Found Family Photos

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Before I knew her, my grandmother, Eloise McKerrall Mathews, had been a dancer. During a recent trip to my parents’ house in Montgomery, we found this box of very old photos — including these great ones of a young Eloise in some of her dancing costumes and poses. None of us remembers having seen these photos before.

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We also found these newspaper clippings from April of 1909, details of a “Baby Opera” at Montgomery’s Grand Theatre. My grandmother, age 3, appeared with her brother Jack, age 4, and her cousin Carolyn, also 3. Someone has labeled this by hand: “First appearance in public.”

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According to the lengthy(!) write-up in the Montgomery Advertiser, Eloise and Carolyn were dressed as “May Dolls” and Jack as a clown. The girls sang a tune called “School Days,” and the three of them together performed the “A. B. C. of the U. S. A.” For an encore they sang “Eat, Drink and Be Merry for Tomorrow You May Die.”

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The Advertiser reports that throughout the night “There were on the stage all sorts of babies, dressed alike in every act.” In one scene, Eloise and Jack appeared as minister and maid of honor in a “Lilliputian wedding.” That’s my grandmother, in the middle, on the broom:

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Speaking of lost-and-found photos, all the month of January I’ll be posting to Instagram daily photos from the fascinating history of Birmingham jazz. Follow @lostchildradio for some great images and anecdotes from the last hundred years; and follow this blog, if you’re not already, for occasional updates.

Happy New Year, everybody.

2 thoughts on “Found Family Photos

  1. What a find and thanks for sharing! There are few that cannot get lost in family archeology for a while or for years. Why am I here, where do I come from, and since Mendel: is my character predestined by genetics, can be answered for the moment, or at least become tactile for a point in time that lives outside our own experience. Digging through the remnants of our families provides us with pins on the corkboard of history. History that we can believe and fill with our imagination. We want to bridge the gap, want to see the trace in time that our ancestors left, and we want to pick up that particular thread and weave it into our own life thus expanding our past into the future.
    The concept of a “Baby Opera” is as strange to me as today’s toddler beauty pageants. I do understand the concept of combining toddlers that are adorable per se, with light entertainment but an encore that lets toddlers sing “Eat, Drink and Be Merry for Tomorrow You May Die” is at least bit odd. I wonder what emotion those adorables would conjure in me. Would I sing along? What would I sing? This version clearly predates Dave Matthews’ tripping billies.

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  2. I have to assume this is the same grandmother who taught Buddy Ebsen to dance, which always seemed like a really random claim when I was a kid, until years later I learned about his dancing career and dances in major films long before TBH. Also, I don’t know if you know about Liliputian weddings (which some people called ‘Tom Thumb’ weddings), but we found reference to one in a very old family letter, which led us to this: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/tom-thumb-weddings

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