The Photograph

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Seung Geel Hong

Three boys go to the carnival and pay a photographer to take their pictures. The photographer claims that his camera can produce photos that will show how the boys will look in the future.

The Photograph

First Edition

By Hong, Seung Geel

© 2019 by Hong, Seung Geel

All rights reserved

ISBN:  978-1-79471-983-5


The following story was inspired by true experience, but the names of persons and organizations were changed to protect the privacy of everyone involved.  Therefore, any similarity between any of the names in this story to any known individual, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hong, Seung Geel

The Photograph

(Recounted by H. Maxwell)


1.My Siblings

My name is Henry Maxwell.  I was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on August 5, 1922, which makes me 85 years old.

I grew up with a brother and a sister.  My brother Roland was born four years after I was, and my sister Denise (who nearly died at birth) came into the world two years after Roland.

My memory is not as clear as it used to be, but I think it’s clear enough to tell you a bit of my childhood.

I, first, will tell you a few things about my father and mother, and then I’ll tell you what my two friends and I experienced at a carnival in 1937.


2.My Father and Mother


My father was a successful civil engineer who married late in life to my mother who was 30 years his junior.  They both were living in Detroit at the time, and they met at an opera house sometime in the second week of January in 1919.  They married a year later and moved to Sault Ste. Marie three months after the wedding.

Fortunately, my father managed his money very well.  For example, to protect his family from possible financial disaster, he opened two bank accounts:  The first account was for saving money and collecting interest.  It was considered holy, and its purpose was to give the family a sense of financial security.  The second account (“investment account”) more or less was for “gambling.”

Originally, the investment account contained considerably less money than the savings account.  However, it was the investment account that, in time, would provide the family with a higher standard of living.

By having his money in two accounts, my father believed that our family would always be prepared for the worst, which is why some of his friends sometimes called him “the pessimist.”  But I am proud to say that, possibly because of my father’s pessimism, our family never went hungry, and we always had money when many of our friends suffered financial disaster during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

As for my mother, she was a junior high school English teacher who was kind and very patient.  She was also very attractive, and she sometimes was invited by some of the well-to-do ladies to associate with them.  But my mother was a stay-at-home person, and she politely turned down the invitations so that she could take care of the family.

I don’t like to brag, but I believe that my mother was the type of person who had very few enemies (i.e., if she had any enemies at all).


3.First National Boy Scout Jamboree


Now let me tell you about my unusual experience when I was 15 years old.

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited the Boy Scouts of America to hold their first National Jamboree in Washington, D.C.

Approximately a dozen Boy Scouts from the Sault Ste. Marie area, accompanied by our scoutmaster and two other adult volunteers, traveled by train to the jamboree.

We made our camp on Columbia Island, which is located in the Potomac River.  There were dozens, if not hundreds, of camps on the island.  A total of 27,232 Boy Scouts and their leaders from around the country took part in the jamboree, which lasted from June 30th to July 9th.  A large camp was set up at the foot of the Washington Monument, which was where the various groups gathered for activities and ceremonies.

Our group stayed at the jamboree for the entire ten days, during which time we were extremely busy.  I only remember a few of the things that we did, such as touring and sight-seeing the Washington D.C. area, attending speeches, participating in First Aid demonstration contests, and sharing stories around the campfire.  I know that we did much more, but I cannot remember them all.  I do remember, however, that we were busy every day throughout the jamboree.


4.At the Carnival


One late afternoon, we had a few hours of free time, and a carnival happened to be in town.  So, three of us (Jackie Baker, Reuben Cook, and myself) walked across the bridge to the mainland and went to the carnival.  Jackie and I were both 15 years old, and Reuben was 14.

At the carnival, we saw a man in front of a circular tent that had a pointed roof.  He was a photographer who appeared to be in his 50’s, which seemed old to us.  Anyway, as he strutted back-and-forth near the tent entrance, he delivered a sales pitch to a crowd of perhaps 15-18 people.  And he made a claim that seemed impossible:


“Come closer, folks, and let me tell you what I can do.

I recently designed a special camera and hired a Swiss craftsman to build it for me.  And with it, I can see into the future.

When I photograph you and print the picture, the picture will depict how you will look in 10 or 20 years.  In fact, I can do even better:  I can photograph how you will look on your birthday in 10 or 20 years.

