Having the chance to volunteer at the Whiting Museum often makes one feel like an excavator. While we toil, scanning and putting vast amounts of information into a computer-designed museum program, we often come upon interesting items about Whiting of which we knew nothing.
Sometimes this happens when we get a "new" old photo or when we share our photos every year at the museum's Historical Photo ID Day.
Recently, I received an email from a woman with whom I had gone to high school who was working on her family history and requested a photo of a restaurant on New York Avenue that her grandparents owned. There was no restaurant name available, just a location.
I found a few store fronts which I believe might have been their restaurant, but upon learning that it was a Turkish restaurant, I also emailed her a photo of a Turkish organization that had been in town back in the 1930's. Bingo!
She wrote back excitedly because the little girl in the photo is her mom, who is now in her 80's. She had never seen this photo before, but now the museum also has the names of two of the folks in the photo.
My find of the month, though, has to do with the big January fire in downtown Whiting. A friend offered to let me scan an old photo of the building that burned down.
It wasn't a great photo, but it showed that building and two buildings that had been across the street. The photo was pre-WWI and across it someone had written "Hotel Conroy."
I had never heard of that hotel, but figured with all the notes I've taken throughout the year, perhaps those words appeared somewhere in my computer. They did and let me tell you, I was as excited as could be.
It wasn't the hotel, but the sweet little white ornate building next to it in the photo that was the big discovery. My notes said the hotel was next to the Princess Theatre, one of the earliest theaters in Whiting and one for which we (thought we) had not one single photo.
It was where vaudeville night cost you a dime and regular silent movies cost a nickel. If you look very closely at the photo, you can see what appears to be movie posters on easels out in front of the building. What a find!
This brings new meaning to a quote from the Whiting Call in 1914, when "The Listener," an unknown writer whom I suspect was its editor, wrote that he was distinctly impressed with the Madame Butterfly film at the Princess starring "Mary Pickford, who performed with numerous obeisances" as the beautiful Japanese girl.
A friend once told me that it's not always what's obvious in old photos that's valuable; it is what is lurking there in the background. So if you have any old photos of your community that seem to be pictures of nothing special, please don't discard them.
Donate them to your local museum. I guarantee your photo donations will never get a "negative" response.