Robert Cassilly, a volunteer at the Historical Society of Harford County is trying to identify the family in this photograph that is part of the society's collection. If you know, please call the society at 410-838-7691.
Robert Cassilly, a volunteer at the Historical Society of Harford County is trying to identify the family in this photograph that is part of the society's collection. If you know, please call the society at 410-838-7691. (Historical Society of Harford County, The Aegis)

The father and mother are nicely dressed in the style of the early 1950s. They posed with their two children, a toddler and a little girl who looks to be about 6 years old, for a photographic portrait in their living room.

The photo is one of many that comes to the archives of the Historical Society of Harford County each year. Most, though not all, have some identification. This family portrait does not.


"It was donated; we think it was from the Jarrettsville area," Robert Cassilly, one of the historical society volunteers, who devotes considerable time reviewing, identifying and cataloging the society's photo archive, explained.

It's an interesting exercise. A few years ago, Cassilly showed up in our old office on Hays Street with a badly cracked and bent, 8-by-10 photograph of some sort of ceremony in the Circuit Court's main courtroom. This one didn't have any information on it either.

In the foreground, one man had his right hand raised, while another man appeared to be administering some sort of oath. In the background, a dozen or so men stood in the courtroom's jury box, somberly looking on.

Cassilly said they recognized a few of the people, but not all, and they couldn't place the context of the photograph, except that judging by the dress of the men - all white, all middle aged - it was from the 1950s.

"Can you help me?" he asked.

"Well, let me see," I said. "I'll get back to you if I find anything."

The photograph went into a envelope and was soon forgotten. Six or seven months later, I was walking through the lobby of our building when one of the receptionists told me a Mr. Cassilly had come in looking for me.

Whoops. Not long afterward, I received a phone call. "This is Robert Cassilly. What happened to my picture?"

Well, I hemmed and hawed, I hadn't found anything yet, but I would keep looking.

There was the usual frantic search through cluttered drawers and my desk pile, but I found the photograph, still falling apart, inside a large envelope where I put it when Cassilly gave it to me.

Coincidentally, this was in early 2008 when Angela Eaves had recently been appointed Harford County's first woman (and first black) Circuit Court judge and was facing election to a full term.

Knowing the attitudes of many county voters, and the fact that Eaves had been appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, not the most popular fellow in Harford, we decided to do a story about a time a sitting Harford County judge had been defeated in an election, when Stewart Day unseated Judge D. Paul McNabb in 1954. (Though the story is interesting, it actually turned out to have little relevance to the Eaves situation for several reasons, most prominently that she had no difficulty winning a full term.)

I didn't know many of the details of 1954 judicial election or how it came about, only that it had happened, so I began researching in the bound volumes of the old editions of our papers that were stored in one of our lower level rooms. (Incidentally, since we moved out of our building on Hays Street, the bound volumes and our clip files were moved to the Historical Society's headquarters on North Main Street, two doors from our current offices.)

Judge Frederick Lee Cobourn, who had been sitting as Harford's only judge since 1938, was nearing mandatory retirement at age 70 in 1953. There was considerable back and forth among the county's political leaders, all Democrats; the Harford bar association, several of whose members wanted the job; and the office of Gov. Theodore McKeldin, a Republican, who had all the chips. McKeldin did the logical thing; in October 1953, he appointed McNabb, who though a Democrat, was a personal friend.


And, as I continued flipping through the pages of The Aegis to find out more of the story, there it was: On the front page of the Nov. 9, 1953 edition, a photograph of swearing in of Judge D. Paul McNabb - the same photograph Robert Cassilly had turned over to me several months earlier.

Well, almost. Although the newspaper's caption had named everybody shown, including McNabb in street clothes being sworn in by Circuit Court Clerk Garland Greer, several local lawyers and three legislators from Baltimore County who would later be instrumental in McNabb's defeat, there was a problem. Two people who were standing on the right side of the jury box had been cropped out of what was printed.

I can't remember exactly, but I think we were able to resolve the discrepancy either by matching up those names with a list of who was present in the body of the article or, perhaps, the two who didn't make the published photo were easily recognizable, even 54 years later. Anyway, I happily wrote out the names and a brief description, placed it into the envelope with the photograph, called Cassilly and told him he could pick it up.

About a year later, Cassilly showed up at the office with another old photograph. The 11-by-14, sepia toned shot was from overhead of some sort of military ceremony taking place around the old B&O train station in Aberdeen.

Cassilly said he had been trying to figure out what the photo was. "I kept looking and then it hit me, 'Hey, that's my [Army Reserve] unit! I'm standing there with my wife right next to me,' " he said.

Cassilly's subsequent research found the photograph was taken Sept. 27, 1950, three months after the outbreak of the Korean War and eight days after the 301st Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve unit stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in which he was a member, was called to active duty for 21 months and ordered to report to Camp Rucker in Alabama. They eventually went to Germany and, later, some ended up in Korea.

The discovery of the old photograph prompted Cassilly to write a memoir of his experiences with the unit and some of the men. We published excerpts and the photograph in November 2009.

He also used that to make a pitch for the restoration of the old B&O station building, which by then was of no use to the railroad and quickly falling into disrepair. In its long, 130-year life, he noted, thousands of troops had shipped out to fight in both world wars and Korea. The building is an important part of Harford County's history.

As for the family photograph which is published with this column, if you know who is in it, please call the Historical Society at 410-838-7691 or e-mail me if you like, and I'll pass the information on the indefatigable researcher Robert Cassilly.