My photography collection recently took a decided step into new territory when I started acquiring vernacular photographs – images characterized, generally, by their lack of provenance and offering limited opportunities for identifying the subject. When I bought one large lot, though, I was surprised and pleased to find quite a lot of information on the reverse of the prints, enough that I am hopeful more can be learned about the people shown.
For starters, the (presumably female) scribe who wrote neatly on most of the prints dated them precisely: most are from 3 September 1944, with one or two from four days later. The focus of her interest is clear: Wayne Ehler, whose gymnastic endeavors she much admires. Two photos are marked in another hand, and perhaps this one is male, since he subtly denigrates Wayne and boasts of his own comparable accomplishments (not shown).
It looks like this lot of eleven images belongs together, although another two are unmarked.
Based on a hunch that this is a beach in Southern California, I went looking for a Wayne Ehler there, and found him in the 1940 Census living on Melbourne Avenue in Los Angeles with his parents, Otto and Pearl. An Arthur Wayne Ehler, born in 1922, died in Los Angeles County in 1994 at the age of 71.
Another suggestive find is the marriage of Arthur W. Ehler and Norma L. Karns in Los Angeles County in 1957, since “Norma” is shown in one of the photographs – perhaps it is she who wrote the text on Wayne’s 1944 photos, and she who was the focus of another suitor’s jocular attempts to one-up a rival.
According to a list of University of Southern California alumni in physics, Dr. Arthur W. Ehler received his Ph.D in 1955, perhaps accounting for his late marriage, when he was 35. A further search turns up his February 1945 commissioning as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, and indicates he received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1947 and an M.S. in 1950, both, like his doctorate, from U.S.C.
It all fits together nicely, and I wonder if it is so: that Wayne Ehler and some friends spent a couple of afternoons at the beach in 1944, while in 1945 he was commissioned into the Navy, thereby delaying his graduation from U.S.C. until 1947, after which he continued his work toward a Ph.D in physics. Perhaps, too, in marrying Norma Karns he was marrying an admirer from those long-ago days at the beach!
Perhaps someone out there knows…
 1940 Federal Census, T627_393, p. 14B, E.D. 60-85. The roof-line of Marion Davies’ Ocean House in Santa Monica can be seen in the background of some of the other photos.
 U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]; California Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line].
 California Marriage Index, 1949-1959 [database on-line].
11 thoughts on “Friendly rivalries”
That’s good advice 4 identifying pictures. Thank u.
Great analysis! A similar deep dive worked for me. I inherited two family albums c. 1890s-1910 recently with only a few people identified. By concentrating intensively I identified most of the individuals, events and addresses. I couldn’t have done it without “uploading” a lot of information in a very short period of time and letting my brain discover patterns. It sounds kind of zen, but there was a suddenness of pattern recognition after taking in and mapping a lot of information and analyzing details in the photos themselves. It was amazing how much information was in there. I strongly recommend writing down the analysis and results in detail, as Scott did so elegantly in this article.
Thanks, Patty and Ann!
Dr. Ehler was likely a V-12, U.S.Navy student at the time
I love the “detective” aspect of this project, Scott.
I was google my grandfather, saw this picture and knew right away this was him. I would love to get in-touch with another information you may have.
Hello Mr. Scott, yes I could help you out on Identifying some of those pictures. They are my mom and dad, there are a lot of stories that go along with the pictures. I am a little curious where the pictures came from. Thanks for your time and by the way the blog on my father is very good, you have it very close. Doug Ehler. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug, It’s great to hear from you — I will write to your email address now. All my best, Scott Steward
Hello, I was very surprised to see my mom’s words from our family album on your webpage- it seems kind of ironic that even goofy photos taken by college kids 50 years before the web existed end up posted! As Doug said, there are lots of stories about those days and that group (more than just those in the photos) got together for decades. The guys were “the Good Clean Cut Kids Club”.
Dear Linda: It’s great to hear from you and from Doug. The photos in this blog post don’t appear to have been put into an album — the writing on the back is undisturbed. I would love to do a follow-up on this post, if you would feel comfortable with that. You and Doug (and Rachel?) can reach me via my work email at email@example.com. All my best, Scott