Picture Day

When I wrote about Freida Lovewell a few days ago, I resisted the temptation to reuse those two Lovewell family portraits one more time.  Dave Lovewell complains that they haunt family reunions with a creepy inevitability that reminds him of the way Tom Hanks’ face keeps popping up in the margins of documentary footage in a certain Oscar-winning 90’s movie.  Commenting on the photograph that shows generations of young Lovewells and Stofers gathered around Thomas and Orel Jane, Phil Thornton suggested that the freshly-picked “apple” Ben Stofer seems to be holding could be a ball he’s just confiscated from the grandkids to get them to settle down long enough to have their picture snapped.  Who knows?  Maybe the shift-knob came off in his hand as he was getting out of his flivver.

We can read too much into photographs of what were, after all, prearranged events, spiced up by the occasional random element.  The trick is telling one from the other.  

I do want to call attention to a recently-added picture on this site, one that shows a batch of fresh-faced youngsters posing in front of a schoolhouse.  A clearer copy than this one used to hang in my grandmother’s living room on the wall behind her favorite rocking chair.  It was a prized keepsake because it shows her and her older half-sister Alice McCaul starting school at their new home near Lovewell.  I’ve come across several versions of this photo, but not the one I remember seeing that includes the names of a few teachers and students, besides the two I already know.  The idea that this is Switzer School No. 97 could be my mother’s invention, but she may have been right.  Switzer School predates the town of Lovewell, and lay near Pleasant Valley Cemetery (not to be confused with Pleasant View, along the road toward Webber) about two miles southwest of Thomas Lovewell’s half-section of land in Sinclair Township.   

Switzer School Annotated

Lillie Robinson was born in Portland in 1887, Alice McCaul in Carbondale, Kansas, in 1883.  On the page in the Lovewell Album where a larger version of this picture resides, I identify it has having been taken around 1895.  The longer I look at it, the more I’m inclined to slide the date a year or two to the right.  I seem to recall that someone on the back row was identified as a grown-up Lovewell, and there was perhaps a Leece or two.  If anyone has other thoughts about it, let me know.

Young as the two half-sisters were when this schoolhouse picture was taken, they had already clung to one another through several dire upheavals.  In the late 1880’s their family fled from Kansas to Oregon looking for refuge from an economic crisis, a recession which sidled into perhaps the worst depression the nation had yet seen.  On the move again they arrived in St. Louis in time for the family breadwinner to be crippled in a construction mishap.   Sometimes unlucky in love, their mother was also just plain unlucky.  She and Alice’s father died weeks apart in 1894.  Lillie’s father either disappeared or, as family legend has it, was murdered around the time this picture was taken.  The girls, who would spend the bulk of their lives 500 miles apart (Alice lived at Fort Smith, Arkansas), remained tied to one other emotionally, and tears flowed at each reunion.  In the final picture ever taken of Alice, at a nursing facility in Fort Smith, Lillie leans over her bed and tenderly wraps an arm around her sister.

For those without context, viewing a memento like the Switzer School photo sometimes kindles a spark of nostalgia, a yearning to be part of that grand adventure in what was surely a simpler time.  It’s difficult not to be touched by the sight of so many recently spit-shined faces lined up wearing their lovingly-handmade Sunday best.

But of course they were.  It was picture day.  

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com