Their story captivated the world.
A metro Atlanta mom shopping at a local Goodwill happened upon a trove of memories captured on film six decades ago. The accidental find became an international fascination.
There was the lady of the house with the mesmerizing stare. Her handsome husband, their adorable kids. Their global travels, their gleaming autos, their endearing poses. It was all so sublime - and tantalizing. Who were they?
Eager to reunite the treasures with their owners, the Goodwill hunter launched 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 a slew of other media outlets including local stations, CNN and CBS Evening News.
Finally, someone recognized the images. Calls were placed. The mystery was solved at last. It didn’t end like Kristie Baeumert thought it would.
A Fairburn mom of five, Baeumert often shops for kids’ clothes at the Tyrone Goodwill store. 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,” Baeumert 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 family rendered splendidly in late 1950s fashions. The two little girls were always dressed alike. Posed primly by the water, perched on either side of the rumpus-room bar, skipping barefoot down a dirt road, they are invariably resplendent.
They came by it naturally, it seems. Their mother was a vision in her tea-length dresses, her matching gloves and clutch, her crinoline-buoyed skirts. And mercy, was 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. We’ve heard from a steady stream of 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 could be located and someone could turn their life into a movie. Maybe a book. Maybe the slides could be featured in a museum exhibit.
We 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.
Yes, they traveled the world, as images from Wake Island, Nagasaki and tropical locales suggest.
Yes, they were from Kansas, as a penciled note on the box of slides indicates.
We got one thing wrong, though. The slides were not given away in error. No one’s been looking for them.
Items for sale in a particular Goodwill store might have come from that location, or not. There’s no record of who donates what. When we visited the store Baeumert frequents, a clerk said that some merchandise on the shelves came from area donors, but that trucks also come rumbling up daily from elsewhere. When you buy stuff at Goodwill, there’s really no telling where it came from.
After the story of the slides posted, we heard from so many people eager to track down license plate numbers, research geographic landmarks or otherwise help solve the riddle. We figured, though, that it would require someone with a learned eye, someone who would chance upon the reams of media coverage and recognize a familiar face.
After the CBS segment aired on Monday night, a series of phone calls connected Baeumert with a member of the Kansas family shown in the now-famous frames.
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. Over the phone, the family’s story unfurled like a new leaf on a tree. But you know what happens to a leaf in autumn?
Baeumert is returning the items privately to the person she connected with, and then that will be that.
They don’t want to write a book, or make a movie, or stage an art exhibit. They don’t want their names in the newspaper.
Although the photos have now spanned the globe, the stories behind them will remain a mystery. 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. It’s over.
“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!”