So, wouldn’t you like to take a peek into the future?  I only need to make one photograph for each peek into the future.

Yes-sir-ree, ladies and gentlemen, step right up and enter my tent to be photographed.  It won’t hurt a bit, and you’ll be pleased to see how you’ll look in 10 or 20 years. . . .”


At the time, the art of photography was still a mystery to the average person:  There were no such things as user-friendly cameras or one-hour photo labs.  Therefore, anyone who was interested in photography had to study a great deal to understand the science and the art of photography as well as the mechanics of a camera.

As a result, photographers in the 1930’s, whether professional or amateur, received much more respect than they do at present.

In any event, we did not believe that the photographer’s claim was possible, but we were not sure.  Besides, we were curious, and therefore we entered the tent and had our portraits taken anyway.

The photographer used a large boxy camera on a tripod.  He put his head underneath the black hood to focus the lens and then photographed us one at a time.  And each time, he would squeeze the rubber bulb to simultaneously open the shutter and ignite the flash powder, which caused us to see “butterflies.”

We boys, then, had to make a choice:  We either could pay for one picture of the future at the regular price or pay for two pictures of the future at 10% discount.

The three of us talked it over and decided to pay for two pictures of the future.  We paid the money and left the tent so that the photographer could develop the film and print the pictures.

We visited the remaining 10 or 12 tents that were at the carnival, and we returned for the photographs an hour or so later.

When we arrived at the photographer’s tent, his assistant greeted us at the entrance and led us into the “waiting room” part of the tent.  He politely seated us and closed the curtain on his way out to let the photographer know that we had arrived.

A few minutes later, the photographer entered the room and nervously apologized:


“I don’t know how to explain this, because it’s the first time that this ever has happened to me:  Five of the negatives turned out perfectly, but I did not get anything on the remaining negative.

In numerical order, that particular negative was the fourth negative that I developed, and therefore there is no explanation as to why the other negatives were not affected.

Normally, if there is a problem with the chemicals, the entire batch would be affected, not just one negative.

In plain words, I cannot explain how the problem managed to single-out the fourth negative. . . .”


The photographer, then, offered either a re-photograph session or a refund for the one photograph that did not turn out.

We boys did not want to stay at the carnival any longer.  Besides, we were running out of time.  So we decided to take the refund.


5.Reuben’s Photograph


At the time, the three of us did not give much thought to the photographer’s problem, nor did we even care.  We simply examined the photographs and we all agreed that they looked reasonable.

We left the carnival and walked back across the bridge to Columbia Island, and we reached our camp just before nightfall.

As to what we had purchased, all the pictures of Jackie Baker and me turned out well.  And likewise, Reuben Cook’s picture of ten years into the future turned out well.  However, there was no picture for Reuben’s 20 years into the future.

At the time, 20 years seemed like a million years away.  So we simply laughed off the photographer’s unusual problem.

Jackie even joked about it:


“Well, it means that Reuben can do anything he wants to do for the next ten years, because the photograph proves that he still will be around on his 24th birthday.  Of course, after his 24th birthday, he may have to watch his health -- ha-ha-ha. . . .”


6.At the Parade


During the next three years, we joked-and-laughed about the photograph a few more times until we went our separate ways.

As for myself, I moved away and graduated from University of Michigan, and I completely forgot about the photograph for 10 years until I saw Jackie at a Fourth-of-July parade.

I was married by then, with two sons and a daughter, and our family had returned to Sault Ste. Marie for the holiday.

Anyway, as my family and I were enjoying the parade, a man in front of us slowly turned his head to the left.  It was obvious that his eyes were following the float that was passing by, and the side of his face looked familiar.  I tapped his left shoulder and asked:


“Excuse me, sir, but I think I may know you.  Are you Jackie Baker? . . .”


The man turned around to face me, and within a second or two, he recognized me.  His eyes opened wide and he began to laugh excitedly.  At the same time, he vigorously shook my hand.  And when he had regained his composure, he exclaimed:


“Henry!  It’s good to see you!  We haven’t seen each other in years.  How long will you be in town?”


I thought for a moment and answered:


“Ah, we’ll be here for three more days.  We’re on a one-week vacation, and we’ve been here two days already -- Oh!  Let me introduce you to my family.  These are my wife and children:  June, Lucas, Gary, and Beth.”


