Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner ca. 1935 Joe Wilner ca. 1960

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:
Joe Wilner's diploma, 1937

indicating that he was from the Canarsie section of Brooklyn (P.S. 115). Here's the accompanying picture:
Joe Wilner 1937


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:
Joe Wilner'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:
Joe Wilner and wife, early 60s
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):
Joe Wilner, early 60s

But consider Joe's appearance in these earlier snapshots:
newly wed
and who is this? The interior decorator?
Rita and the interior decorator?
The answer may be encoded in the photo on the wall. Is this Joe and Rita?
Joe and Rita Wilner detail

And is this Joe and Rita's wedding?
Joe and Rita's wedding? (see HotSpotted version)

These surely are Joe and Rita:
Joe's new baby
Joe's family at table
Joe's family

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:
Rita Wilner
Rita Wilner

Lake Arrowhead, June 1952, with Verlene and Esther:
at Lake Arrowhead with Verlene and Esther

at Lake Arrowhead with Verlene and Esther

This one was taken at Waller's Post Lodge, in Larchmont NY ("The Home of Name Bands")
the Wilners enjoy a night on the town

There are a few other pictures of Mrs. Wilner, this one taken in an arcade photo booth sometime in the late 1940s:
Soon to be Mrs. Wilner

...and this one sometime earlier:
The future Mrs. Wilner, even earlier


Here's one pretty obviously from courting days:
Joe Wilner courting
(I'd know those clavicles anywhere...)


Waiting for the interior decorator to make a house call:
waiting for the interior decorator

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
Your daughter


Earlier views of Joe:
Summer 1941
Summer 1941 Howard Beach Cross Bay (Joe on the right)

with his sister? and his Dad?
Joe with his sister and their Dad?

by the roadside, but no date:
Joe waits by the roadside

...and in Summer 1945:
Joe in summer 1945
Joe as general contractor

Joe Wilner summer 1945

Feb. 1946:
Joe Wilner Feb 1946

on the back: Mary Wilson, Helen Wilner, Andy Thimacki, Sofie Conon, Joe Wilner
Joe Wilner with his sister?

Joe Wilner and somebody's boat


In the summer of 1947, Joe made a cross-country trip, recorded in a half dozen snapshots taken in Racine Wisconsin
Joe Wilner in Racine WI 1947
Tama Iowa
Joe Wilner in Tama IA
and Wyoming
Joe Wilner in Wyoming
(the sign says WYOMING Tree in Solid Rock) ...and several other places.

In 1947 he went to Mexico too:
Joe Wilner in Mexico City, 1947

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 York
The 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:
Is this Joe's ma?
It's a stretch, with very little that could confirm it, but I wonder if this is Joe's mother? On the back it says
Kriegs Spital...Wien

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?
Maybe Joe's ma?

Finally, there are two pictures of the daughter, the snapshot labelled "6/4/66 L.I." --which I parse as Long Island:
wilner10b.jpg Joe and Rita's daughter, 1966(continued)