”
She’s also has had the photos available most weekends at John’s Potato Barn on Railroad Street, where she and her husband, George, hold regular sales of antiques and a variety of other items. “People come and sit and look through [the photos],” she said.
One person Nickerson found at one of her distributions was Ginny Gamble of Bethel. Nickerson gave Gamble wedding photos of herself and her two sisters from the 1950s.
“What a surprise,” said Gamble. “It takes you down memory lane.”
Although she did have other copies of the wedding pictures, Gamble also found in the packet a photo of one of her sisters that she did not have, as well as the hand-written order for the wedding photos that had been made out by her mother.
So far, Nickerson estimates she has given away about a third to a half of the photos and proofs.
There are still plenty she can’t identify. “There’s a man sitting with his dog and his hunting rifle. There’s a game warden and his wife,” she said.
So the search goes on. Anyone wishing to look at the pictures may stop by the Nickerson’s sale at John’s Potato Barn (to be held sporadically through the fall), or contact her at 824-2049 and/or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Nickerson is anxious to give away more photos.
“They need to go to new homes,” she said.