Here is a true family treasure. It’s a large photo — something like 8×10 so I hear (and you can tell just from the detail) — taken at the Colonial Park house in 1925. My cousin Tim recently became steward of this photograph, and sent me this scanned image of it, to my great joy.
Here, for starters, is one of the few pictures I have of my great grandfather Benjamin Fleagle and his wife Martha Jane Fleagle (née Harner). Benjamin is one of the two old men — brothers, they are — around which the family is arranged. He is the one on the left (our left), with his ancient hands folded in front of him, the hands, incidentally, that laid the stones in the piers of the bridge shown in the photo in the header of this page. Martha Jane is to his right leaning slightly toward him (I love that). His younger brother Obadiah Fleagle is the other seated gentleman, the one with his hands up on the chair arms.
At the very top and center of the photo, his head framed by a dark square in the window behind, is the master of the house, the older Benjamin’s eldest son Benjamin Edward Fleagle, wearing a striped necktie. Just below him, my grandfather James Ezra Fleagle holds his third child, the ever cheerful Benjamin Joseph Fleagle (my Uncle Ben). Close beside James in her rounded spectacles and a long necklace is the lady I later knew as Granny (née Jennie Viola Coffin). One step directly below baby Benjamin is Carrie May (Fleagle) Bay, oldest sister of Benjamin E. and James Ezra. Directly below Jennie is her mother, Margaret (Foster) Coffin, as far as I know the only person in this large group who is not married to a Fleagle, a Fleagle by birth, or the descendant of a Fleagle. She had come east from Nebraska to help Jennie with her growing brood of children, which at this point included the fresh-hatched Vivian June Fleagle, whom Maggie is holding in her arms, the abovementioned Benjamin Joseph, Miriam Evelyn Fleagle, who is seated in the front row just in front of her “granddaddy Benjamin”, below his folded hands, and James Lincoln Fleagle, who is the taller of the two boys at the far left of the first standing row. The other boy is Robert Guthrie Fleagle, whom I knew as “Cousin Bob”.
So much I guessed, and I also guessed that Bob’s little sister Margaret Jane Fleagle was one of the other girls sitting on the ground, as she would have been my Aunt Miriam’s same-aged cousin.
I asked Miriam to check my work and add any other names she knew in this photo. All of my guesses were correct except one; I picked the wrong child for Margaret Jane.
So, according to Miriam, here is the roster, from the top, with only a few unknowns:
4th row: Cousin Charlie Shriner — son of Great Aunt Annie Shriner, Grandfather’s sister seated in chair in 2nd row in white dress. Next (beside post) is Ralph Keefer, my Aunt Annie’s son, then Mr. and Mrs. Shoemaker, probably 1st cousin to my father. I don’t know their names, but he is the direct line — son of Grant Shoemaker, beside my brother Jim, on 2nd row. I don’t know the next man. Next to him, you’re right, my Uncle Ben, then Benjamin Keefer, my cousin, brother of Ralph — then my Uncle Carlton Jones holding Jimmy Jones. Uncle Carlton was Ruth Fleagle Jones’ husband, then Aunt Fannie, married to Uncle Ben who live at Colonial Park, scene of gathering. Beside her is Cassandra Cover whose mother, below her is also a Cover (long ō). One of my Grandfather’s sister married a Cover. But I’m not clear about these folk, I remember mother liked the Covers and they came to the Fleagle Reunion held above Westminster, Md. when we were little, but where the connection is, I don’t remember.
3rd row: I don’t know the 1st man, next is my Aunt Ruth Jones, mother of Jimmy Jones (and his sisters on front row, Carol and Ruth Emma). My mother (Jennie) and father (James) holding Ben, my Aunt Janette (you would have loved her), and Mettie Cover.
2nd row: Don’t know the first man holding child, then Grant Shoemaker, Carrie Shriner, Charlie’s wife, Rhoda Repp and her sister (or mother) behind her1, my Grandmother Maggie Coffin visiting us at the time, Grandmother holding Vivian, Carrie Bay, don’t know the next lady, but my Aunt Annie Keefer is behind her and Ruth Anna Keefer beside her mother. In front of Ruth Anna are sisters Pauline and Nellie and brother Melvin Keefer.
