Friday, July 4, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Back to the Future

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




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt depicts back-slapping and hand-shaking, politics at work.  The prompt brought to mind a set of puzzling photos of my grandaunt Lillie Killeen in the midst of some kind of celebration that had “politics” written all over it. 

Lillie Killeen May 1952 Norfolk Tunnel dedication
Lillie Killeen to the left of the man in the center








Puzzling because first of all, I never knew Lillie to be political.  She was always just the sweet maiden aunt who orbited the dining room table making sure everyone got seconds on the ham. 

Secondly, the nature of the occasion is confusing.  On the edge of each photo is the date:  May 1959.  The bunting and toll booths suggest this could be the dedication of the new tunnel connecting Norfolk and Portsmouth, but that took place in 1952.  Nope, that’s not it.

Dedication of Downtown Tunnel, Portsmouth, VA 1952
Was it a political rally?  But why at the tunnel?

The man in what appears to be a Navy uniform made me think this could be the commissioning of a battleship newly built at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  

However, I couldn’t imagine that two cities would stop tunnel traffic for that. 

I turned to Mr. Mike who lived for a time in the Hampton Roads area thinking he might recognize the location and occasion.  He agreed that the place looked like the Downtown Tunnel.  His most valuable help, though, was this observation about that date, May 1959:  maybe the film stayed in the camera or in a canister for 7 years before it was ever developed, he posited. 

And apparently that’s exactly what happened.  (Is Mr. Mike ever wrong??)

Dedication of Downtown Tunnel May 1952, Norfolk, VA


A little Google here and a little GenealogyBank there brought the story into focus.  This photo of Governor John Battle delivering the keynote speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the tunnel looks much like the one from Lillie’s camera, right down to that one twisted bunting. 



Dedication of Downtown Tunnel May 1952, Norfolk, VA
Photo courtesy Norfolk Public Library Digital Collections


Still, I couldn’t figure out how Lillie qualified for those credentials pinned to her suit and to sit among dignitaries.  She lived like the proverbial church mouse, so it is inconceivable that she had made any grand financial contribution to the cause. Fortunately, a human-interest news report in advance of the completion of the tunnel provided the answer.  It turns out that one of the members of the tunnel commission was a former mayor of Portsmouth, Dr. Vernon Brooks.  Lillie was Dr. Brooks’ secretary and bookkeeper, and life-long friend.   Obviously she was his special guest. Mystery solved.

Lillie Killeen center
I BELIEVE this is Dr. and Mrs. Vernon Brooks
since there are several photos in which they appear.


In 1952, the opening of the tunnel was indeed a time to celebrate.  It was seen as the “FIRST STEP” in solving our traffic woes.   Thirty-four years later, the toll revenue bonds were paid off and tolls were removed.   A year later in 1987, a parallel tunnel opened allowing two lanes of traffic going east and two lanes going west.  And now 62 years after Lillie joined the honored guests at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we are once again looking for the “FIRST STEP” in solving our traffic woes.  Despite public outcry, tolls are back in place – but not the tollbooths, thanks to EZ Pass – to help fund a new tunnel and other road projects.

Where else but in Hampton Roads would you drive through a tunnel and then cross a draw-bridge to get to the other side?

A warm handshake and a welcome await you at Sepia Saturday.  It’s toll-free.

38 comments:

  1. Excellent sleuth work there...thanks to both of you! And what a great story with plenty of photos!

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    1. Thank-you. I admit I did a little happy dance when I found the similar photo.

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  2. Good that you solved your puzzle. I am trying to remember or Google whether photos printed some time later after the original processing had the new printing date or the original processing/printing date on the border.

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    1. Oh, you know what -- I thought about that too, wondering if these were reprints. They're so scratchy that I thought maybe the negatives had sat around for awhile in somebody's drawer.

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  3. It's always such a jubilant feeling when research leads to a sure, or even an almost-sure answer to a puzzling question. Good work. And an interesting & fun post!

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    1. Much more jubilant to be SURE than almost sure. I have plenty of "almost sure" in my research.

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  4. Good detective work - a fun read.

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    1. I do feel good about this one. Thanks.

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  5. What an interesting read and bit of transportation history with the governor no less. It is sometimes surprising to learn a new bit of information about a relative that we could not imagine. Next when polling memories of your Aunt you can add Politics to her dishing out seconds of Ham....that cracked me up...very visual description! Fun read and excellent sleuthing.

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    1. Well if YOU laughed, then that's a real compliment coming from the queen of humor in the blogisphere. Thanks!

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  6. Those maiden aunts certainly have a way of upsetting the "church mouse" assumptions of family, don't they?

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    1. Yes, if those maiden aunts would just stick to their stereotype, genealogy research would be easier.

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    1. Thank ya, Thank ya, Thank ya veddy much.

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  8. Well done, Wendy! I'm glad my theory was helpful. Last month I drove over/under/through the downtown tunnel and I still don't understand when or how I will have to pay a toll. What's the matter with toll booths?

    (And I am sometimes wrong. You should ask my wife. :-)

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    1. If you didn't have the EZ Pass mounted on your windshield, you WILL get a bill in the mail along with a photo of your license plate. Unless you slipped through on a "free day," that is.

      When did I send you the pictures -- a year ago? I didn't work on those pictures anymore until a couple weeks ago. It helped that I got a Genealogybank subscription.

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  9. Sometimes getting to the bottom of it all is the most fun...good work, Wendy; ditto to Mike!

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  10. Will we ever catch up with the traffic. Seems the whole world is headed for grid lock. Hurray for Aunt Lillie freed from the stereotype forever.

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    1. In Hampton Roads we're just doomed. With 7 major cities clumped together, solutions like light rail are hampered by each city's fear that the next city will benefit more.

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  11. Well Done to you both! Great Work!

    It is so rewarding when a mystery is solved!

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    1. Yes and the reward sends me in search of the next mystery.

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  12. Interesting to see a mystery solved. Now you may pull up that drawbridge.

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  13. Wow! What a cool story Wendy!

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  14. The perfect Sepia Saturday post; such an interesting read. I do like when the detective work pays off, but even more I love it when two Sepians collaborate like this.

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    1. And who better to share the credit with than Mr. Mike?

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  15. What a neat story and great sleuthing! I can't imagine waiting that long to develop film, but what a fun story to go along with the pictures. We lived in the Hampton Roads area for two years a while ago, and I can't imagine tolls on the tunnels there now - the traffic was already bad enough, what a nightmare!

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    1. I know -- that's why I initially discounted Mr. Mike's idea. Seven years seemed TOO long to forget the film. But maybe Postcardy is onto something -- maybe the negatives were reprinted.
      Oh, no difference with the traffic since we have EZ Pass. There are no tollbooths anymore -- pay by credit card using EZ Pass which electronically monitors your travel through the tunnel.

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  16. I know others have said this but what fantastic detective work. A super story.

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  17. Congrats on your detective work - nice to have it all sorted out.

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    1. It is -- these pictures bugged me for a long time. Now I can worry about something else.

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  18. I love it. Film in the canister for so long causing such confusion. And I love that the tunnel was actually paid off. When the Golden Gate Bridge was built the public was also told it would eventually be paid off and there wouldn't be an tolls. Ha! Not true. The toll will soon be going up to 8 bucks.

    I still have film in my old Kodak Instatmatic. It's been in there for decades. It does happen and especially back then when people didn't take many photos because it was so expensive to get the film processed and prints made.

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    1. I remember debating on whether to buy the 12 or 24-exposures film. I often bought the 12 thinking it would take too long to use up the 24. Imagine my dilemma when they came out with 36!

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