Photo albums a mystery


Library holding recovered antique photographs.

LEWISTON – There is a similarity among the faces – the crinkle of the eyes and the set of the jaw – that leads librarian Ellen Gillian to believe she’s chanced upon a family’s lost legacy.

Hundreds of 19th-century photographs, bound in three threadbare albums and two small frames, were part of a burglary investigation five years ago.

They now sit in a cardboard box in an office behind the reference counter at the Lewiston Public Library.

“At first, I thought they were samples from a photo studio because they are all in such good shape,” Gillian said. “But then, I looked at them. They’re from all over the place, and the faces all look related. Like family.”

She’ll hold the photos until they are claimed by the rightful owner.

Most are portraits taken at studios from Boston to Belfast. They show men with jutting chins, thick mustaches and long beards and women in Victorian skirts posed alongside tables and stairways.

In one picture, five stiffly dressed couples sit on the edge of a wooden porch. They stare off at the photographer’s left while a small dog sits blurred in the bottom corner of the frame, unable to match its masters’ knack for sitting still.

Another captures a musician playing bells and water glasses on a table surrounded by more mundane instruments – a trumpet, a violin and an accordion. The table is labeled “GB”; was it the musician’s initials, the name of the theater or something else?

Two small boxes contain keepsake frames, tintype photographs of soldiers with locks of hair.

The albums were recovered as part of a burglary investigation five years ago, said Lewiston police Sgt. David Chick. Police arrested two people, Maureen Thompson and Daniel Chamberlain, in July 2001 in connection with a burglary at the South End Social Club. They were convicted of burglary charges in January 2002.

A deeper investigation showed the pairs’ involvement in a rash of burglaries and break-ins at area homes and storage lockers. Police recovered an odd collection of loot, including a giant stuffed monkey, bags of clothing and a metal detector.

The photo albums were included in the recovered contraband, although Thompson claimed they belonged to her family.

“But she made that claim about a lot of clearly stolen material,” Chick said. “It’s very hard to know.”

Police opened the evidence lockers to let people reclaim their stolen goods once the investigation was finished. Much of what was left was returned to Thompson’s family.

The photo albums remained in police possession until last week, when police turned the box over to the library.

“It’s obvious they were very important to someone, at some time,” Gillian said.

The albums and frames are being kept safe in her office until they’re claimed. She hopes to put them on display if they remain, however.

“Maybe we’ll be able to keep them here, or maybe we’ll turn them over to Museum L/A,” she said.