Friday, January 11, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Christine Forever 24

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.





This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt brought to mind the number of pictures my mother took at Virginia Beach in her young and carefree days. 

Here is Momma with two of her best friends from high school, Betsy Ward and Christine Westbrook. 

Christine Westbrook Wisehart, Betsy Ward Lumsden Gray Delcambre, Mary Davis Slade
Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward, Mary Eleanor Davis

And here they are on another day.  Judging by Momma’s hairstyles, I’m guessing it was summer 1946 or 1947, maybe as late as 1949 in the second picture.  She and Betsy were smoking (and I don’t mean “smokin’ hot” even though they were).  Tsk Tsk - there's never a Surgeon General around when you need one.

Mary Davis Slade, Christine Westbrook Wisehart, Betsy Ward Lumsden Gray Delcambre
Mary Eleanor Davis, Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward

Momma was in both of her friends’ weddings.  But for today, I want to write about Christine.  I never knew her, but she was always a presence in a box of photos and two yellowed newspaper clippings. 

Christine Westbrook Wisehart 1928-1952

Christine married her sweetheart Milton Wisehart in March 1947, just a year after high school graduation.  It was a big wedding, even by today’s standards, with eight attendants all dressed in pastel satin brocade.  Christine’s gown was of slipper satin with an off-the-shoulder neckline.  Her long sleeves ended in points and a long sweeping train added the grandeur to an already grand wedding at the First Presbyterian Church.   Their honeymoon was a boat trip to Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Three children came quickly:  Milton Jr., Kathy, and Billy.  While stationed in Mobile, Alabama, the family celebrated the Fourth of July 1952 with an outing on the Mobile River.

A Marine, Milton borrowed an amphibious tractor without permission to give his wife and three young children a ride in the river.  It should have been a fun day.  It should have been thrilling.  But, tragically, the tractor sank.  Christine tried to save her sons and daughter, diving three times but failing to surface after the third try.  Milton also tried to save his young wife, only 24 years old, but was unsuccessful.  He was left clinging to a tree, waiting to be rescued. 

After being treated at the hospital for shock, Milton made that dreadful phone call to his family back in Virginia.  I can’t even imagine.

Such a bitter irony that the lure of water should mark the beginning and the end of this Wisehart family.

For more bathing beauties and happier endings, please visit Sepia Saturday.

52 comments:

  1. What a sad story and what lovely photos

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    1. It is sad, for sure. Thanks for visiting.

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  2. Such a sad story. Christine was really beautiful, and to die at such a young age—and leaving three children—that's truly tragic.

    The pictures are wonderful! I love the hairstyles. :)

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    1. I know -- only 24! Just a kid herself. How sad for both Christine's and Milton's families to lose 4 people at one time. Heartbreaking.

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  3. Oh my, what a tragic story! I can't even imagine poor Milton having to make that call :-(

    Beautiful photos (and babes) you have here!

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  4. Such a sad story, a fun day out ending in such a tragedy. Lovely photos of three gorgeous ladies at the beach.

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    1. And the fact that he took the tractor without permission makes it feel like it all could have been prevented. You never know.

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  5. These girls were gorgeous and life looks so promising in the happy beach photos. It would be unimaginable to lose your wife and small children that way. I wonder how the rest of his life turned out?

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    1. I wondered about Milton's life too. Looking on Ancestry, I found that he stayed in the Marines and was a recruiter in Lynchburg, Virginia, as late as 1968. I also found him during the 90s living right here in Chesapeake where I live. He died in 2004. However, I don't know if he remarried because none of that showed up in what I was able to find. Now I'm wondering if my mother knew he was so close by.

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  6. Wendy what a tragic story but how appropriate that you should honour her memory through Sepia Saturday.

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn. When Alan posted the prompt, I immediately thought of Momma's beach pictures, but I had no story in mind. Even though Christine's story isn't my family story, it's certainly a part of my mother's experience losing a close friend at a young age.

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  7. Oh Wendy, what a terribly tragic story! I can't even imagine how heartbreaking this must have been for Milton. And it must have been sad for your mom too. Had she kept in touch with Christine after high school?

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    1. I know, Jana - they would have had to just shoot me.

      I'm assuming Momma had stayed in touch with Christine, but honestly, as a kid looking at that box of photos, I didn't ask any questions.

