From The Trenches
A "where is it" and a "what is it?"
There are deadline days when I wish I could echo the deliciously wisecracking Dorothy Parker, who was known to answer the phone by snapping, "And what fresh hell is this?"
And then there are days when the loud briiiiiiiiiing of my midcentury turquoise landline is onomatopoeic: The briiiiiiiiiing brings fascinating conversations. (What? Of course I have a vintage turquoise phone. What self-respecting collector doesn't?)
Recently I got a call from Dr. John P. Doley, a Virginian who had an image of veterans at a monument, and he was hoping to find out where the monument is located.
Further conversation elicited the information that his people were from Fredericksburg, and his grandfather had owned Sunshine Laundry—a place I remember fondly from my childhood. When is a laundry not merely a laundry? When it was a fixture that dated back to the early 1900s and was built on a natural spring, enabling it to turn out whites as bright as, yes, sunshine. It sold in 1985, and there's an argument to be made for the locals not looking as sparkly clean since. The place, well worthy of a monument of its own, is today a parking lot.
The trip down memory lane included the information that John's ancestors had lived just blocks from a place I lived in downtown. In fact, my onetime house can be seen in Civil War images of Fredericksburg. The place was so, shall we say, well ventilated that I always assumed that any artillery shells probably whistled right through it without doing any damage, much as the wind churned through it on cold winter nights. (I was an innocent and hadn't known that when a real estate agent uses the words "charming," "rustic," and "authentic," it means that you will be able to hang meat in your living room in January.)
John's interest in reconnecting the photograph with its history might be in the DNA, for his great-grandfather was pioneer Fredericksburg photographer William T. Smith.
Anything for a fellow Fredericksburger, and I show here the image. There's not much to go on—just the statue's boots and a gathering in front of it, among whom is a distinguished-looking gentleman wearing a rakish slouch hat. Judging from the Edwardian style of the chapeau worn by the lady in the back, the photograph may have been taken circa 1900-'10. Can anyone identify the location of the image from these or any other clues?
The interesting interaction on Ol' Turquoise didn't end with that call. Allow me to preface this with an admission that I have occasionally butchered the king's English; sometimes I've slaughtered the court jester's English. (I now pronounce "debacle" as "bad thing.")
Of course, that disclaimer is inserted so that I can make fun of someone else with impunity, particularly if I end it with the time-tested "Bless [his or her] heart." Any denizen of the south knows it's socially acceptable to spout snarky slander as long as you wind it up with that phrase. "Lawsie, I think Miz Grundersnoot downed a pint of gin before she even got to the ice cream social. Bless her heart."
Caller: "Yeah, I want to talk to someone about a derogatory photo."
Me: "Oh. Did we print an image you found offensive?"
Caller: "What? No. I got a question about a derogatory."
Me: "Um ..."
Caller: "You oughtta know ‘bout these! Derogatories are on glass."
Me: "Oh! You have a daguerreotype?"
Caller: "That's what I said, lady. What're derogatories worth these days?"
Hard to say without seeing the piece, but I do know the value of that conversation: priceless. Bless his heart.
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