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Her family treasure? Mom, uncle, grandmother sat for legendary Baltimore photographer A. Aubrey Bodine in 1946

Debra Stoll at her Medfield home, with 1946 portraits of her uncle, Howard Gruber, and her mother, Barbara Gruber, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. Aug. 9, 2020
Debra Stoll at her Medfield home, with 1946 portraits of her uncle, Howard Gruber, and her mother, Barbara Gruber, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. Aug. 9, 2020 (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Whenever Debbie Stoll, 57, goes into the office of her single-family home in Medfield, she’s filled with fond memories of her late mother and uncle.

There the lifelong Baltimore resident proudly displays black-and-white framed photographs of her family members taken by A. Aubrey Bodine, a photographer known for his images of Maryland landmarks and traditions.

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“It warms my heart every time I see them,” said Stoll, former owner of Kiss N’ Make-Up, a Hampden boutique. She now works as an actress portraying patients for medical students. “Any time I can see [the photographs, they] always make me smile.”

Photo of Frances Burman taken in 1946 by A. Aubrey Bodine for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The 8x10 photo is in the collection of her granddaughter, Debra Stoll of Medfield.
Photo of Frances Burman taken in 1946 by A. Aubrey Bodine for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The 8x10 photo is in the collection of her granddaughter, Debra Stoll of Medfield. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Bodine, who was a photojournalist for The Baltimore Sun from 1920 until his death in 1970, took the photographs of Stoll’s relatives as part of a children’s literacy campaign for the Enoch Pratt Free Library in 1946.

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“Knowing that he worked for The Sun and that he was a very important figure in Baltimore, I was honored that he took the pictures of them and how amazing the pictures are,” she said.

Bodine discovered Stoll’s family through her grandmother, Frances Burman. Burman was a model for various department stores, including Hutzler’s. Through a modeling job, she was asked if her children were interested in participating in the library campaign.

Stoll’s uncle, Howard Gruber, was 4, and her mother, Barbara Gruber, was about 9, Stoll said.

The pictures show the smiling children reading books.

Photo of Barbara Gruber, age 8, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine in 1946 for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The framed photo is on display in the Medfield home of his niece, Debra Stoll.
Photo of Barbara Gruber, age 8, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine in 1946 for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The framed photo is on display in the Medfield home of his niece, Debra Stoll. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“I think it really pulls things together and how family was so important,” Stoll said. “It represents an innocent time in Baltimore.”

Stoll said the angelic-looking photograph of her uncle is particularly humorous, given what he was like as an adult.

“Seeing him as a young innocent boy” still gives Stoll a chuckle. “He was very funny, but nasty. A compliment in my family is telling someone ‘I like that sweater. Just not on you.’ ”

Stoll also said she recalls hearing her uncle cursing in an unmistakable Baltimore accent.

The first time Stoll saw the photos was in 1974 at her uncle’s Provincetown, Massachusetts, restaurant, Front Street, which he owned from 1974 to 1987.

Photo of Howard Gruber, age 3, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine in 1946 for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The framed photo is on display in the Medfield home of his niece, Debra Stoll.
Photo of Howard Gruber, age 3, taken by A. Aubrey Bodine in 1946 for the Enoch Pratt Library Children's Book Week series. The framed photo is on display in the Medfield home of his niece, Debra Stoll. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Stoll describes her uncle as an original Dreamlander, a term used to describe the crew of regulars whom Baltimore director John Waters used in his films. Gruber appeared in a number of Waters’ films, including “Pink Flamingos” and “Eat Your Makeup.”

“His restaurant was a big hangout for everyone [from Baltimore] that came up,” she explained.

Stoll said she immediately recognized her mother and uncle in the photos, which were hanging on the bathroom doors at the Provincetown restaurant.

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“They looked the same [as they did as adults,]” she said. “I knew exactly who it was.”

Following her uncle’s death in 1993, the photos were hung in the den of her mother’s Guilford home until her death in 2004.

Enoch Pratt Library children's series pamphlets from 1946 with photos taken by A. Aubrey Bodine. Debra Stoll of Medfield saved this ephemera, which picture her uncle, Howard Gruber, at left, and her mother, Barbara Gruber, at right.
Enoch Pratt Library children's series pamphlets from 1946 with photos taken by A. Aubrey Bodine. Debra Stoll of Medfield saved this ephemera, which picture her uncle, Howard Gruber, at left, and her mother, Barbara Gruber, at right. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“I put dibs on them long before she passed away,” said Stoll. Her mother owned the Regency Travel Agency in Ellicott City for 25 years. “They [photographs] have made a bunch of moves. There has always been someone in our family who has wanted them. We fought over them.”

Stoll says she would not consider parting with the images even if offered money.

“Whatever the amount would be, it would be priceless,” she said. “Whatever it is worth wouldn’t be worth it.”

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