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  8. What can I say? The word "tragedy" doesn't even begin to describe this event...
    I notice this is the first post where bikini's pop up. Was that name already in use in the second half of the 40's? I guess so because the nuclear bomb tests there took place in 1946.

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    1. You are right, sir! Now you're making me rethink how daring Momma and her girlfriends were.

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  9. The three beauties look so glamorous and are wearing bikinis!
    The second part is so terribly tragic, one can not imagine the sadness for parents and families and the haunting memories for the husband and father.

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    1. "Haunting" - perfect word for this unspeakable tragedy.

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  10. The photos of the three beautiful girls didn't prepare us for the sad story that followed. Milton and his family must have mourned the loss of his wife and children for years.

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    1. I think too the horror of that day stayed fresh.

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  11. Oh, Wendy, what a sad story! Bob is right, you stunned us.

    Your Mom and her friends were beautiful, and yes, smokin' hot!

    Kathy M.

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  12. That is really a sad story. Hopefully, nowadays they would be smart enough not to go out without life jackets.

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    1. I'm sure an amphibious vehicle looked indestructible. But yes, when children are involved, there should be no question that life jackets are a must.

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  13. Those pictures of your mom and her friends are full of life and fun and energy!. Poor Milton and the guilt he must have carried.

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  14. A post like this is what makes your blog so interesting, Wendy. Photos of beauties framing a tragic story of sadness. Not a easy history to relate but with the inspiration of our Sepia Saturday theme, you find just the right words.

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    1. What a nice thing to say. And yes, Sepia Saturday is always my best inspiration.

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  15. I love the line : "I never knew her, but she was always a presence in a box of photos and two yellowed newspaper clippings". I know exactly what you mean, certain photographs can somehow give us the feeling that we know people even though distance and generations separate us.

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    1. Sometimes it's hard to separate what is a real memory from what has been assimilated from years of hearing a story.

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  16. Momma carried that first picture in her wallet for years. You know it must have broke her heart each time she looked and remembered their fun times at the beach.

    Good story about Christine. I do love their swimsuits!

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  17. Oh no, how tragic. The photos are lovely, especially of your mother and her friends, much happier times.

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    1. I'm often immediately struck by the sad irony of happy photos when I know the sadness to come months or years later.

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  18. What an awful end to that young family. A sad note for a Sepia Saturday contribution, but good of you to memorialize. Thanks for sharing the story and images.

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    1. Definitely I get the Debbie Downer Award this week!

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  19. That's just heartbreaking! And I was all set to make the comment that the young lady in the middle looks like a young Norma Jean.

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    1. Ha - you're right - Betsy does look like Norma Jean in that picture. She would have loved reading that!

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  20. Nice post. And those 40s bathing suits are just hard to match -- made most every gal look good --- and some, as you say, "smokin'"

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    1. Hmm, maybe I need to go buy a 40s bathing suit somewhere.

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  21. Wow. I was so happily reading your blog with your pretty mother and her two friends and than wham! What a sad, sad story. If Milton had stolen that boat today, I think the Marine's would have court marshalled him.
    Nancy

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    1. Oh my, I hadn't thought about the possibility of a court marshall. But how do you kick a man that is THAT down? Yeah, I know - the law is the law.

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  22. These photos are so good that they could actually have been postcards!
    What an horrific story! So terribly sad.

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    1. Virginia Beach missed a good marketing opportunity. I bet lots of guys would flock to the beach hoping to meet such pretty girls.

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  23. A happy story, unfortunately wit a sad ending. Old photos are a treasure for memories. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. That's true. So many of my old photos have triggered memories that were so deeply buried they were almost forgotten.

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  24. Those were some "hot" babes! I don't think I realized they wore such risque bathing suits in the 40's!

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    1. Those suits look tame by today's standards.

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  25. They are all gorgeous! And I like the bathing suit fashion in their time better than today's.

    What a tragic story about Christine :(

    Thanks for the welcome to SS.

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  26. I see you also stepped away from the beach,
    and I thought this would be a fairy tale story,
    but no such thing.
    Most tragic...
    One can only wonder what their lives could have been like,
    if he hadn't been so fool hardy.
    Did he ever remarry?
    :/~
    HUGZ

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    1. "Fool hardy" indeed. What a thing to have to live with. I wonder too if he remarried, but I can't find anything in those readily available sources online like city directories.

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