SciencePunk

Mysterious photos found in old camera

For my birthday I was given a vintage Super Baldina camera. A German model first manufactured in 1938, it has a coupled rangefinder and pop-out lens. At the time it cost an impressive $58 dollars, around $900 in today’s money. Wow! It’s very pretty.

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My flatmate picked it up in an antiques store for £25. That’s about £25 in today’s money. When I opened it to put in some film, however, I discovered a secret surprise! There was a roll of film already in the camera! Winding it up, I realised that near enough the whole film had been exposed. What could possibly be on there?

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The film is a 35mm Kodacolor II, first sold in 1973. I don’t know when (or even if) it has been discontinued, so all I know is these pictures are at most 37 years old.

I took them to Boots for developing, explaining that I’d found some old film. When I came back, the technician said she’d had trouble scanning them. When I told her the story though, she persevered and was able to recover a good proportion of the film. And didn’t even charge me! Clutching the pack like some ancient scroll, I hurried home to take a look.

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A grave! A tombstone! In fact, the entire roll was just shots of this one grave.

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The stone reads:

Sweet Jesus
receive the kindly Soul of
a devoted husband and father
EDWARD LANGAN
died 19th April 1967
also JAMES RYAN
beloved brother of AGNES and
dearest uncle of JOHN & NORMA
died 10th March 1958

The images look a little less saturated in the digital scans I made, although there is a lot of fogging (apparently a problem to do with the Super Baldina’s pop-out lens mechanism letting light in). Also, it’s possible the obscured shots happened when I accidentally opened exposed the film on discovering it. Anyway, I didn’t want to doctor them any further.

What’s interesting is the figure that appears in some of the shots. Possibly a case of paredolia, but doesn’t this look like a double-exposure of a woman with her arms outstretched?

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Strangely, the phenomenon appears in two of the stills, but not the others. There are small differences in the shots (see the fern that lies against the stone) and it’s not clear whether these were even all taken on the same day. Here’s a comparison of the ghostly lady in several images:

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So who was Edward Langan? And why was his grave so important that someone would expose an entire roll of film on it? With a camera that was 30 years old at the time? The next step – finding out where this grave is, and who lies inside it.

Comments

  1. #1 alice
    February 23, 2010

    Awww. That is kind of tragic. Amazing stuff!

  2. #2 gimpy
    February 23, 2010

    Fascinating. I’m slightly alarmed though that you don’t think the writing on the gravestone is evidence enough of who lies beneath. Are you proposing an exhumation?

  3. #3 Frank the SciencePunk
    February 23, 2010

    Ha, gimpy, well I know his name, but who was he? I’m also intrigued by the adjacent grave – “Vaclav Ondracek”, a Polish name I think.

    Moreover, why were these photos never developed? This grave was really important to somebody, but they never saw the photos.

  4. #4 James G
    February 23, 2010

    That is a lot of flowers for the grave of someone who must have died six years prior to the photo. (Assuming your information on the film is accurate.)

  5. #5 gimpy
    February 23, 2010

    I’d say “Vaclav Ondracek”is more Czechoslovakian (as it was back then) than Polish. Maybe he was a POW who settled?

    Maybe it is a haunted camera that only takes pictures of the previous owners grave? You’ll solve the riddle then an angry spirit will come claim you and the next owner will find a roll of undeveloped film…

  6. #6 Ivy McAllister
    February 23, 2010

    Given that post mortem photography (photographing the deceased after death) was not at all uncommon in many parts of the world. The practice began almost immediately after the public–starting, of course, with the wealthy–had access to the medium. As a collector of antique and vintage photos, I see (and own) many images of funerals and gravesites, as well as the deceased, themselves. I’m not at all surprised that someone saw fit to take pictures after the burial.

    According to the England & Wales Death Index for 1916-2005 (deaths registered in April, May & June, 1967–vol. 10D, pg. 424) Edward Langan died in Liverpool South, Lancashire, England, and his age was listed as an estimated 75 years. It’s not unlikely that he is buried in that general area. Perhaps someone can look up the obituary for you? I’m in the US, so my access to these records is quite limited. Good luck.

