Post cards, three to a page filled the album. Images from places seen and unseen, but none-the-less cherished for the memories associated with them. She had collected over 350 post cards from Nome Alaska, San Francisco and San Diego, World's Fairs and Expos and of course those treasured ones from special friends back home and this special album would serve perfectly to protect her treasures. She had gathered post cards, photographs and tintypes and placed them inside this album and she even had one of Annie Oakley wearing all her medals and holding a Winchester. But there was one item in her collection that held distinction attached to the inside front cover of the album. It was a tintype and it stood out as different just by the way it looked. It was not fitted into the four corner slots on the pages as the many post cards were; no it was still bound into the slots on the darker paper of a separate and different album. A lighter color of paper just large enough to write his name upon was affixed under the tintype, a name she did not want to forget. And as an added protection for this particular tintype a simple protective layer of transparent rice paper was laid over it shielding it until the next time these memories would be exposed. She sealed the album up inside the sturdy brown wrapping paper and carefully wrote across it, "completed 1909 San Francisco".
She never thought that she
would ever see this magnificent town on the bay, but a recent
relocation to Seattle from her home state of Massachusetts enabled
her to make the short journey for some well-deserved rest. She
had traveled west just a couple of years ago to tend to the needs
of her ill sister, Nettie whose death had left her the sole surviving
member of the immediate family. And now closing that chapter of
her life as caretaker to her sister, she was to return to Seattle
and continue her employment with the doctors before she would
return to her home in Massachusetts nearly ten years later.
Her treasured items, post
cards, photographs and correspondences had been packaged up and
were not to be opened again for almost a hundred years. The post
card album she so meticulously wrapped and sealed was to remain
unopened until 2004 when the items she had treasured, the things
she collected and held dear were to be sold. A piece of her past
that had been packaged up for so many years now was being sold
as part of an estate sale. Forgotten items, her memories, sold
to the highest bidder.
It was a Borden's butter churn or egg beater that actually interested David Horton in purchasing this box at the estate sale near Groton Massachusetts. He wanted the churn and though, as is common at estate sales, other items were included in the box all for one price, it was the churn that made David decide the price asked was fair and he purchased it all.
returning home with his newfound purchase he lifted out the churn
and several other items including some books on veterinary practice
and there it was in the bottom of the box sealed in brown paper
and labeled, "completed 1909 San Francisco". It was long and narrow
and what was sealed inside was about to change David's life and
put him on a course he never could predict when he purchased a
box, a simple box of items at an estate sale he never planned
on going to. Delicately unwrapping the bundle he uncovered a black
album. The once embossed words, Post Card Album, were barely visible
across the top and the wear upon the edges gave evidence to the
age of this treasure. The spine had the words, "Non Pariel" patent
1876. This was certainly an old album.
The lower right corner of the album was worn from many openings of this keepsake book. What could be inside? What kind of memories were sealed up and stored for 95 years and awaiting his eyes? David was about to open someone's memory keeper, someone's special keepsakes, but he had no idea that what he would find on the first page would start him and for that matter, several others, on a journey into the past. A journey with a mystery to solve and a journey that makes me feel like Nancy Drew.
He opened the well-worn cover of the album and there on the inside cover was a piece of rice paper covering something. Underneath this delicate piece of transparent paper was a tintype secured onto an old piece of paper. Just below were the words that would start the mystery. The words in ink - Wyatt Earp.
eerie feeling came over David as he looked into the eyes of the
man whose image was captured on this 2" tintype. Was this truly
a photo of the legendary man who books, movies and TV shows had
portrayed? There was a remarkable similarity to the man and what
really struck him was the meticulous way in which this tintype,
solely among others that had been loosely included in the album,
had been so well taken care of. Here it was holding a prominent
position attached to the inside cover of the vintage collection
of post cards and it had been purposely protected with the transparent
sheet of rice paper. The original owner of this collection of
post cards, images from places that Wyatt Earp had traveled, had
taken the time to delineate just whom this image was of and then
wrapped all of its contents, marked the date and place and sealed
it with glue. And at the time that David opened the seal on the
brown paper, it appeared that his invasion was the first since
1909. He was the first to lay eyes upon this tintype marked Wyatt
The post card album had over 350 post cards. Other than the secured post cards there were several photos and tintypes inside this package and very few of them had been distinguished with a name or location. But there was on the next page also a picture of Annie Oakley. This required no investigation as she was often photographed and well known especially when dressed as she was in this cabinet photo.