1st row standing: Bob Fleagle, Jim Fleagle then Grandmother Fleagle or Martha Jane Harner F. and Granddaddy Benjamin, Great-Uncle Obadiah and Great-Aunt Annie Shriner. The next lady I do not know.
Seated in front: Two daughters of the Shoemakers on 4th row (one named Katherine) then Miriam, Carol Jones McTammany and sister Ruth Emma Jones, Margaret Jane Frisell and Mary Constance Fleagle, daughters of Uncle Ben and Aunt Fannie.
Miriam writes more about the Shoemakers:
The Shoemakers are descendants of Grandfather’s sister Adeline whose husband was killed in the Civil War. Grant Shoemaker in the picture was born at this time and never knew his father and vice versa. (On second thought, if Grant’s father died in 1864 and the baby born that year, could he be the Grant in the picture? Is that possible?)2 I remember Grant Shoemaker from the Reunions when I was little. And he certainly looked like the person in the picture.
There are other sad stories behind the eyes looking out of this photo. Annie (Fleagle) Keefer is here but her husband is not. Years ago, when Mim and I first ventured together to search out old family graves and found ourselves at Benjamin’s farm in Mayberry, we took the time to drive over to where the Keefers’ farm had been, quite nearby. She told me about Annie Keefer’s husband Thomas, who was run down and killed by a car while walking along the side of a road with his son. This would have been in 1923, two years before this photo was taken. A good while later, according to Mim, one of the other passengers in the car told the story that the driver had said “Look, there’s Tommy Keefer and his boy…watch me run them over.” I don’t know whether this man reported this to the authorities out of a suffering conscience or whether he was chattering gleefully about it in his cups, but my impression from Mim’s story was that he told someone and that that someone told others, and the story got out. Mim thinks that the driver was eventually caught because of this testimony. I could be wrong but I believe the boy survived; in all the information I found, all of Annie’s children lived long lives. All of her children that I know about are in this photo, per Mim’s notes above. Melvin, at the far right in a dark suit and a bow tie, is the youngest son; he would have been about 11 years old at the time of the attack.
Most likely, only Vivian and Miriam remain among all these wonderful people, “unless,” Mim wonders in her letter to me about this photo “Mary Constance is still living…she was 4 years my senior so if still living she’s pretty old.”
If you’d like to print this to frame and hang on your wall so your children can ask about it, here’s an even higher resolution version of the photo. For easier reference, I have also created a version of this photo annotated with my interpretation of Mim’s notes, here.
I am slack-jaw amazed when I look at this, and so grateful that the family took the time to gather together, to put aside whatever differences and arguments troubled their relations, to bring chairs for the venerable elders and to arrange themselves, to pick up and comfort the babies, to hold the pose while the photographer did the photographer’s thing. And now we have this record of our family’s faces, hopefully for all time. This is just a scan, a long series of strings of ones and zeros coded to render an image of the photo. And what is the photo but a piece of paper onto which a bright light was once projected through a negative now lost, a negative that was imbued for a fraction of a second with the light from a moment 90 years ago. A single moment on earth so long ago, capturing a handful of lives lived and lost already, a mere scoopful of dust to which all but two or three are now returned. -mdf
1According to information in our family’s online database, which is by no means complete or without errors, Obadiah’s daughter Rhoda married Samuel G. Repp, and they had at least three children: Audrey A. (b.1907), Samuel Rinaldo (b.1909) and Margaret M (b.1910). I wonder if the younger woman in front isn’t Audrey, who would have been 17 or 18 in 1925, and the older her mother Rhoda.
2I looked up Adeline Fleagle in our family records and found that indeed, her husband Emanuel Shoemaker had died in 1864 at the “Battle of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Co, Virginia” at age 32, and she had a son named Emanuel born that year. On a hunch, I looked to see if we know the younger Emanuel’s middle name, and we do, and it is Grant.
Image archive ID:
About the physical photograph:
Large format (about 8×10).
Embossed or faintly printed in lower right of image: “A Jackson Co., Baltimore, Md.”
Nothing written on back.
From the collection of Tim Taylor.