  7. #7 Maria
    February 23, 2010

    Interesting find! I’m amazed that no one opened the camera through all those years to notice the film. That’s one of the first things I do when getting my paws on an old gem. I try to get it open to see if there’s any hidden treasure inside. :P

    Ok. So, this is utter speculation but since James Ryan is engraved after the guy who died in 67 though he died earlier he might have been added to the grave at a later date. Say in the early 70′s. Which would explain the flowers. Maybe an early Vietnam casualty whose body wasn’t identified till the early 70s?

    Or Mr Ryan was buried someplace else and reburied in this grave in the early 70′s due to unknown circumstances? Either financial reasons or the liquidation/sale of his original cemetery could explain that one.

  8. #8 Anne
    February 23, 2010

    I checked http://www.findagrave.com and thought I found something, but it was the right day and wrong year. Post your pictures there and someone might look someday.

  9. #9 The Skeptic Blacksheep
    February 23, 2010

    I think it’s definitely a case of paredolia. The reason that it’s noticeable on on some photos but not others could be because of a slight difference in angle, but I’m no expert.

    If you’d really like to know more about the technical aspects regarding the film etc, the best person to email them to would be Joe Nickell
    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/skepticalisms/

  10. #10 DRK
    February 23, 2010

    This reminds me of a Tim Powers story. The lady looks more like an Asian figurine to me, maybe with more than two arms.

    Which I realize totally doesn’t go with the Czech stuff…

  11. #11 george.w
    February 23, 2010

    Neat!
    Some of the fogging is likely contributed by the age of the film. Long ago I worked in a photo lab and we used to love it when people brought in old film. Such cool pictures (usually fogged a little) from days gone by. I once developed some B&W film from the early ’50′s. Family and street scenes. It was like a window into the past.

    I couldn’t resist opening this image in XnView and doing a little post-processing. (image link)

    Man, what I would have given to have digital imaging back then.

  12. #12 John McKay
    February 23, 2010

    The figure looks to me like a bit of plastic wrapping. Depending how recent the pictures are, it could be a plastic grocery bag or something similar. The flowers have been moved between the pictures with and without the figure. Look at the “arm” on our right. In the pictures without the figure, there is a card turned almost face out. In the pictures with the figure, the card is almost edge on.

  13. #13 matt
    February 23, 2010

    I believe this is in new york, I found a James Ryan died in new york in 1958 and ed Langan in 67 also new york. I used ancestry.com social security death index but only got vague info. because I am not a member.

  14. #14 GloriaH
    February 24, 2010

    george.w, thanks for the enhanced image. I think that’s a recent grave covered with flowers. The several cards implies a funeral attended by several people, or flowers sent on an important event or anniversary.

    I think there are 3 obvious possibilities:
    1. Photo is of Edward’s burial, with new tombstone (does it look new?), and either that was James’ grave or James’ ashes were buried with Edward.
    2. Photo is of someone else’s burial, and the stone has not been updated yet. This is less likely if the stone looks new.
    3. As someone suggested, Edward and/or James were reburied, so photo is from sometime after Edward’s death. Old or new tombstone could have been used.

    I don’t think the tombstone was edited to add Edward, unless the erasure was done on the other side of the stone. I can’t tell if the lettering seems newer than the stone.

    It also seems unlikely that James’ ashes were added to Edward’s grave in a way which encouraged the flower display in this pattern. It is possible James’ body was moved, but the time difference makes that less likely and also makes the many flowers less likely that this is a photo of James’ reburial. Maybe Agnes’ burial.

    I didn’t identify the people. Assuming others tried the obvious things, I first assumed that Agnes might have been married to Edward…no luck. So then I tried looking for James Ryan, his sister Agnes Ryan (maiden name) and her children, John & Norma…no luck.

