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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mystery Woman, c. 1952

History has left the Mystery Woman a little fuzzy in more ways than one.

T.O.P. reader Stephen Edgar, from Ireland, recently encountered a mystery. He purchased a bag of old Kodachrome slides, and found to his surprise that most of them were pictures of the same attractive young woman, from more than fifty years ago.

Who could she be, he wondered?

As many snapshots do, the old pictures do have a certain amateurish charm. "Like most Kodachromes they've stood the test of time with little fading," writes Stephen. "I've dated the slides to 1952, using the mounts as guides. I wonder if T.O.P. readers would fancy a little detective work to see if anyone (particularly U.S. viewers) could give me any clues as to where this person might have lived, who she might be, and what happened to her. And how did these pictures end up in Ireland?" makes you wonder. A divorce, with the pictures discarded by the ex? Theft, or some other form of loss? Or just a old person's memories, unclaimed by heirs? It's probably unlikely that the subject of these old pictures will be identified, but it's an intriguing mystery nonetheless.

"There is little to go on," Stephen admits, "but maybe someone could see something I can't. If nothing else they are lovely pictures—and that's what photography is all about."



Blogger Lee Hammond Photography said...

Wow, this is some challenge. I have boxes of pictures of my own, where I am wondering who are these people, who kinda look like me.

There is a kid in this picture:
I'd guess she is in her 50's now, a little older than me, if we accept 1952 as the year. Could it be someone on a US tour, Las Vegas, Wyoming, Arizona?


9:47 PM  
Blogger Bob Burnett said...

This is really haunting in a "Rear Window" kind of way.
Is there a way to trace the license plate on the car?

10:33 PM  
Blogger photodave said...

Those mountains look like the mountains on the north side of I-10, about half way between Phoenix and California. Based on the direction of the light and what she was wearing, I believe it was shot in January about 5:00 pm. I would have suspected that they stopped to take a picture by the first saguaro cactus they saw on their way from Los Angeles to Phoenix, but the car is pointed toward Los Angeles, so something seems to be wrong with my conclusion.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

It is an intriguing mystery. The snaps are really quite good, recorded with some skill and care. This woman, if still living and if the 1952 date is accurate, would actually be well into her 70's, or beyond, today.

The bigger mysteries, at least to me, are:

1. Who the heck is selling bags of other peoples' old slides?

2. Why in the world is someone buying a bag of other peoples' old slides?!

Those are far stranger questions to me!

10:59 PM  
Blogger Jason Greenberg Motamedi said...

I don't have anything intelligent to say about the mysterious woman, but damn, these images remind me why I loved kodakchrome...

11:48 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

i think the road and mountains look like the old state route NW from Phoenix to Wickenburg. Always a tourist route and a back way to Las Vegas from Phoenix or to connect with the old route to LA via Needles and Bakersfield. In the 50's this was the fastest and most direct route to LV or
LA. And yes I am old enough to remember it, hitchhiked the old Route 66 while in the Marines Corps, LA to Chicago.

12:17 AM  
Blogger johnbeardy said...

What about trying to trace the owners of the black car that seems to feature in 3 pictures? DN1282.

Guess who has 3 close relatives in the police.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is...."


6:21 AM  
Blogger John DM said...

Could be 'Rear Window', but i was thinking more along the lines of 'Laura'. Now, if she has a daughter who looks exactly liker her...

6:36 AM  
Blogger Curtis Clegg said...

I was looking around on some license plate collector pages for information when I stumbled upon this free license plate maker. It doesn't take much to amuse me these days, but how can you not have fun on a website called

8:03 AM  
Blogger Max said...

There something hilarious/dark about the picture of the girl and the dog on the horse statue with it's skin peeling away. The big smile and the dilapidated horse...

11:15 AM  
Blogger jim witkowski said...

In the fifties, I10 didn’t exist. The route between Phoenix and Las Vegas/Los Angeles/Flagstaff was US 60 through Wickenburg. There are several shots where she is wearing the same yellow blouse and grey skirt and are in proximity of the same car. Could we assume this was the same trip?

In the head shot of her standing next to the saguaro, the mountains in the background could be on what was then US 89, then it was the common way to Flagstaff from Phoenix. It’s called Yarnell Hill and is still popular with motor sports enthusiast.

The reason I suspect it was a trip to Flagstaff is that the elder ladies are wearing coats. The mountain in the background of one of the motel shots looks like Mt. Humphries, a Flagstaff landmark and the tallest point in Arizona.

There is also another shot that was taken along Route 66, at or near the New Mexico border.

In the shot of her sitting on the sign pointing to the Grand Canyon, there’s a highway marker to the right. If you can show me the detail, I can tell you exactly where she was at that time.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Stan B. said...

One of the more intriguing, fascinating essays on the net!

3:21 PM  
Blogger Victor Works said...

The pictures could have been taken along Route 66 in New Mexico. There are several places that match the background.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Rich Owens said...

After a little digging the license plate is from Texas, '51,'53, or '55. Those were the only years with black text on yellow and Texas at the top of the plate. The color was reversed in '50, '52, and '54.
The car is a '50 or '51 Buick. The same car is in the first picture Mike posted.

Food for thought.


4:29 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I'm pretty sure it's a Texas plate.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Looks like the plates might be from Texas around 1951

4:39 PM  
Blogger Very Short Lens said...

I am very sure this is way more difficult than finding Sharbat Gula.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Very Short Lens said...

Why are almost all the pictre blur in the subject and sharp in the background? Do you think that the photographer thought that the background is more important than the subject...

7:33 PM  
Blogger jim witkowski said...

