Recently, we visited a Quaker family in Burlington County, NJ on a house call. Among other items, they wished to consign this photograph. The image itself was curious and we wondered if there might be something more hidden behind the photo.
One clue - The frame was grain painted beneath the varnish.
Another clue - The frame construction appeared to be older than the image it contained.
Plus a wood backboard and undisturbed tacks.
I took it home and left it in a corner for a few days. Finally, at the right moment, I sat down and carefully removed the tacks. I was hoping for a fraktur or a birth/marriage certificate. I held my breath.
It was an Award of Merit, issued at Westtown School in Pennsylvania in 1886 to Edward T. Middleton.
I assume, the calligraphy was executed by Edwin Thorp, who was a teacher at Westtown School at that time. These awards are lovely and I'm certain, a coveted trophy by the student.
But, why was the award covered by an odd photograph? I did some more research and discovered
a heartbreaking incidental memory in the Friends Intelligencer, 1892. The poor parents must have been devastated at the death of their son. I suppose, the Award of Merit, hung with pride in their home. To hide the painful memory the award was covered by a photo of a stairway, leading to heaven or an unfinished house (unfinished life)
I contacted the consigner and they wished to keep the calligraphy. They have a son named Edward. They did not know this story. I hope, if anyone ever learns about my heritage that they will share it with me.