  15. #15 Matt
    February 24, 2010

    Try to find some more film… find the grave then use the new roll to take more pictures of it. Get it developed just for kicks…

  16. #16 Tim
    February 24, 2010

    Looks like you have a time traveler on your hands.

    The camera was introduced in 1938.
    The first person died in 1958.
    The second person died in 1967.
    The film was introduced in 1973.

    There are way too many flowers and too many photos for these not to have been taken at the time of death.

    Here’s my explanation: A son of Edward Langan became separated from the family and didn’t hear about his father’s death until the mid 70′s. He grabbed his camera with and a roll of film and traveled to 1967 on the day of the funeral to take photos only to find the camera wouldn’t work. He looks around all the boxes of crap he inherited from his father and finds an old camera which seems to be compatible with the film. By this point the funeral has ended so he can only photograph the grave and none of the ceremony.
    And then of course the camera got lost somehow and ended up in an antique store.

    You should go find the grave and put a note saying that you have photos and you know they are time travelers. When you meet with them you should tell them to contact me because I want in on their time traveling abilities =P

  17. #17 Ben
    February 24, 2010

    If you develop this film, then 7 days later you die!!

  18. #18 Erin
    February 24, 2010

    I don’t see the woman, but very cool nonetheless – a real-life mystery to solve!

  19. #19 Jenny
    February 24, 2010

    Creepily wonderful! I love cemeteries … as long as I don’t have to stay.

  20. #20 Monado
    February 24, 2010

    It could also be just a wind-blown tissue.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2010

    Never mind this Edward Langan chap, you’ve got a pik-chur of the Virgin Mother!!!!

    But seriously, am I wrong in thinking that this is a re-stoned grave, covering a contemporary person (the latter date) and an earlier person? That is a little rare but certainly not unheard of, but it could related to additional importance levels of the deceased.

  22. #22 Ibis3
    February 24, 2010

    It looks pretty clear to me that the “woman” is just tissue paper or foil around that arrangement of flowers. Perhaps they had a ceremony on the anniversary of one of the deaths or perhaps someone new was added to the grave site (Agnes maybe?) but the stone had yet to be changed.

  23. #23 marktime
    February 24, 2010

    Another person could have been buried here in 1973+, maybe Edward’s wife. There is certainly space left on the headstone for more names. The many flowers suggest a lot of people being moved by this recent death, maybe children and/or grandchildren. The photographer might then wait for the name of the deceased to be added to the headstone in order take a final shot. The film was obviously not completly exposed I imagine for this scenario. Am I right?

  24. #24 m
    February 24, 2010

    Ooops. I see that the entire roll was exposed. My bad.

  25. #25 papa zita
    February 25, 2010

    This sort of thing happens commonly when buying old cameras. It’s common enough that one person at photo.net in the Classic Cameras section finds old rolls all the time and since they’re black and white, he develops them and shows the results. I’ve done it myself when I found a bag of 35mm canisters in my garage and developed a couple of exposed Tri-X rolls. The shots were from 1977 and although not in the best of shape, they did come out pretty well and were scannable.

    Oh, btw, that Super Baldina you’ve got is from the ’50s. Earlier ones (until 1951) were folding cameras.

  26. #26 dwain
    February 25, 2010

    You can go to rootsweb.com message boards for genealogy. Search the surnames for Langan and Ryan. You can leave a message regarding your photos and post a link to the photos.

  27. #27 John McKay
    February 25, 2010

    One more data point: The name on the tombstone behind Langan and Ryan looks to me to read Vincent M. Brown. That’s hardly a unique name, but it might help track down the cemetery.

  28. #28 Rosalie
    February 25, 2010

    This is reminding me of the wonderful children’s book, Flotsam by David Wiesman. If you haven’t seen it I think you’d like it — a child finds a magical-looking old camera on the beach and inside is a roll of film which contains amazing mysteries. It’s told all in pictures:

    http://www.powells.com/biblio/0618194576

    Very much like your story. I love you blog.

