By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager
At the end of August and beginning of September, the annual migration of students, both new and returning, comes back to Ann Arbor. Roads will soon be closed off and traffic patterns thrown asunder. That one way to work we are all used to will longer be an option. Parents helping their children move into their dorms park wherever they can, often causing nightmares for the regular denizens of Ann Arbor.
Soon, those students will start venturing out on their own, making friends and filling the cafés and restaurants we locals have grown accustomed to having all to ourselves. They will form groups of friends through their residences, their departments, their activities, and their classes. They will spend much time together, forming bonds and taking a lot of group photos.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a mystery. Just like in 2018, U-M students have been gathering together since the university was founded, in 1817. With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, they could document themselves.
Often in archives work, while working on one project, other, seemingly unrelated, materials pop up. Many times, these are “orphans,” left behind by someone who had knowledge about them, but who has since left the institution. While organizing the Kelsey archives, these three photographs were found. Sadly, they are accompanied by no documentation, no explanation.
These photographs are presented as a mystery, but also as a call for help. If any of our readers recognize the people captured here, or the locations, or date, or even if this is from the University of Michigan at all, we can begin piecing together this puzzle.
Astute readers will notice one clue that may assist. In the lower right corner of the first photograph is the signature “Randall and Pack.” Some research into this reveals that Randall and Pack was a photo studio active in Ann Arbor between 1908 and 1917.* That gives us a time frame for at least one of the photographs. However, all other details remain obscure.
The archives present an opportunity to save history, to save the names and faces of people who have passed through these walls. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, and we rely on our community for assistance. These students may have a Kelsey connection, but without details we may never know. And with this loss, these photographs become an oddity in the archives, rather than a memory.
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* Directory of Early Michigan Photographers, by David V. Tinder (Ann Arbor: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, 2013; online edition), s.v. “Randall, Herbert”; see also “Pack, Ambrose Clarkson.”