Check out this photo. You probably have a similar photo somewhere in your family archives ... a mother and father surrounded by their children, all dressed up. And, just like any other similar photo, there's a story behind it.
This is the family of Joseph and Frances Kastl of Omaha, Nebraska. Joseph was about 45 years old at the time; Frances was about 38. Pictured are five of their children - Ed, Sophie, Frank, John and Stanley. I'd place the date of the photo at 1915, but the only thing I know for sure is that it was taken between 1915 and 1919. I know this because of the two Kastl children not pictured - Leopold and Rose.
It was the untimely death of young Leo that prompted the photo. Leo was just six years old when he died on May 21, 1915. Realizing that the family had no photos of Leo, they resolved to have a family photo taken lest their family suffer another similar loss. Rose Mary Kastl (my mother-in-law) wasn't born until 1919 and was not included in what amounted to the only portrait of the Joseph Kastl family.
The Kastls were not wealthy people. Nor were they poor. Joseph's job with the Union Pacific railroad allowed the family to live in a large, comfortable home with room in the basement for making wine, room in the backyard to raise chickens and enough money to send their children to Catholic schools. Still, It must have been difficult for them to decide to pose for a photographer at such a sad time in their lives. The family eventually decided, though, that having a permanent record of their family at that time was important.
Today, photography is cheap and accessible to just about everyone. But how many of us think of photos in the same way the Kastls did a century ago? Families tend to be more scattered geographically than in the past, thus family photos are more difficult to pull off. Fortunately, in our family, our kids have taken the lead in this. Although our family is separated by great distances, whenever we are able to get together, one of the kids arranges for a photo session.
It can be hectic, with our three children, their spouses and our five grandchildren, all squeezing in front of the camera, but, like the Kastls before us, we think it's worth it.
Larry Lehmer is a retired Des Moines Register editor and author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. He is currently working on a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. You can read his Bandstand blog here.