Jackie quickly cleared his throat and said “hello” to each member of my family as he gently shook their hands.

Then he turned to me and suggested:


“Hey!  You and your family will have to visit us.  We only live about four miles from here:  Our house is easy to find.  How about tomorrow?


I talked it over with June and agreed to visit Jackie and his family on the following evening.

Then I asked:


“Jackie, why are you alone today?  Why isn’t your family with you?”


Jackie displayed a look of disappointment, and he lifted his eyebrows slightly and replied:


“They’re spending the day with my wife’s family.

Actually, only two of them are away:  my wife and the younger daughter.  My elder daughter is marching in the parade with the Girl Scouts -- Oh!  There they are now:  My daughter Janice is in the second row.  She’s the fifth one from this end.

Do you see her?  Let’s wave to her so she knows where we are. . . .  Janice, we’re over here!  Do you see us, Sweetheart? . . .”


After the Girl Scouts had marched by, I asked:


“Jackie, have you seen Reuben lately?


Jackie lowered his eyes and displayed a look of sadness.  He then explained:


“Well, . . . I last saw him about three years ago, and he looked good at the time.  But he was killed a year later:  He was riding home at night on his motorcycle, and he hit an oil slick and slid off the road.  He hit a telephone pole and was killed instantly.  He died on the 2nd of February, just one day before his 24th birthday. . . .”


I could not believe what I just had heard. . . . Well, actually, I refused to believe what I just had heard.  I gaped for two or three seconds, because my mind temporarily became “out of focus,” and I didn’t know what to say.

Meanwhile, I instantaneously remembered the Boy Scout Jamboree, and I remembered the photographs that Jackie, Reuben, and I had purchased at the carnival.

Then, when my mind had cleared a bit, I slowly asked:


Jackie, . . . do you remember that photographer at the carnival in 1937?  We were at the jamboree, and he claimed that he could see into the future.  He photographed all three of us:  you, Rueben, and me.”


Jackie responded immediately:


“Yeah, I already thought about that:  There was nothing on Rueben’s negative for the 20-years forecast, but there was something on his negative for the 10-years forecast, which means that the photograph was not quite 100% accurate.  But Reuben did die on the borderline, a mere one day too early.

So, I guess the photograph was close enough.

It sure gives me the eerie feeling. . . .”



7.At Jackie’s House


The next evening, I drove my family to Jackie’s residence, which was a medium-size split-level house.  It was located near the old fish market that had burned down when we were in junior high school.  The house had a large front yard with tall bushes that bordered Jackie’s property, and it had a small backyard that was fenced-in by a white picket fence.

Anyway, the adults listened to records and played cards, while the children played board games such as “Checkers.”

As we adults were playing a game of “Hearts,” Jackie’s wife asked:


“Jackie, do you remember the conversation about Reuben the other day?”


On hearing Reuben’s name, both Jackie and I “perked our ears,” and Jackie quickly replied:


“Yes-I-do.  What about it, Dear?”


Jackie’s wife resumed:


“Well, this probably is nothing important, but do you remember the newspaper saying that Reuben died one day before his 24th birthday? . . .”


Jackie answered slowly:


“Y-e-a-h, . . . I remember. . . .”


Jackie’s wife concluded:


Well, . . . Reuben’s aunt was in town, the aunt who delivered Reuben at home. . . .

Anyway, according to her, there was a mix-up when Reuben was born.  And, at the time, nobody was concerned about it, because everyone was so happy with the baby being born so healthy.  And the birth certificate was never corrected.

Anyway, whoever recorded the date-and-hour of Reuben’s birth somehow transposed the numbers.  In other words, the date-and-hour of Reuben’s birth were written down as February 3rd (at 1:00 a.m.) instead of February 1st (at 3:00 a.m.), which means that Reuben actually died one day after his 24th birthday. . . .”


On learning the full detail of Reuben’s birth, Jackie and I gulped and stared at each other, because we each knew what the other was thinking:  The photograph taken in 1937 was not merely close enough, but it actually was “right on the nose.”  Reuben did manage to live for 10 years after the photograph was taken!

Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Seung Geel Hong. All rights reserved.

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