Was this image truly Wyatt Earp and if so, how did the apparent owner of the album, Miss E. L. Billings, play into the picture? David now had his work cut out for him to try to authenticate this tintype so carefully labeled and protected. Knowing that there were other boxes sold at this estate sale he sought to locate the man who purchased another box next to the one he had procured and was successful as his friend knew him. Would his box hold any other clues to this mystery?
out the contents of this other box soon led to more pieces of
this puzzle possibly connecting the mystery of the Wyatt Earp
tintype. The other gentleman had found a box with a watch inside
it. A pocket watch, the face plate being that of a miner with
his shovel. A piece of paper with a hole punched in the top part
was attached to the watch and it simply stated: WE's, scripted
in a similar handwriting as on the tintype label. Could that stand
for Wyatt Earp? The man who had the watch had never thought of
that possibility but now his interest was peaked. Not to be missed
in his collection then were a few watch fobs, one of which was
in the shape of a horseshoe holding a compass all of which were
found within the box containing the watch tagged WE's. Also among
the fobs and the watch was a locket, a locket delicately holding
a piece of hair inside its chamber. Could these pieces tie this
David had to know and so he started out on his journey to authenticate this tintype marked Wyatt Earp. One stop was to Karen Wallace Steely of "The Past Matters" Genealogy Services. The correspondence David received from Ms. Steely stated:
"Although the researcher is not an expert on Wyatt Earp specifically, a comparison was made between this photo and a known photo of Wyatt Earp taken in 1886. The similarity of pose aid in comparing the physical characteristics of the men in these two photos. Note the following similarities:
1. Size and shape of ears and their placement on the head are as identical as this researcher has ever seen.
2. Placement of the part and the receding hairline are consistent between both photos, the only difference being what you would expect to see in two photos that are about a decade apart - there is an additional amount of receding that has occurred in the second photo.
3. The size, shape and height of the forehead are also very similar.
4. The shape of the nose is the same in both photos, although the overall size of the nose seems slightly larger in the later picture.
However, this too is consistent with a difference of ten or so years between the photos because our noses do get larger as we age.
5. The line of the jaw and the size and shape of the chin are also very similar.
6. The brow is similar in angle in both photos, and both men have eyes that are very similar in size and similarly deep set.
Given all these similarities and the probable date of the photo, it is the opinion of this researcher that both photos are of the same man, and were taken about a decade apart."
David visited with Ernest DuMouchelle of the Besser Museum in Alpena, Michigan who appraises for the PBS series, Antique Road Show, and it was of his opinion (given verbally) that the tintype David had was of Wyatt Earp and that it was a "rare one of a kind photo never before seen until now".
He also contact Paula Mitchell Marks, "And Die in the West" author as well as a regular History Channel contributor and her handwritten note to him stated, "I think you have a good case for the photo in your possession being one of Wyatt Earp. Best wishes in getting it recognized as such! - Paula Mitchell Marks."
His journey with this tintype has taken him many places in 3 years and it eventually found its way to me. I, by no means, can authenticate this, but I can certainly expose a story about it and that is what I have sought to do since I started on this project a few months ago.
An email from a David Horton to me in February of '07 stated that he had in his possession a tintype that had been found inside a photo album that had been purchased at an estate sale about 3 years ago. He briefly described to me the steps he had taken to authenticate this find and felt that perhaps the Tombstone Times might want to run a story on it. My curiosity was peaked and I wrote back that we should talk about it and see where it leads.
I received digital images of what he had found including a side-by-side
view of the tintype and the 1886 well known photo of Wyatt. He
then sent me an 11 X 14 print along with a transparency overlay
of the tintype and the 1886 photo. Now I am no expert, but I must
admit that the overlay did impress me. It was amazing to pick
up the transparency and observe the alignment of the eyes, ears,
nose, and chin... not to mention the hairline and eyebrows.
I thought at this point that
any possible clues from the old post card album to this alleged
Wyatt Earp tintype would have to be from the original owner of
the collection. Unfortunately, David had not seen the need to
keep everything from the post card album together. By the time
he contacted me he had already sold the Annie Oakley photo. Others
in the post card collection had been sold individually through
Ebay and what did not sell through those means he used an auction
house in Petoskey Michigan to sell what remained. The only clue
I was given was a scan of a single post card addressed to a Miss
E.L. Billings 350l Fremont Street, Seattle Washington. It was
postmarked 1908 from Baldwinsville Massachusetts. The message
was simply: Those "Apples" were all right. It was signed J.H.
King with an afterthought of a "merry xmas" added at the bottom.
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