Friday, June 14, 2013

Ever Do This?

It’s vacation time. Time to travel to exotic destinations. Or cool ones. Somewhere away.

You’re in the picture-perfect place, and you decide to capture the ambience. You pull out your iPhone—or Android, if you are locked in our family’s perpetual battle of iPhone versus ’droid—and snap the moment.

Before you can tuck your camera back in its carrying place, a stranger approaches you with a question:

Would you mind snapping a photo of me?

Well, I don’t suppose it would happen exactly like that in this age of the ubiquitous smart phone. Perhaps during Bill Bean’s earlier years, however, the much-rarer camera-toting tourist would have achieved an enviable status.

In going through the many photographs Bill Bean left behind, I’ve puzzled over one shot taken in a very Yosemite-like vicinity. The sole subject of the photo had me stumped: wearing what looked like open-toed heels, this person could hardly be classified as a hiker.

That, however, wasn’t the main reason I was puzzled over this photograph. It was the note on the back.

label on back of photograph from Bill Bean collection in late 1920s

Best I could make out, the scrawl said something like this:
                                                        Douglas 6565
J. P. Aikman [Arkman?]
2nd floor
J. E. Sompkins
186 N. W. Montgomery
The “Douglas 6565” was most likely someone’s phone number.

The rest? Well, I just presumed Bill had done the equivalent of that small networking faux pas that we all find ourselves doing at some point: grabbing one of our own business cards to write down the contact information of someone we’ve met—and then forgetting to follow through, perhaps passing the slip of paper along to yet again someone else.

However that note got on this photograph—and whoever it was intended for—I’ll never know. I doubt it was for anyone significant in my own search for family history stories.

Today, though, it occurred to me that perhaps there was an alternate scenario playing itself out. What if Bill, the consummate shutterbug, had been taking pictures, was spotted and befriended by a tourist, and pressed for the kindness of his immediate services.

Yeah, sure, he’d get the photo back to the stranger as soon as he got it developed. Perhaps, when it was developed, he set it aside, scrawling the note on the reverse to remind himself of the tourist’s name and business location.

And then…life got hectic, as it always does, once we return to work after a vacation.

And the picture just sat there on the desk.

He meant well, I’m sure. But Mr. and Mrs. Aikman—or Arkman—it looks like you never got the photograph you were requesting.

It’s still in Bill Bean’s box of photographic memories.

And I have no idea, now, who you are.

woman standing on rocks in mountains possibly Sierra Nevadas in California circa late 1920s


  1. I am beginning to think Bill just collecting photos of women... :)

    Seriously, in the 1930 San Francisco, California, City Directory, we find a J S Aikman, at "180 Montgomery" under the "Manufacturing Agents" category.|0|1652393|0|2|3249|7|0|2599|69183|0|&uidh=6l5&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=1165609172&db=USDirectories&indiv=1

    John S. Aikman is listed in the 1930 US Census, shown as a widower... I don't know how to decipher this listing in - he was a "union league club member"?|0|1652393|0|2|3249|7|0|2599|69183|0|&uidh=6l5&pcat=ROOT_CATEGORY&h=92616913&db=1930usfedcen&indiv=1

    Google Maps shows an impressive building at 180 NEW Montgomery Street, San Fran and another one at 180 Montgomery Street.

  2. P.s., John S. Aikman is listed as a manager at the Zumbro Furniture Co. (Oakland). Perhaps Bill bought his dealership furniture from John?

    Just a thought... :)

    1. Iggy, as usual, you are amazing! That census listing was indeed "abnormal" as the note in the margin listed it. I'll have to Google it. Must have been some sort of association with residential offerings for members.

    2. I just wish I knew who the woman in the photo was! Is this John's wife (who died before 1930), a second wife? girl friend? J. E. Sompkins?

      Or was J. E. Sompkins something / someone else? the building name?

    3. That "Sompkins" name had me stumped, too, Iggy. At first, I thought it was "Simpkins" but there's no denying that's an "o" in the first syllable. I never heard of such a name, but looking in, evidently there are several listings for that surname. Don't you wish the formality of using initials had never been the style?!

  3. I like the way that you are weaving this scenario, and it all makes sense the way you describe it. I can even see the open heels on the shoes. Bill was definitely a sociable guy, and this looks to me like a woman friend rather than a stranger -- just something about the pose and the fact that it's only one person. More fodder for knowledge about Bill's personality. I think that all the Beans must have been very outgoing people.

  4. Although you have moved past this stream, I'd like to comment. The old handwriting seems to read:

    Apartment 2nd floor
    J.E. Tompkins
    186 New Montgomery.

    New Montgomery in San Francisco is in the heart of the Financial District (now). The address is close to (or replaced by) the Pacific Gas and Electric company, the major utility in Northern CA.

    The picture to me does not look like a woman for sure. The shoes could be Oxfords, light colored in the front with a dark saddle. The pants are shorts or knickers, and "legs" might be covered with light stockings. It looks like the person is wearing a suit coat (a man's) with a rope around the waist. The hat may be a plain man's hat or a felt hiking hat.

    You see a single lane dirt road behind the person, winding up the pass. The sign is of the type used on roads, not the kind that are found on trails or state park foot paths. I believe it is a yellow "warning" sign, if that is California. The trees and scrub could be in the Sierras.

    Looking at the face through a magnifying glass, it does appear to be a woman with a broad smile and a longish face. Seems to be a familiar face seen in your picture collection.


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