Family story found in shoebox
About five years ago, Joerg and Wendee Theilemann bought a “cowboy-hat-style shoebox” full of personal mementos at a garage sale in their hometown of Vista, Calif.
Now, they’re looking for the rightful heirs to the memorabilia, which dates back to as early as the 1920s.
“We picked it up at a garage sale. We took it home, and then our son went to college, so we put the box under his bed. We forgot all about it and we just found it again,” Joerg Theilemann said. “I was hoping the newspaper could find the Townes’ relatives and we can give them the rest of the shoebox’s contents.”
Theilemann sent the Pekin Times a “sampling” of those contents for this story. He said he hopes that a relative will come forward soon to claim it all. He would love to correspond with that relative through e-mails, if possible, he said, and he will at the very least send the box to that person immediately upon request.
“There’s some things from the 1920s to the 1940s in here that relatives might want back,” Theilemann said. “There’s lots of correspondence, letters from overseas during World War II, bank statements, bills, pictures, letters, postcards, and at least one letter is from Iwo Jima, and someone might really treasure that letter.”
The Times’ sampling includes black-and-white photographs, personal letters and a bank statement from The American National Bank of Pekin, dated Aug. 27, 1929. Four checks are signed by E.O. Towne.
There is a postcard depicting automobiles, a trolley and a stagecoach pulled by a team of horses crossing EAD’s Bridge in St. Louis. The postcard is addressed to Miss Angline Towne of Jacksonville, Ill.
A notice from the Illinois Department of Public Health, dated Jan. 24, 1935, offers good news for patient E.T., who was successfully diagnosed “negative” after a medical test. It is signed by the bacteriologist, Howard J. Shanghnesay. The other side of the document gives an in-depth interpretation of laboratory findings.
Photos run the gamut from handsome men in uniform to children playing on bicycles. One man in uniform is holding a baby boy and standing next to a smiling woman. One photo shows a young boy and girl, while another shows a young man and woman seated on a bench in what appears to be a vineyard. Two large photographs, one of a side view of a man and one of a woman wearing glasses, both include the name “Paul Towne” in the bottom right-hand corner.
Letters in the collection are much smaller than those used today, and stamp collectors would surely get a kick out of the 2-cent postage. Several letters, postmarked December 1941 from the Sixth Defense Bat. Fleet Marine Force, are addressed to Miss Elvira Towne of R.R. 1, Pekin.
Another letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. E. O. Towne was received April 15, 1925. A note written on the envelope says it was answered on April 21, 1925. In the top left-hand corner, it says, “After 10 days, return to Paul D. Towne.” The address is given as Ferndale, Humboldt Co., Calif.
Some letters are addressed to Fredric Spieth of Jacksonville, and one letter addressed to him is from F.E. Clement of Frankford, Pa.
An envelope from Western Union contains two telegrams addressed Mr. and Mrs. E.O. Towne and dated March 12, 1928. The first was sent from San Francisco by Mrs. R. Tunnicliffe and reads, “Paul leaves Wednesday Arrives about twentieth Paul writes you today” The second reads “Arrive Yellowway Bus Depot Bloomington three twenty Thursday afternoon” and is simply signed “Paul.”
Most of the letters are handwritten, but one letter from Paul D. Towne to Mr. & Mrs. E. O. Towne, was typed on “Mother’s Birthday, April 9, 1925.”
It is a three-page letter that mostly discusses insurance but also includes news of “a little party for David on the first on his second birthday.” At one point, the letter writer talks about his “coupe,” which he claims is “in first class condition. I completely overhauled it myself two years ago this month and it ran better and is still running better than it did when it was new.”
Paul continues, “If anything should go wrong with it while I am on the road, I could repair it myself and WILL do it, believe me. They say a car will last about five years. That is not true. A car with ordinary care such as I am giving mine need never wear out. I expect to have this car ten or twenty years from now, and it will not be a junk heap either when the time is up.”
Paul writes more about his car before finally changing the subject.
“Business is very slow. Everybody is complaining. Even the bridge contractor for whom I made some pictures on his $125,000 bridge says he never saw money so scarce. The mills are without orders, and working but a fraction of their quota of men. The moving picture theatres are empty, and collectors who come to me tell me it is very hard to get money. One told me he had been collecting three days, had $3,600 worth of bills, and so far had gotten three dollars and some cents.”
He adds, “I have paid no house rent this year, owe for three month’s milk, owe my stock house the limit, and am paying cash for all we eat except the milk. It takes about all I can scrape together to do that. But I am not worrying. That would not help. I am thankful that I am able to think courageously and not become paralyzed with fear as I see some do under similar circumstances. Knowing that there is a God, and that He will not leave me comfortless is what has sustained me when things look terrifying to mortal vision.”
The letter is simply signed, “Your son, Paul”
Pekin Daily Times
Any relative of Paul or E.O. Towne is welcome to contact the Times — by phone at (309) 346-1111 or in person at 20 S. Fourth St. — to see the sampling and identify those in the photographs. Please bring some sort of identification. Relatives also may e-mail Joerg Theilemann at email@example.com.