There are many photographs that have become iconic images over time – a sailor kissing a nurse in the middle of a New York City street; a little boy saluting his father’s coffin on his third birthday; a King shaking hands with a President. * They are images that have become ingrained in our history – black and white (or sometimes even color!) glimpses into our past.
Focus. Zoom. Click. The camera capturing one precise moment in time for all eternity. Unless you have a digital camera. Then you can erase what you don’t want to keep.
Today’s featured photo is another one of those moments in time and it is probably one of the most iconic photographs in the Schellhardt family photo collection. It ranks right up there with Max and Anna’s wedding portrait. In fact, for a long time, this was the only picture that indicated that my mother’s siblings were young – no, little – once upon a time.
Yes, here it is. Three brothers in a life ring.
Leaving or returning. I was never quite sure. The picture that hung in my mother’s collage was cropped. The uncropped picture reveals three brothers in a life ring with skinny legs and knobby knees.
Three brothers in shorts. Dressed more for an ocean voyage in July than for one in March. My assumption is that they were three brothers in a life ring leaving.
Three brothers leaving on an adventure. They had the run of a whole, great, big ship. Can you imagine the excitement? Can you imagine the trouble that they must’ve gotten into? With those three brothers, there was certainly a little mischief during their voyage.
Three brothers leaving America with their parents, grandmother, and baby sister. Before they left, their Aunt Louisa instructed their mother – don’t let those boys forget their English. Within 8 months, they would. But in these photos, that was still the future.
Three brothers leaving. Excited to be sailing away.
But into what were they sailing?
The thing about photographs – about those single moments in time – they never tell the whole story.
(After posting this - and looking at the photos for a good hour and having a loud debate with myself on the timing of the photos (would you wear a sweater in July? Was March 1935 particularly warm and short-wearing weather? Does Nanny look like she just gave birth the previous month? Did ladies carry black purses after Memorial Day in the 1930s?!) - I decided to couch this entire post with, I don't know anything for sure. Consider this an exercise in creative writing.)
*Bonus trivia question – one of the aforementioned photographs is the most requested record from the National Archives. Which one is it?
In 2003, I was issued my first passport. With it in hand, the girl smiling out at the world from the passport photo was ready to venture out into the great unknown beyond America! That’s what you do when you get a passport – you explore! You cross borders! You go through customs! With a passport, you see the world!
Or you go home.
I imagine that the spring and early summer of 1934 was a time of planning and preparation for Max and Anna and their small family. There were changes in store for these Schellhardts. Not only was another baby on the way but there was a move to make. And this wasn’t any cross-city move. This was a move across the ocean.
For Max, it was a move back home.
At some point – the facts and mundane details lost to history – Max decided to take his family back to Germany to help his father with the family business (a tavern? a hotel? it’s never been quite clear to me.) You have to wonder too whether Max at 29 – now a man with family responsibilities and multiple dependents – was leaving an economically depressed country to go to a land of opportunity just as he had, in reverse, at the age of 19.
Whatever the reason, the Schellhardts left America in July 1934.
But remember, Max was no longer a German citizen. He was an American. And so he needed a U.S. passport to go home.
He was issued Passport No. 113690 on June 6, 1934. At that time, wives and children were included in the passports of their head of household so Max’s wife Anna and their three sons are listed in his passport. In a bit of interesting timing, the fourth Schellhardt child, Helen, was born two days after the passport was issued. Since you can’t just slip a baby through customs – no matter how cute – an amendment had to be made. On July 9th, Helen’s picture was added on Page 6 and I would wager she is probably the youngest Schellhardt child to be recorded in a passport.
There are interesting things about the passport – first, Anna’s name is listed as Marie Anna. It is one of the many instances of Nanny’s flip-flopping name. Secondly, Max’s birth date is incorrectly recorded – April 5, 1905. He (someone?) was eight days off. Lastly, look closely at the stamps and you realize that Max was going back to a different country than the one that he left as a young man. But we, of course, have the benefit of hindsight and history books.
I blew up the cover of Max’s passport and it’s now framed and hanging in my dining room. When I look at it, I imagine the journey that this record – and that’s what this is to this archivist, a record – took so many years ago. I wonder if it was stuffed in Max’s jacket pocket or tucked away in Anna’s pocketbook. Was it gingerly placed on a counter were some junior immigration official thumbed through the pages? Was it hastily pulled out to be presented upon disembarking? Did it get lost in the shuffle of a week long journey across the ocean? Did it hear (records hear just like they speak, doncha know?) someone yell in a panic “where is the passport?!”
I am lucky in that I can hold this piece of our family’s history in my hands. Every once in a while, I take it out and I experience the weight of it even though it is not heavy in the least. I run my fingers across the (surely fake) gold embossed cover and the raised stamps that are the hallmarks of a government record. I flip through the pages, even the blank ones…because even without words, there is a story on those pages. I look at the photographs and I see a family ready to venture beyond America.
This passport took our family home.
And brought them back home again.
I know, I know. I’m a day late on this whole Independence Day thing. My town doesn’t actually celebrate until tomorrow – because it’s screwy like that – so technically, it’s not too late to wave Old Glory and wish you a Happy Fourth of July.
Fun factoid about me – the Fourth of July is my most favorite holiday. It even outranks Christmas! When you think about our brave forefathers and their decision to break away from British tyranny, well, you can’t help but wanna wear your very best red, white, and blue and sing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of your lungs!
For me, the Fourth of July was strictly a Henderson family affair – we used to have a big party for my dad’s side of the family and, occasionally, a Schellhardt or two may have joined in. The only non-Henderson Fourth of July that I (barely) remember is the one time that we celebrated in Dover with the Delaware Schellhardts. I remember going to the town square at night to watch fireworks and that’s about it. Heck, it might not have even been the Fourth at all; maybe Uncle Bill just had a really good day crabbing that day.
In all the family photographs that I’ve gone through, I haven’t come across any featuring Fourth of July celebrations so that made this Photo Friday difficult. But then I came across this one!
It looks like it was taken in front of Nanny’s house in Oreland so I’m going to assume that these cousins were watching the famous Oreland Fourth of July parade.
Or maybe they just really like sitting on the lawn waving little Old Glories.