Worker finds cousin's wedding negatives in building debris
Alvin Davis was not in attendance at his cousin’s wedding in 1967. Davis, however, recently provided his cousin Jessie’s widow, Judy Smith, with a belated yet still very appreciated gift from that special day — photo negatives of the wedding party he discovered in the building he is tearing down.
The building, located in downtown Hannibal, was condemned in early October after portions of the second and third floors in the three-story building collapsed onto the rear of the first floor. The building, which once housed Herring Photography, still contained numerous envelopes filled with old photo negatives of individual portraits, sports teams and weddings. While some of the negatives had been damaged by water that had leaked in through holes in the roof, many were still as good as the day they were filed away.
Because of the interior collapse, the building inspector advised the city council that the weakened structure needed to be brought down before it collapsed and damaged adjacent buildings. On Oct. 20, the council awarded the demolition contract to Don Martin Construction. Davis, an employee of the contractor, began the tedious process of bringing the building down on Nov. 6. Not long after starting Davis made the amazing discovery.
“They were in a cabinet on a second floor wall. I’d just left it there. When I took the wall out a board fell off and knocked it down. I seen a bunch of papers in it so when I came down I just looked through it and there were all the negatives from my cousin’s wedding in 1967,” he said.
Davis noted that he didn’t have to dig very deep to find a familiar name.
“They were pretty much right on top,” he said. “They were all in a yellow envelope. They had her (Judy Smith’s) name, phone number and everything on it.”
The condition of the negatives surprised Davis, who lives in Frankford.
“You could hold them up to the light and see the images perfect,” he said. “It was pretty neat.”
Davis wasted no time in notifying Smith, whose maiden name was Bates.
“I was really surprised and she was too when I called her and told her that we had found them. She was real excited,” he said.
“It was total shock,” said Smith, whose husband, Jessie, passed away 12 years ago. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was just totally speechless.”
Smith had sought to locate the wedding negatives, which had been taken possession of by Frederick Deters after the Herring studio closed.
“Mr. Frederick Deters had passed away so I’d called his wife over a year ago. She said if she could find the negatives she would let me have them,” she said. “Here I thought everything was gone and there it all was. There’s quite a few that were in the wedding that are no longer with us so I was absolutely shocked when I got them.”
Some of the images in the envelope were not photos Smith had purchased after the wedding.
“I think there were around 15 (Smith ordered) and there were 25 of them there, so there’s some that we never got pictures from,” she said. “There’s one of just our hands with our wedding rings on. There’s some of my dad and my mom by themselves.”
Wedding day memory
The photos helped stir a memory from the Smith’s Oct. 27, 1967, wedding day.
“It was time for the wedding to start in two minutes and he wasn’t there. I thought he was standing me up,” recalled Smith. “He didn’t stand me up. He was late because he’d had a flat tire getting there.”
Smith, who was married to Jessie for 32 years, has nothing but fond memories of their time together.
“I met him when I was 13. I couldn’t go nowhere until I was 16. We got married when I was 17,” said Smith, adding that Davis, although Jessie’s cousin, was more like a brother considering how frequently he was with them when they were together. “It was all good.”
While Smith has the negatives in her possession, she has yet to find a local business capable of making prints from the 3-inch-by-5-inch negatives. One clerk, upon seeing the negatives, simply laughed.
“I thought, ‘What does that mean?’” said Smith. “I guess in other words she was telling me they were antiques.”
Smith, who teaches cake decorating, promises to give Davis a tasty treat as a reward for the negatives.
“He can have cookies, divinity, whatever,” she said with a laugh. “Or I might take him out to eat because that was something. That was a find of all finds to me.”