TERRE HAUTE —
Sometimes, imagination must fill in the blanks of life.
Answers aren’t always available.
An Illinois high school history teacher used his own imagination — and forgotten, century-old photographs of a Marshall woman — to artistically answer a musical mystery.
This fall, the Grammy Award-winning folk duo The Civil Wars endorsed a contest that asked videographers to create a video for the band’s song “20 Years.” Impressed by The Civil Wars’ acclaimed 2011 “Barton Hallow” album, Bruce David Janu “liked” the band on Facebook, allowing him to receive news about the twosome. Their “20 Years” video contest instantly reminded him of an old photo album he’d bought at an antiques shop in the mid-1990s.
“That’s when the two things clicked,” Janu said last week by telephone from his home in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he, his wife and their two sons live.
“I wanted to construct a visual homage to Jayne Bartlett Kerr,” he said.
The project allowed Janu to blend two of his lifelong interests — history and filmmaking. He teaches world and junior-level history at Hersey High School, near Chicago. He’s also produced documentaries, including “Facing Sudan” (screened on the film festival circuit) and “Crayons and Paper” (broadcast on the Documentary Channel). After crafting his first music video last summer, he decided to take on The Civil Wars’ challenge.
The photo album contains pictures of Kerr, her husband, their infant son, and Kerr’s friend. She compiled the album in the years 1900, 1901 and 1902, posing at sites around Marshall, Ill., where she lived in a residence on Plum Street, as well as locations in nearby Terre Haute. Unlike many photo albums, Kerr identified the people in the pictures, writing names and places in the margins.
Kerr’s inscriptions gave Janu just enough information to spark his curiosity to research her life, and connect it to the song.
The Civil Wars consist of singer-guitarist John Paul White and vocalist Joy Williams. Asked to explain the story behind the song “20 Years” in an interview with American Songwriter magazine, Williams said only, “It’s a secret of my family.” Her lyrics describe a note — written 20 years earlier — left under a front door, containing “yellow paper and a faded picture and a secret in an envelope,” with “no reason, no excuses” and “no secondhand alibis, just some black ink on some blue lines and a shadow you won’t recognize.”
Then there’s a promise to wait another 20 years, and prayers for redemption and a return note.
Listeners must explain the rest.
Janu saw a parallel between “20 Years” and the photo album of Jayne Bartlett Kerr that he found in an Illinois antiques shop.
“There’s some mystery to her life that fits the song,” Janu said. “I thought the song speaks about our past, what we’ve left behind, and what other people find.”
Kerr’s photo album resembles a 21st-century Facebook page, Janu said. A regular antiques hunter, Janu doesn’t recall which shop or town where he bought the album, but he has spent time in central Illinois. Now 44, he graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 1991, and visited the Marshall area a few times. “I just loved the feel of those small towns,” Janu said.
Janu does recall being drawn to the photographs, and the fact that Kerr carefully identified them. Such “found photographs” — unwanted photos sold or given to antiques dealers — often contain little or no information. “This album is somewhat unique, because I know who possessed it,” Janu said.
To prepare the video, Janu used the details Kerr left more than 110 years ago to dig deeper. He turned to the genealogy website
ancestry.com to discover that she was born in Marshall on Jan. 8, 1879, and married Louis Bartlett Kerr on May 12, 1898. She gave birth to their only child, Louis Bartlett Kerr, on July 5, 1899, Janu said.
The photos offer glimpses of her life. “They’re beautiful,” Janu said. Several pictures show young Jayne and her best friend, Clara Schwanecke, socializing and kidding around — pretending to be lost in a tunnel at a Marshall park; sitting at a table, striking a refined pose while holding drinking glasses and playing cards; sitting on the floor, with their heads poking through newspapers, and posing with a large group identified only as the W.I.A.U. of Marshall in 1902. Kerr’s son and mother (“Mother Bartlett”) also appear in a few of the pictures.
Kerr’s husband is only seen in two photos, both without her. Through Janu’s research, he found Kerr listed as “divorced” in the 1910 U.S. Census. “That was somewhat unusual for the times,” Janu said, “and she became the head of the household.” By the 1920 Census, she was listed as “divorced and widowed,” and briefly stayed at the Hotel LaSalle in Chicago, likely because of her duties as an officer in the State Tuberculosis Association, Janu learned through a book on famous Illinois women and from newspaper archives.
That job with the Tuberculosis Association kept Kerr busy, touring the Midwest to raise funds. She also stayed active in the Illinois State Historical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Kerr was so well regarded that an artist sculpted a small figurine of her for a 1929 exhibit on important women in the state.
