At Play In The Archive
Hello, People. I’m heading to Napa Valley this coming weekend to visit my friend Maren, and to accomplish what I hope will be a ton of translating. I have a scrapbook chock full of postcards sent to my great-grandfather Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack (a.k.a. Pollo in Germany, a.k.a. Leo in America), and I hope they will reveal some additional clues about his life in Germany before he emigrated in October of 1912. Stay tuned.
I do know that once great-grandpa Leo arrived in the U.S., no moss grew on that guy. Today I share some photographs from trips he took through several Northeastern states in 1913. At first I was puzzled as to why his sister Emmi Lessiack Keil, with whom he stayed when he arrived, doesn’t appear in any of these images, but later I realized that she must have just given birth (or was about to give birth) to her daughter, Wally Keil, when Leo arrived. While I haven’t been able to lay hands on a birth record for Wally Keil (presumably named after Leo and Emmi’s sister, Wally Lessiack) just yet, other clues suggest that she was born in either October or November of 1912.
So, with that theory of Emmi’s absence in hand, let’s take a look at Leo’s early travels in the Northeast. As always, please keep in mind that my conclusions are only a best guess based on lots of puzzling, comparing faces, clothing, and very limited annotations to determine context — please do your descendants a favor and label, People.
First, great-grandpa Leo got all duded up. This novelty photo, taken when Leo was 22 years old, cracks me up every time I see it. I wonder if the top hat was his, or a loaner from the studio.
The next image is labeled “Matamoras, Pennsylvania, Febr. 1913” on the back. I have to wonder if Leo is friends with the chicken farmer, or if he is just really, really interested in feeding those chickens — enlarging the photo revealed that both his fists are stuffed with chicken feed. City boy that he was, he clearly reveled in exploring country life.
The next image is also labeled “Matamoras, Pennsylvania, Febr. 1913.” I don’t know what he’s hunting, but the weather looks mighty cold to this Bay Area wus.
The next image shows great-grandpa Leo working his magic with his hunting dog — I’m always touched by pictures of Leo with one dog or another; love for these wonderful creatures definitely passed down through the generations from Leo, to my grandpa Bob, to my mom, to me.
The next image is labeled “Fort Washington Park, New York, Febr 1913.” Check out the size of that fern!
I didn’t know anything about Fort Washington Park, so I looked it up. Here’s what the park’s website had to say:
“Known to history buffs as the namesake of a Revolutionary War structure built for the rebels and seized by the British; known to children as the site of Manhattan’s only lighthouse, the Little Red Lighthouse, the protagonist in a popular children’s book; known to aesthetes as an ideal lookout spot onto the Hudson River and the Palisades, Fort Washington Park is a valued part of the Washington Heights community. Located along the Hudson River, Fort Washington Park also offers spectacular views of the new Jersey Palisades and the George Washington Bridge along its 160-acre ribbon of dramatic cliffs, meadows, and wooded areas.”
Wooded area. Check.
The next image is labeled “New York, April 27, 1913.” I have no idea who the two ladies are, except that they are not Emmi.
The next image is labeled “Miss Maier mit Bosco, May 1913.”
Miss Maier appears again in a second photo mit Bosco and some other mystery children who are apparently in need of a nap or sunglasses, or both. Bosco, stop breathing on that baby.
I don’t know anything more about the Maier family, but because I have a later image in which Emmi, Wally, and Bosco appear together, I assume that the Maiers and the Keils were fairly good friends. I do know that great-grandpa Leo absolutely loved children, and that children invariably sensed his inherent playfulness and sweet humor and adored him right back. Such was certainly the case for me and my friends, when Leo would come to the Canal Zone for a visit.
The next image is labeled “Eagle Rock NJ May 4th, 1913” in Leo’s handwriting. I don’t know who these beautifully gloved ladies are, but I do know that Leo made friends easily and everywhere. I’m also fascinated by the unusually-shaped border on this photograph–it’s not a style I’ve come across before.
The next image was also taken in Eagle Rock, NJ, according to the writing on the back. I don’t know the identity of the young woman, but she appears in several other images. Whether she was a friend or something more to Leo will have to remain a mystery. They’re kinda sorta holding hands.
The annotation on the next one was a little hard to make out due to some damage that did not, thankfully, affect the front of the image too much. It says “…ingnac/Paterson May 11, 19….” Leo is dressed much as he is in the image above, so I went ahead and grouped them together, even though the date is different. I assume “Paterson” is Paterson, NJ.
Here’s the same woman, relaxing among the trees. I’m assuming that this picture was also taken in Paterson, because the date is the same. Hard to imagine tromping through the woods in a long skirt, isn’t it?
Here are some stern-looking friends — the image says “Eagle Rock NJ May 18th, 1913” on the back.
This one is also annotated, “Eagle Rock NJ May 18th, 1913.” Maybe if you poured a few beers into this guy he was a lot of fun, all appearances to the contrary.
Here’s another image where the annotation was damaged. Does anyone recognize this New Jersey location? What’s left of the annotation says, “West…, NJ, June 8, 2013.”
This looks like the same place to me, but I can’t be sure. I don’t know the identity of the young lady, either; Leo didn’t seem to suffer any shortage of female companionship, did he?
This image didn’t offer much information on that back, but because the man is coatless and the tree behind him is bushy, I assume that the weather is warm and that the photo was taken sometime in the summer or fall.
This one says on the back, “Niece of Mr. Hermt, Cologne Rh., Brooklyn, NY, 1913.” That name doesn’t ring any bells for me, at least not yet. Apparently the woman’s name didn’t ring any bells for Leo either.
Here’s an undated, unannotated picture of some horseplay, possibly a game of leapfrog. I have no evidence that it belongs with this series, but it seemed to fit with the country theme, so I went with it.
Here’s Leo with yet another lovely young lady. Does anyone recognize the building in background? I assume that it’s somewhere in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. The back of the photo offered no clues.
Here’s Leo splitting a log somewhere out in the country. He doesn’t really look dressed for the work to me; those are some serious city slicker shoes, and his shirt is waaay too clean.
Finally, here is a curious image of a desk in an apartment at 214 East 20th Street, New York City, which (thank you, Google maps) is about halfway between the Flatiron District and Stuyvesant Town. I don’t know whose apartment it is, but an address is an interesting place to start sleuthing. I tried magnifying the pictures on the desk to see if I could make out who they portray, but the images quickly became so pixelated that they were impossible to make out. I admit that I was hoping to see teeny tiny meta-referential versions of actual photographs in my collection, but it didn’t happen that way. So, another mystery to solve.
Wish me luck this weekend in my quest for further clues, and thanks for reading, People.