The highway sign is too obscure to make out clearly, but the second number most certainly is a 9. My suspicion is that this was taken at the Canyon turn off along US 89 about 3 miles south of the Cameron Trading Post. The cliffs along the background look like the Painted Desert on the north side of the Little Colorado River.

If the sign was definitely Route 66, they would be in Williams which is a higher elevation and would be a coniferous forest.

My guess about the focus question is that he had a new camera (probably a range finder) and just set the lens to infinity. He also probably picked up a Kodak book and followed the instructions to ‘dress your subjects in reds or yellows to make them stand out from the bland background’.

I think he’s wearing an Air Force Uniform and could have been stationed at the Flight School at Luke AFB on the west side of Phoenix. He could have picked up one of those new cheap Japanese cameras on his way home from Korea. Either a
Nik… something or some other cheap knock off.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Allan Ostling said...

In the "Christmas 2" photo the coffee table has a lot of beer cans. These look like Olympia beer, from Tumwater, Washington, distributed only on the West Coast (I think) in 1952.

9:06 AM  
Blogger jim witkowski said...

Another thought. If the slides are still in their original mounts, they should still have the sequence number on them. Putting them in order of the sequence would help us with a time line story.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Stephen Edgar said...

Thanks to all who have taken the time to look at "The Mystery Woman" pictures, and contributed their thoughts and information. I appreciate your help.
I have added a couple of pictures in response to a couple of e-mail requests: detailed crops of the licence plate and and the highway marker on the "Grand Canyon" picture.
It would seem that the only way to add a name to the lady would be to ID the licence plate and it was great to discover that it was a Texas plate.
A couple of pieces of trivia: in 2005 I visited South West USA and drove from LA to Flagstaff via the Grand Canyon and returned on the I10 via Phoenix. What a coincidence, given the information that has been suggested so far!
I was asked by another poster to see if the slides could be put into a sequence determined by the slide pressboard numbers. I'll do this ASAP. The 'trip' slides were in two cardboard Kodachrome boxes and I happened to notice that the same (?)two boxes were sitting on the table (beside a slide viewer) in the picture of the girl and her mother.
(Think I need to get out more!)
Thanks Michael for getting this project off the ground. And to the poster who wondered "why", I can only say that as long as I look at these visual traces of a life, the person is still alive


1:57 PM  
Blogger Dennis Murphy said...

I'm positive that's a
Texas plate.

Maybe if someone in Texas gets in touch with a local TV station they'd help work with the Motor Vehicles dept to trace down DN 1282 ??

It'd at least be a start!

I know the TV stations up here in NYC always run stories about "Local man lost wallet in 1952; found in mailbox today"... they eat up stuff like that!

10:05 PM  
Blogger robert e said...

Isn't the 'net way to do this to get as many eyeballs to the photos as possible, increasing the odds that someone will recognize a face? So who's going to submit this to slashdot, and tag it for delicious? And Stephen, is your site ready for what may ensue? (And, whatever your intentions might have been, what a brilliant way to get eyeballs to one's website!)

4:06 PM  
Blogger Stephen Edgar said...

I agree with your comments. It would be great to increase the 'eyeballs' looking at the pictures. I'm not familiar with slashdot or delicious but would be interested to find out more if you care to expand.
Incidentally, the site was set up really just to host the pictures of the girl. Anything else on the site was really just 'filler' to make to make the site look more 'complete'!
Thanks for the contribution and I'll look forward to your reply

5:37 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

If you go to eBay, you can find whole boxes of photos and family albums up for bid quite often. Many family albums are very well put together and annotated. You can't help but wonder why someone would throw away an entire families' memories. All dead? No interest by family's later generations?

I was temped to bid on a couple of interesting turn of 20th century albums, but had second thoughts. Fascination would soon grow into preoccupation.

Thank you, Stephen, and merry band of sleuths, for validating my judgment.

6:15 PM  
Blogger robert e said...


If each TOP reader tells two friends, who then tell two friends... that might be enough. Now that I know you want this getting out, I'll tell two dozen. is a venerable community news site started by and for coders, sysadmins and other net geeks, and they pioneered many aspects of community-driven sites and blogs we see today. Think of it as a blog on steroids, with millions of participants. A side effect of slashdot's success was that web pages or sites mentioned on slashdot would stimulate hundreds of thousands of click-throughs in hours or minutes. "Slashdot" became a verb meaning to overwhelm a website with so many hits in so short a time that it would grind to a halt. Getting "slashdotted" is often a badge of honor and a big break for sites looking for an audience.

Newer sites like and seek to exploit the community dynamic inspired by slashdot, where a large number of people can give, receive and use instant feedback to constantly let each other know what is and is not worth seeing or doing on the net.

dailykos is an example of a site built on the slashdot model to serve a huge special interest audience, but focused more on real-world activism and mobilization.

[Now that I've typed all that, it occurs to me wikipedia probably does a much better job!]

But let's not forget the big photography communities like

Anyway, Stephen, I hope you get those eyeballs, and I hope you get something out of the attention. Who knows, you just might start a new fad: using the internet to reunite families with their long-lost photographic records and mementos!

Let me know if I can help.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Stephen Edgar said...

Thank you for the detailed explanation of, etc. I appreciate your time and input. I have 'joined' and submitted the "Mystery Lady" web gallery. I'm now checking out to see how I can best use the facility to achieve the most number of 'eyeballs'.
I will also investigate One TOP reader e-mailed with the suggestion that I try to get the attention of local newspapers (or even Oprah!!. Might be nice to jump for joy when the mystery woman was revealed ;-))
Again, thank you for your help and insight

7:56 AM  
Blogger robert e said...

Stephen, I sent you email via your website.

10:36 AM  

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