Kerr fell ill in the late 1920s, was hospitalized in Springfield, and then underwent an operation in Chicago, but that procedure only worsened her ailment, Janu reported. On July 16, 1929, Kerr died in a Chicago hospital. Just 49 years old, she was buried in Marshall Cemetery. Her friend, Clara, outlived Jayne by nearly 30 years, dying in 1957 at the age of 76, Janu said.
Even with research and the pictures, some gaps in Kerr’s life story remain.
“The album leaves a lot of questions unanswered,” Janu said.
Several items, for example, were inserted in that album, when Janu found it at the antiques store, including a postcard from France, forwarded to Jayne while she lived in Chicago. It was written to Kerr by a soldier during World War I. “There’s a hint that these two people knew each other,” Janu said.
Through digitization and computer technology, Janu cleaned and restored many of the album’s playful photos. In 1900, snapping and processing photography was not as inexpensive and instantaneous as in 2012. “The fact that she went through that time [necessary] speaks volumes about how she wanted to be remembered and what she wanted to remember later in life,” Janu said.
More than a century later, those photographs wound up for sale.
“I find it sad that somebody’s life — a memento of what they lived — would end up in an antiques store,” Janu said.
Yet, not unusual. Found photographs are popular with antiques shoppers, primarily out of historical and curiosity interests, rather than intrinsic value.
“The terrific thing about found photographs is they’re little mysteries that you can unlock and find clues to,” Ben Marks, senior editor at Collectors Weekly, a California-based publication, said Monday.
“It becomes this kind of wonderful puzzle to solve,” Marks added. The Collectors Weekly website, like similar sites, allows visitors to post found photographs and share speculation on their locations, activities and background.
The Civil Wars’ video competition — sponsored by the Genero.tv website — closed its entries on Nov. 15, and the final judging has not yet been announced. Ironically, the duo announced earlier this month they were suspending their concert tour because of “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” but hoped to record new music by 2013. On Tuesday, Genero.tv co-founder Mick Entwisle told the Tribune-Star that The Civil Wars’ management assured his company the contest would go on as planned, and that band members Williams and White would soon begin judging the 128 submitted videos.
In the meantime, Janu has started a “Finding Jayne” blog (findingjayne.blogspot.com) and plans to publish the entire album, and restore most of its pictures. Regardless of the video contest’s outcome, Janu is happy that he gave a second life to the album Jayne Bartlett Kerr created in Marshall all those years ago.
“It’s an opportunity for filmmakers — amateurs, professionals and semi-professionals across the world — to interpret a song, a piece of familiar music,” Janu said.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois teacher brings old images to life in music video featuring Marshall woman born in 1879
TERRE HAUTE —
Sometimes, imagination must fill in the blanks of life.
- Valley Life
Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley
While in middle and high school, Jesse Walker developed a strong interest in the weather. He thought about a career at the National Weather Service or at a storm prediction center, but the idea of becoming a television meteorologist never entered his mind.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Keep your garden — and yourself — safe from lead
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead poisoning is the No. 1 preventable environmental cause of illness in children.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Need something for the kids? Try these Ritzy Cookies
When we have dinners at the church, one of the ladies brings these cookies. Nancy Kahl has been making these for some time now. They are so good. Need something for your kids? Make sure that there isn’t any one who can’t have peanuts. These are so easy and extra good.
DNR stocks ponds in Terre Haute with catfish
Fishing opportunities in eight Indiana cities got a boost on Monday as part of an ongoing effort by the Department of Natural Resources to promote angling in urban areas.
Katherine Trueblood to celebrate 90th birthday
A card shower is planned to honor Katherine Campbell Trueblood on her 90th birthday.
State Park Road Rally coming up June 9-11
Participants will pilot their own vehicles, as their navigator steers them to points of interest and natural wonders during the State Park Road Rally June 9-11, with overnight stays at Canyon Inn in McCormick’s Creek State Park.
CANDLES plans film night
CANDLES Holocaust Museum will host a film night at 7 p.m. on Thursday, featuring the documentary “Porraimos: Europe’s Gypsies in the Holocaust” and its director Alexandra Isles, at the museum.
“Porraimos” premiered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
Author to lead interpretive writing workshop
An interpretive writing workshop led by Alan Leftridge, Ph.D., author of the textbook “Interpretive Writing,” will be offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 12 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.
WEDDING: Published May 19, 2013
Ruth Brown and Josh Edwards were married at 2:30 p.m. on May 11, 2013, in West Terre Haute by the Rev. Paul Shelton.
