James Bailey

Sun Lakes resident James Bailey is a retired engineer and Army veteran.

On my last birthday, my wife of 55 years, Peg, gave me a card with a thoughtful message: “ Love doesn’t make the world go ‘round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.”

Pictured on the front was a photo of a young couple merrily driving along a highway in an old car--one that surely dated to the 1930’s.

It must have been taken during that period as the only other vehicle in the picture is definitely from the same era.

But here is the very strange part: the girl in the passenger seat is reaching for a tote bag in the well behind the front seat so that you can see her face very clearly.

She is very pretty, and she so clearly resembles my wife when she, too, was a young woman, that it is kind of eerie.

It is not just her facial features. Every thing about her appearance is so like my wife–even her jewelry looks right.

Actually, Peg was even better looking some three decades in the future, but you get the idea.

I decided to try to research the photo further.

The card noted it was from the collection of one George Daniell (two l’s).

Mr. Daniell (1911-2002) was a 20th century photographer of some note.

His subjects ranged from migrants and miners on the east coast to celebrities on the west.

Scanning some of his works, I found stark black and white images of the down-and-out in the Depression, reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s photographs of that era. His later work, some in color, include images of Frank Sinatra and his “rat pack”.

So how did he take the picture? The car is obviously a roadster, not a more costly convertible.

It is fairly easy to arrive at that conclusion, as it has no back seat, and, being the least expensive model, has only a driver’s side windshield wiper.

First, I thought Daniell must have taken the image from a chase car using a telescopic lens, but then it dawned on me.

Given the technology of that era, that was very unlikely.

He had to have been riding behind the couple in the car’s rumble seat.

Now where was it taken? Probably somewhere in the environs of New York City, as Daniell was from Yonkers, a small city located just a few miles up the Hudson from the metropolis.

He spent the first twenty-nine years of his life in the immediate area, before migrating to Los Angeles in 1940.

Looking at the picture carefully, you can see that the roadway on which the couple is traveling has three lanes in each direction.

Also, the shoulders have both a sidewalk, as well as a sturdy metal waist-high guardrail.

The scene was very modern for the late 1930s. Initially, I thought that the road might be the New York State Thruway but that toll road didn’t open until 1951.

How about a then new bridge?

Sure enough, the George Washington Bridge, the structure that connects Fort Lee, NJ, with the city then had six lanes, three in each direction.

And it opened just as the Great Depression really worsened in late 1931.

So it is the most likely place for the photo.

So what happened to the couple? The young woman wore no rings on her left hand.

Neither did her driver.

Was this an early date or were they already engaged or even married? Money was obviously tight in the Depression and often couples only bought the wife’s wedding band, and, sometimes, not even that.

Did he survive the coming war and what about her? Did they each live on until the 1980’s or ‘90’s? Did they move to Levittown after the war or follow Daniell to California?

There is no reasonable way to know now, particularly in light of Mr. Daniell’s passing over thirteen years ago.

Finally, here is one more thought, albeit very far out. Peg looked at the photo very carefully and noted that the man driving looked very much like me, at least in that limited view from the rear.

Somewhat jokingly, she mused, “Could these people have been us in an earlier life? “ “Very unlikely,” I said. But for some reason I had known instantly that the car was a 1935 Ford just from seeing the dash.

I later confirmed that fact by a search of images on the Internet. And the very puzzling thing is that I have never owned a ’35 Ford.

Neither have I ever worked on that year Ford or even known anyone to have a 1935 Ford of any type. This is yet another very strange thought from this image.

Enthralling isn’t it the questions an eighty-year old photograph can present?

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