About 80 years ago, someone pointed a Kodak Brownie camera at a sailor and took some shots.
Click on. The single camera shutter opened for a 50th of a second. The moment captured on film shows the young man with a broad smile, his hand raised in a sign of greeting. He wears dress blues with a single white stripe on the cuff and a cap tilted at a casual angle.
Click on. The sailor stands next to another young man with a family resemblance. Maybe it’s an older brother, looking dapper in a double-breasted suit.
Click on. The sailor stands next to a car parked near a house. Maybe he’s home on leave.
There were no more clicks. The camera was never used again and the film inside was forgotten, left undeveloped. Decades have passed. No one has ever seen the photos of the sailor.
In July 2022, Keith Yearman was browsing a vendor’s table at Maxwell Street Market in Chicago. An old camera sitting among used books and electronic equipment caught his eye.
“I just had to have it, for some reason,” Yearman said. He bought it for $20.
Yearman, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Carol Stream, is a professor of geography at the College of DuPage. It is also a passionate street photographer and specializes in film photography and old photos. He has a collection of about 30 vintage cameras.
This turned out to be a Brownie No. 2A sold by Eastman Kodak from 1907 to 1936. It was known as the case because it was essentially a rectangular cardboard box covered in “leatherette”, with a roll of film at one end and a lens at the other. Originally costing $3, it helped bring amateur instant photography to the masses. Kodak made more than 2 million, according to Brownie Camera Page.
About a week after buying the Brownie, Yearman opened it – and was surprised to see a roll of film still inside.
The film, which was tightly wrapped around a metal spool with a wooden core, was a now rare Type 116 film, first introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1899. It is so obsolete that even camera stores specialized photo where Yearman brought the film to Chicago. could not develop it. They suggested Yearman send the film to Marian Early.
Early, who runs Custom photographic print in Rochester, NY, is one of the few people in the country who can hand-process 116-type films. But she warned Yearman that she couldn’t make any promises for a film that old. But for $25, she would try.
“The movie itself was completely unlabeled,” Early said. “The processing is a bit of a guess. The film is old. You don’t know if it’s been fogged up. There’s different chemistry for different films.”
“I said we absolutely had to try,” Yearman said.
On August 25, Yearman received a call from an excited Early. “She said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. We have pictures. “
A roll of 116 film allows six exposures. Three of the six in the Yearman roll contained images, all featuring the young sailor.
“I was very surprised, to tell you the truth,” Early said.
The images – surprisingly clear – made Yearman and Early wonder who the sailor was and what had become of him.
“It was kind of like, wow. You have to wonder where this guy went, was he in service, did he come back?” Early said.
Yearman has many old family photos from the 1920s and 1940s, which he considers treasured keepsakes. He thought the sailor’s family would want the lost footage – if he could only find that family.
And so the search began.
Yearman shared his discovery with an online Chicago photography group and a group of Honor Flight veterans, asking if anyone had any suggestions on how to find the sailor’s family. A Chicago television station made a story about picturesas did an online photography magazine. No family claimed them.
Yearman returned to the street market to speak to the vendor who had sold him the camera, but there too was a dead end.
He studied the photos and realized that one contained a clue. In the background was a sedan – possibly a Packard, possibly a Ford – with whitewall tires and what looks like a raccoon’s tail hanging from the radio antenna. The front license plate is barely visible. Yearman deciphered the number 281,856 and “Minnesota 1942”.
He contacted Minnesota Auto Services officials, only to be told they didn’t keep records that far.
Still, Yearman didn’t give up.
He scanned the photos for more clues. If they were taken in Minnesota, it might be early spring or late fall: there are no leaves on the trees, but no snow on the ground either.
And if caught in 1942, it was a year in which American sailors serving in World War II would fight in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and the Battle of Guadalcanal.
“Worst-case scenario, what if this guy never made it home? These could end up being the last photos of this guy,” Yearman said.
This made Yearman want to find the family of the unknown sailor even more. So he asks for your help.
If you know anything about the photos, he asks you to contact him at [email protected]