  29. #29 Jon H
    February 25, 2010

    Perhaps the grave was moved in the mid-70s, for some reason. (Mr. Prosser wanted to build a bypass, maybe.)

    I wonder why they were buried together. Perhaps they were a couple, with Langan having come out late in life after marrying and having kids.

    Maybe people who objected to that, so the two were moved to a new grave, with a new headstone. Getting that hashed out might account for the time between the 1967 death and the post-1973 photograph of what seems to be an awful lot of flowers for an old grave. (On the other hand, the area doesn’t look recently disturbed.)

  30. #30 selvascura
    February 25, 2010

    Re: Post 6 – James Ryan is also registered in Liverpool North Vol 10d page 365 and died aged 78. It would be interesting to find the connection between the two men and yes it looks like James Ryan has been moved from a previous plot into this one upon Edward Lagan’s death. Either that or they couldn’t afford a headstone when James Ryan died and added him later… As Liverpool has a dock it is not uncommon to find immigrant names there.

  31. #31 selvascura
    February 25, 2010

    OK there were three James Ryans who died in Liverpool around that time… my search continues… I’ll get back.

  32. #32 Daren
    February 25, 2010

    There’s trash in the flowers on the right side, paper cups, etc., and the flowers look old and wilted.
    Perhaps James Langan was buried in a double plot in 1958 assuming his wife would be buried with him later. There was no money for a tombstone at the time.
    His wife died but was buried elsewhere by her grieving family, who never liked James anyway.
    In 1967 the Edward Langan, husband of Agnes Ryan-Langan (James’ sister) dies leaving Agnes and his two children John and Norma.
    John and Norma decide to bury dad (Ed) next to Jim and make Mom (Agnes) happy by putting both names (Jim and Ed) on the tombstone.
    In the 70′s Agnes is in a nursing home and asking about the graves. John or Norma are traveling near their home town and goes to the cemetery. Seeing a pile of trash and all the old flowers from Memorial Day, decorates the grave before taking a picture for Mom. They rearrange things and take a few more.
    Alas, before the film is processed Agnes has passed away and Ed’s camera is sold off with the estate.

  33. #33 MaryA
    February 25, 2010

    Help was requested on the Liverpool FHS site, and it has been established that Agnes C RYAN married Edward LANIGAN in 1923, probably in an RC church.

    It is felt that the cemetery is also Catholic.

    It would seem that over time the family changed the name from LANIGAN to LANGAN, and some details of descendants have been sent to Sciencepunk as we don’t publicise information about living people, on our forum.

    We await acknowledgement from Sciencepunk as to whether he will take any action with the information provided to him.

    Update since I wrote this – the grave has now been found in Yewtree Cemetery, Liverpool. Details if you are interested are on the forum, http://liverpool-genealogy.org.uk/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9326

  34. #34 Rob A
    February 25, 2010

    I just typed Ondracek into Google, and was offered “Ondracek chiropractic 1,990 results”. I am sensing dark forces at work here Frank.

    —–
    I wonder, was Ondracek awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Military Cross (MC) and Distinguished Flying
    Cross (DFC)?

  35. #35 marktime
    February 25, 2010

    I claim the prize!

  36. A very interesting story. I do think the pictures could be substantially improved.

    I spent a couple of minutes on the 480_w.png one and only used Preview on my iMac and it made a nice improvement. I’m sure that, using Preview or perhaps Gimp, I could do even better.

    If you’d like contact me either through the email I used on here or on Yahoo Messenger (Slman420) and I’ll see what can be done with the original scans. No charge of course. :)

  37. #37 Frank the SciencePunk
    February 25, 2010

    Thanks James, that would be great. Future blogposts coming up. Original scans are available on Flickr

  38. #38 Mubassir Khan
    September 1, 2010

    I am not sure what it is…… but really awesome discovery…

  39. #39 munna sharma
    August 16, 2011

    sir,
    i have two old cameras of german made..but its useless i want to keep as it is..as antique .becoz i didnt find any whre real of this cameras