Roy Harter is “unknown” no more.
Mr. Harter appeared in a photo in our weekly Share Our Heritage feature this past Monday. Rosalie Henninger Hoy, who submitted the group picture, didn’t know who he was. The caption listed the man on the left in the back row as “unknown.”
But Robert Harter, 51, of Lemont, recognized the man in the image. When he opened that day’s edition of the Centre Daily Times, Robert Harter was looking into the eyes of his own father as a teenager in 1953.
Roy Harter, Rosalie Henninger Hoy and six other youth were seated in front of the Hoy family tent at that year’s Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
“I like to look at those pictures to see if I recognize anyone, or the places,” Robert Harter said. “People you know sort of jump right out at you. I looked at that one and thought, ‘That looks like my dad.’ ”
Robert Harter’s father grew up in the Zion area. He passed away in 1998.
“He was 16 in that picture,” Robert said. “It’s nice, because we don’t have a whole lot of pictures of him when he was young.”
Harter decided to “try some FBI skills,” and tracked down Mrs. Hoy, who explained the origin of the picture and the unnamed boy in the back row.
“It was apparently just a random, chance get-together at the fair,” Robert Harter said. “He happened to be in front of that tent, which was her family’s tent. It was kind of unusual to see him with a group of people you don’t even know.”
Sometimes those old pictures can provide a new thrill once they land in our pages.
Sara Hess had such a moment on June 24, when her ancestors appeared in a Share Our Heritage photograph from the 1920s.
Sara, 95 and a resident of Foxdale Village in State College, encountered her step-grandmother, Kathryn Fisher Hall Portzline, in a family portrait. Also in the picture was “Uncle” Lewis Fisher, who was noted as “half brother of Grandma Sara Elizabeth Bahner Portzline.”
Sara Portzline is the grandmother and namesake of Sara Hess.
“I was surprised,” Hess said. “It was quite a shock. But I was excited when I saw my relatives.”
That picture was one of two submitted by John Shalk, of Centre Hall. The second showed the Fisher family with a larger group touring the Little Round Top area of the Gettsyburg battlefield.
“My step-grandmother was in both of those pictures,” Hess said.
Shalk said he bought the photographs at a farm sale in the Baileyville area.
He is a collector of old pictures, books and other memorabilia. Shalk said he often sells items at sales in New York City and Boston.
“People might buy them, especially if you have an early (famous Civil War photographer) Mathew Brady, something like that,” Shalk said. “Sometimes I have some World War II stuff.”
Over the years, Shalk said, he has run into some interesting images and collections.
He found an album of pictures taken at the Grange Fair decades ago, and the register from a hotel and bar in Centre Hall that was shut down during prohibition and never reopened.
He recalled photos from a gas station and speakeasy called Rabbits that he said was located near the current site of the Mount Nittany Inn, and a collection of hundreds of pictures shot by workers during the construction of the Rockview state prison in the early 20th century.
Shalk said he loves to root through photo archives — known as “morgues” — at newspapers. He once purchased an entire photo library from a newspaper that was shutting down in his home state of Massachusetts. He had to have a friend help him haul the pictures away in trucks.
“There was some amazing stuff in there,” Shalk said. “It was all going into a Dumpster if I didn’t buy it.”
He has learned what gives an old image resale potential.
“For it to have value, there really has to be a story behind the photo — train wrecks or hangings, for example,” he said, adding: “When something good slips through your hands, well, hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
As a youngster, Shalk said, he tagged along with his big brother to see baseball games at Fenway Park in Boston.
He dreams of finding an old picture of his hero, Red Sox great Ted Williams, smacking a home run to beat Mickey Mantle and the hated Yankees.
“You’re out there looking for the Holy Grail,” Shalk said. “It might not be there. But I find myself looking deeper.”
And sometimes the best use of an old picture is sending it to your local newspaper, where it just might provide an unexpected thrill for someone you’ve never met.