Fraud and Scam Awareness Seminar is Tuesday
The Investor Protection Trust estimated that more than 7.3 million seniors (about 20 percent of all Americans 65 and older) have been victimized by a scam. Met Life Inc. estimated the annual loss by victims of elderly scams at $2.9 billion dollars.
FAMILY TIES: While searching for my grandfather, I found my mother
I remember the afternoon my mother received the chilling news from her nephew that her oldest sister and brother-in-law had been killed in a car/bus collision.
GRAPE SENSE: Same old whites getting you down? Try something different
If the same old Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio is getting you down, try something different.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A Rhubarb Nut Bread for the season
Last fall we went to the Covered Bridge Festival. Gene loves to go. Anyway, I got to talking to this lady, Treva Smith, at Bridgeton.
ENGAGEMENT: Published May 12, 2013
Friends of Library plans annual book sale
The Friends of the Vigo County Public Library is planning its annual book sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 4 p.m. May 19 in the Main Library Lower Level Meeting Rooms A, B, C and D.
Woman’s Press Club celebrates 100 years
On Feb. 18, 1913, a group of 13 female journalists and activists met for lunch at the Tea Room in L. S. Ayres Department Store in downtown Indianapolis to found the Woman’s Press Club of Indianapolis.
Children’s Museum to host orientation for summer volunteers
Those who are looking for a way to give back to the community and have fun at the same time are invited to attend a volunteer orientation session at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Walk for greyhound rescue
A family pet walk fundraiser open to all breeds is set for at 2 p.m. May 19 at Buggs Temple on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis.
‘Food Safety: From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates’ workshop coming up in June
There is a new law on the books in Illinois called the Cottage Food Operation Act of 2011. This new law allows for the preparation and sale of certain low-risk foods in the private home without the expense of a commercially certified kitchen and for the sale of said foods at a farmers market.
Scams are brown bag focus
The Vigo County Public Library’s next brown bag event, “Don’t Be a Victim!” featuring Amy Wardlow, is set for 12:10 p.m. Thursday at the main branch.
Countryside, Kalorama gardens celebrating opening weekend
Countryside Gardens, owned by Terry and Jennie O’Rourke, and Kalorama Gardens, owned by Steve and Linda Gard, opened for the season this weekend. Both gardens are in Marshall, Ill. Opening days continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Saturday seminar to bring nationally known genealogists to Ivy Tech
The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society is offering the public a unique opportunity to learn more about the new techniques and methods now available for individuals interested in doing genealogical research on the Internet.
Evening Thyme Garden Club to host garden fair at Clark County Fairgrounds
The Evening Thyme Garden Club will present the 15th annual garden fair from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m Saturday at Clark County Fairgrounds in Marshall, Ill., with free parking and admission.
Student mentoring program offers one-on-one technology instruction
The Connecting Generations Mentoring Program can help those who would like one-on-one instruction on how to use the Internet or other technology.
CULINARY COURSES: Clabber Girl Classroom Kitchen provides variety of cooking courses for the Valley
There are a few taste-bud-tantalizing-perks for having America’s leading baking powder producer in your backyard. For nearly 120 years, Clabber Girl has been a staple in Terre Haute. In 1899, Hulman and Company began offering up what was to become one of the oldest brands in the country, Clabber baking powder. In 1923, the company changed the baking powder brand name to Clabber Girl.
CHRIS DAVIES: Keep sodium levels in mind when sweating buckets
Salt, or sodium, is vital to life. Too much or too little sodium can cause all kinds of problems in your body. How much sodium do we need if we are exercising consistently?
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Union Hospital creates community garden
Union Hospital will be opening a community garden on its campus in mid-May. Before they embarked on such a challenge, they looked to their neighbor Indiana State University for advice.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Try this when you’ve got to avoid salt
I have a good friend in an assisted living complex. She went to her doctor last winter and he told her she had to leave off the salt. My mother used this when dad couldn’t have any salt.
I like to keep this on hand. In summer when it’s real hot I keep in refrigerator. Keep in an air tight container.
NEWSMAKER: May 5, 2013
Carolyn Whitcomb Jeffries was installed as president of the State Huguenot Society of Indiana on April 21 at Meridian Hills Country Club of Indianapolis.
ANNIVERSARY: Published May 5, 2013
Mr. and Mrs. Larry Abel
Larry and Rose Abel will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
The couple will have a reception in June.
- More Valley Life Headlines
- Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley