Sometime around 1980 Laura sent me a box of more than 300 snapshots and a few portraits, a few of the latter labelled with the name "Joe Wilner". One contained an elementary school diploma:
indicating that he was from the Canarsie section of Brooklyn (P.S. 115). Here's the accompanying picture:
A few of the snapshots have annotations on the back, mostly identifying dates and sometimes places. There's no single coherent story line to be read from them, and the vast majority are out of focus, have no clear referent, and it's hard to discern why they were saved.
That said, there are some stories buried in the mess, particularly involving Joe's wife and daughter:
(there are 6 or 7 variants of this, proofs from a pretty unsuccessful trip to a portrait studio, and this is the liveliest and least stilted).
This one from March 11 1962 is a bit spooky:
It's a Polaroid photograph, poorly preserved, and I have a sense that there's something wrong with Joe, perhaps because of the context of several other pictures. Here's another from about the same time (it's from the same Polaroid roll):
But consider Joe's appearance in these earlier snapshots:
and who is this? The interior decorator?
The answer may be encoded in the photo on the wall. Is this Joe and Rita?
And is this Joe and Rita's wedding?
(see HotSpotted version)
These surely are Joe and Rita:
What has changed in this decade or so? Yes, the daughter has grown. Mrs. Wilner's hairstyle has evolved. But I see (or do I just imagine?) some process of pain working on Joe.
Joe and Rita were in California in the early 1950's, and these two pairs of snapshots demonstrate that they were not above a bit of photographic fun:
Lake Arrowhead, June 1952, with Verlene and Esther:
This one was taken at Waller's Post Lodge, in Larchmont NY ("The Home of Name Bands")
There are a few other pictures of Mrs. Wilner, this one taken in an arcade photo booth sometime in the late 1940s:
...and this one sometime earlier:
Here's one pretty obviously from courting days:
(I'd know those clavicles anywhere...)
Waiting for the interior decorator to make a house call:
Here's the basis for the hypothesis that her name is Rita:
On the back it says
Feb 22, 1952 = Mexico
To Mom with all my love and good wishes
Earlier views of Joe:
Summer 1941 Howard Beach Cross Bay (Joe on the right)
with his sister? and his Dad?
by the roadside, but no date:
...and in Summer 1945:
on the back: Mary Wilson, Helen Wilner, Andy Thimacki, Sofie Conon, Joe Wilner
In the summer of 1947, Joe made a cross-country trip, recorded in a half dozen snapshots taken in Racine Wisconsin
(the sign says WYOMING Tree in Solid Rock) ...and several other places.
In 1947 he went to Mexico too:
But who was Joe Wilner? Social Security death records have one who seems to match:
JOSEPH WILNER (born) 04 Feb 1923 (died) Mar 1979 11226 (Brooklyn, Kings, NY) SSN: 088-16-7579 New YorkThe only other bit of evidence of his origins besides the diploma is a photograph that is entirely different from any of the others, taken a generation earlier and in Vienna:
And this one is even more of a stretch, but it's one of the few snapshots of an older generation in the box. Could this be Joe's mother and father at Joe and Rita's wedding?
Finally, there are two pictures of the daughter, the snapshot labelled "6/4/66 L.I." --which I parse as Long Island: