When writer and filmmaker Jack Jewers, 34, saw a mysterious old roll of film on eBay marked “exposed / undeveloped / 1954,” he bought it for fun, not expecting much. But what he found was absolutely incredible.
“I guess if I’m honest it was just a sense of adventure,” Jewers told HelloGiggles. “I honestly didn’t think there would be anything at all on the film. At very best, maybe some faint images, or even just streaks of light. But, on the other hand, what if. . . ?”
When he got the roll of film developed at a local store, he pored over them with the store owner. “She was as intrigued as I was, so we opened the package together,” he explained. “The first photo we took out was an extremely dark, scratchy, monochrome image of a railroad track. Initially I was just excited to discover that there was anything at all on there, and expected them all to be much the same.”
But then, they saw the second picture (above). “The two of us actually gasped,” he told HG. The image was sharp, “like it had been taken yesterday,” he explained. It featured a beaming middle-aged man with a cigar in his mouth and his hands on the shoulders of a boy, “looking like the proudest dad or uncle in the world.”
This was the beginning of a grand and mysterious adventure, a glimpse into the past. “Each new photo revealed a new person, a window into the private life of a family from a distant time and place,” Jewers told us. “And they all looked so happy. There was the lovely old couple, dressed in the style of an even older era, looking like something out of the Magnificent Ambersons. Again, they were smiling broadly.”
But the photographs that piqued his interest the most featured a man and a woman, both in their early 20s, standing outside of a school (below). “She was very beautiful, and he was dashingly handsome,” Jewers said. “They had clearly taken these photos of each other, and their expressions spoke volumes to me. They looked like they simply adored one another. They seemed—in a quiet, everyday, timeless sort of way—very much in love.”
All of this begged the question: Why were these images abandoned? Why would such gorgeous family pictures be tossed aside? After Jewers posted the photographs to Facebook explaining the story late last week, the post was shared almost 2,500 times, with commenters bouncing ideas off each other about the origins of these mysterious photographs. “One thing that several people picked up on straight away was that the photos looked older than the 1950s,” Jewers told HG. “The fashions, the cars, all suggested the late ’30s or early ’40s. After several commenters identified the young couple in the photos as Helen and Charles Weber, this confirmed it—for a tragic reason.”
After doing some digging, Jewers found that Charles was killed, likely just a few years after the pictures were taken. In World War II, he was the passenger in a Lancaster Bomber that was destroyed in a mid-air collision, killing Charles at the young age of 25. “I was contacted by one lady, a friend of Helen’s, who told me the most heart-breaking detail: that all they found to bury of Charles was his shoe,” Jewers told us.
His wife, Helen, passed away decades later in 2006. She visited his grave several times a year for the remainder of her life. “I’m told that. . . she was never able to talk about him very much, or she would become emotional,” Jewers explained. “The pain of his death never waned.”
Jewers believes that the pictures were never developed because they were too painful for her to bear. “Of course the roll of film might also just have been lost—which, when you think about it, is also quite tragic—but either way, knowing these details makes the photos all the more poignant,” he said.
The woman who initially sold Jewers the film, Marsha Nussmeyer, nearly threw the film away because she wanted the canisters. But after Jewers got them published, her father actually recognized Helen — she was his teacher in 1969 at Bosse High School in Evansville, Indiana, Nussmeyer explained to Courier Press.
“Within hours [of posting the pictures on Facebook] I was getting messages from people who lived in Evansville, who went to the high school in the pictures,” Jewers told HG. “It’s been shared thousands of times and I’ve received hundreds of messages and comments. Many of them are about Helen Weber, who was clearly a woman who inspired so much warmth and affection, mostly from former students at the high school where she taught.”
The photographs — and the story of love, heartbreak, and tragedy behind them — have touched people all over the web. “People have delighted in this mystery,” Jewers said. “For some it has even been quite emotional. I’ve found a connection with these people, through a story that remained hidden from sight in the most fragile condition for over 70 years.”
Jewers credits the Internet — and its ability to bring people together — for this beautifully haunting story that has sent chills down our spines. “I think that we can hear too much how the modern world is a dark and scary place; that the Internet is some kind of wild frontier, and we’re all going to hell in a handcart,” he told us. “But here is this lovely thing that has happened precisely because of how the world is today. This is a story that simply could not have come to be without social media. How nice is that?”
(Images via Jack Jewers with permission.)