Their story has captivated the world.
A metro Atlanta mom shopping at a local Goodwill happened upon their trove of memories. Eager to reunite the treasures with their owners, she sent a modern-day message in a bottle - a Facebook post - onto the roaring seas of social media.
A story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution appeared last week, sparking a flood of interest. The post generated more than 20,000 retweets and follow-up stories from other media outlets including local stations, CNN and CBS Evening News.
Finally, someone recognized the images. A call was placed. The mystery was solved at last.
It didn’t end like Kristie Baeumert thought it would.
The Fairburn mom of five often shops for kids’ clothes at the Tyrone Goodwill store, and she was browsing there the other day when an Argus 300 Model III slide projector caught her eye. Finally, she’d be able to view the slides she’d inherited from her grandmother.
“She would go to Hawaii and then come back and we’d all line up and see her slides,” she recalled. “I just wanted to experience those again.”
She bought the projector for $15, planning to stage slide viewing gatherings of her own.
“I’m sort of the keeper of my family,” she said. “I have my grandmother’s china cabinet in my kitchen. I have my other grandmother’s wedding china. I’m big on keeping things in the family.”
Little did she know when she plucked the sturdy green box off the Goodwill shelf, she was adding another family’s memories to her own.
She didn’t realize at first that the projector came with a box of slides, and what magnificent slides they were. They depict a glamorous and loving family. The two little girls were always dressed alike. Their mother was a vision in her tea-length dresses, their father a dashing head-turner.
“I was instantly obsessed,” Baeumert said. “I made my whole family look at them. My friends came over and I was like, ‘We’re going to look at these slides!’”
It’s not hyperbole to say the entire world’s had a good look at them. The AJC’s heard from folks across the country and from New Zealand, Australia, India and Africa.
“What a story about the Goodwill projector! Wow!” director Ava DuVernay said in a message. “Following closely!”
We responded to her message and to so many others with hopeful excitement. Maybe the family can be located and someone can turn their life into a movie. Maybe a book. Maybe the slides could be featured in a museum exhibit. We hoped and prayed this precious family could be found.
Then, they were.
There were a few tantalizing clues and they all turned out to be accurate. Yes, this was a military family. A happy, loving one. He was in the U.S. Air Force and they traveled the world, as images from Wake Island and Nagasaki suggest.
Yes, they were from Kansas, as a penciled note on the box of slides suggested.
The one thing we were wrong about: the slides were not donated in error. No one’s been looking for them.
Items in a Goodwill store might have been donated in that location, but they might have come from elsewhere, too. There’s really no telling, and Goodwill doesn’t keep track of who donates what.
After the CBS segment aired on Monday night, a series of phone calls connected Baeumert with a member of the Kansas family.
The lady of the house, the one so stunning in her evening gown and stole “was a beautiful woman,” a relative told her, among other details. She’s returning the items privately to the person, and then that will be that.
They don’t want to write a book, or make a movie, or stage an art exhibit. The images depicted in the slides are 60 years old and wouldn’t be recognizable to anyone outside the family. Baeumert isn’t sharing their names or other details.
“You do feel like you have a connection,” Baeumert said as she packed up the images of people she’s come to view as friends.
Baeumert’s been besieged with interest since the initial story ran. A few kooks have found their way to her social-media inbox and her phone’s been buzzing nonstop.
“I had to shut down my whole Facebook page,” she sighed.
Once the tempest subsided, she posted a coda.
“Many thanks to everyone who came together to find the family and for all the kind comments,” she wrote. “People shared stories with me of their childhoods in military housing and of lost pictures they wish someone could find from their own family. I hope this story inspires people to dust off some boxes in their basements and bring those old memories to life again.
Off to Goodwill on my next treasure hunt now!”
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