About Me

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mystery Woman at Rock Springs Park Identified

Someone once said, after listening to me talk about the research process involved in writing Images of America: Rock Springs Park, that it sounded a lot like “detective work.” James Rockford or Joe Hardy I am not, but it’s true there have been times when digging up information on the park felt a bit like solving a mystery or cracking a case.

One mystery that I’ve been wrestling with for nearly a year now was the identity of the woman pictured above. Her name is Beverly (Bev) Springer. I first saw her in the photograph below sent to me by Tish Hand last summer. Tish identified herself (left) and her son, Robert C. Hand (center), but wasn’t completely sure about Beverly’s name, thinking at that time that it could be “Ginny.” I planned to use the image in the chapter covering the Hand years, and hoped that someone would be able to identify the “mystery woman.”

Last fall, I gave a slide show presentation to residents of Fox's Nursing Home in Chester, West Virginia. I was hoping someone might recognize Beverly and identify her. Among the 20-30 attendees, no one knew her name.

Then, a month later in December 2009, I was told about a book of photo negatives that once belonged to park photographer Clarence O. Durbin. The negatives had not been developed in 40 years, but Clarence had carefully labeled each proof and included a negative for each one in a tiny, hand-folded paper envelope. He then, meticulously labeled each picture with a date and description of who or what was in the shot. Dozens of visitors and former park employees were named, including an old school friend of mine, but not Bev. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find out who she was. I realized after developing as many of the photographs as I could, that it must have been Clarence who took the picture of Tish, Robert , and Bev 42 years earlier.

My final attempt to have Bev identified occurred at the Chester book signing and author talk. I created a musical slide show displaying many of the faces of Rock Springs Park to the tune of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You.” I chose to use the picture of Tish, Robbie, and Bev as the final slide in the montage and mentioned, as a way of introduction, for everyone to look closely at all the faces as they flashed by and to let me know if they recognized anyone. A couple of people saw relatives, but no one knew Bev.

Yesterday, Kassy Hand posted the picture of her mother, brother, and the mystery woman on her Rock Springs Park Facebook page. Within an hour, maybe less, Kassy was talking to Beverly’s daughter and with a quick check it was comfirmed that it was Bev in the photograh. The mystery had been solved.

Beverly Springer passed away recently and, according to messages left on her own Facebook page, was much loved by all who knew her. I only wish I had a chance to talk to Bev, as I’m sure she would have been “tickled” by my “mystery woman” quest.

Beverly Springer seated on the stone fountain which bubbled between the Merry-go-round and Virginia Gardens in 1970. (All images courtesy of Rich Brookes)

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