Photo Sleuthing!

December 18, 2016

A friend of mine, Karen, had me come over to her house to go through a bunch of great Madison photographs that they had found years ago, cleaning out her father-in-law’s house when they were preparing to sell it.

The photos belonged the previous family who lived there. Fortunately, some of the photos had names and addresses written on the back, so there were enough clues to get me started.

From those clues, the woman who originally owned the photos was Ida Kremer Grace, wife of Clifford. According to census records and city directories, the Kremer family lived on a section of Walnut Street in Madison that was demolished to make room for the new U.S. 421 that goes up to Madison’s hilltop back in the 1970s. Ida and Clifford were the previous owners of Karen's father-in-law's house on Baltimore Street.

One photo, displayed above, really stood out for me. It’s a photo of a graveside service in a cemetery. But for whom? In which cemetery? It was a large crowd; based on the clothing styles – particularly the women’s dresses and hats – and the fact that there were several carriages lined up in the background (no automobiles) I determined the photo was taken probably between 1905 and 1915. It was clearly a gloomy and damp day.

All I had to go on was Ida’s name and information on the back. Based on the fact that all the other photos were local, it was a good bet that this was a cemetery in or near Madison. 

My first step was to look up Clifford Grace on FindAGrave.com, where I found a memorial page for him and Ida. They are buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, which is located off of the end of Walnut Street at the bottom of Hatcher Hill.

Step two: I went to Google maps, found the cemetery location and then switched to “street view,” so I could actually see the headstones. 

Looking at the photo, I saw many headstones with crosses on top, so I studied where they were located. I couldn’t move the map to the same view that I had in the photo, but I was able to confirm that the stones I was looking at in the photo did actually match up to 

those I saw in the map online. 

I looked again and it was clearly the correct cemetery. Though it threw me off at first, I recognized a 15-foot white cross that stands on the foot of the hillside as the one at left in Karen’s photo. However, in the photo, there is a sculpture of Jesus on the cross. That sculpture is no longer there. It would be interesting to find out what happened to it.

 

So, the people in the photo – and there has to be a couple hundred of them – indicate to me that this person was very important. Many of them were obviously priests, based on their clothing and the headpieces they are wearing. The grave they are standing around was clearly just to the left of the cross, if one was looking directly at the cross from the entrance to the cemetery.

Now was the time to visit the location in person. Knowing where to look, I quickly found two graves in the spot where everyone had been gathered in the photo. Both men were priests and both had large marble stones covering the vaults of the two graves. (Clifford and Ida’s gravestone is just a few feet away.)

Determining which funeral was featured in the photo was easy. The Rev. Leonard Brandt, on the left, was born in 1822 and died in 1881 – the clothing styles were all wrong for that era, so it wasn’t his funeral. However, The Rev. John H. Boersig was born in 1864 and died – in March 1910. A perfect fit.

Boersig had been the priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church for about six years, according to newspaper accounts. He had died unexpectedly while visiting his brother, George, in Indianapolis. Clearly, from the picture, he was well loved and respected.

So, when you come across collections of photos, please be sure to do two things:

First, keep them together, because they tell a story. If this photo had not been found among other Madison photos, some of which were identified, it would have been much more difficult – if not impossible – to determine the event that was being recorded.

Second, use every clue you can find – in the image itself, and anything written on backs of photos and anything else that may be included with the collection. 

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