Tornado Photo Project Helping Families Retrieve Lost Memories
By Office of Communication
Posted on May 16, 2012, May 16, 2012

Shortly after tornadoes ripped through southwest Arlington, 18-year-old Kate Atwood was roaming her damaged neighborhood wanting to do something, anything, to help homeowners as they moved zombie-like through the devastation that was once their property. "I'm a stroke survivor, so I can't use my right side very well," said Atwood. "I can't pick up debris. I honestly felt helpless."

What caught her attention was the motion of someone bending over to find a photograph - just one photograph - and being thrilled at the prospect. Then she thought of all the photographs scattered about the neighborhood on lawns and in backyards, in streets and along sidewalks where someone picking them up had no idea to whom it belonged.

That's when it hit her: reunite people with their memories. She called the Arlington Public Library, which sent her directly to Library Services Manager Debi Wood.

Thus the Tornado Lost and Found Photo Project took root.

Photographs dropped off at the Tornado Recovery Center the week of the tornado have since made their way to the Lake Arlington Library Branch where they are wiped clean, sorted and placed into plastic wrap bags until identified. "It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," Atwood said of sorting the photos. "In some photos we could see family resemblances or a certain event or similar background. We looked for those clues. Anything helped."

Word got out. One morning eight members of Woodland West Church of Christ showed up to sort pictures. What started with more than 800 unaccounted photographs has dwindled to less than 600. One family found nearly 200 photos.

Wood wants families with missing photos to come by the Lake Arlington Branch Library and browse through the remaining photographs. "We want to send every one of these photos back," said Wood.

While only a few of the photos have names and dates, it's clear that some date as far back as the 1930's. It's a hodgepodge of Arlington life, from family picnics to military photos to female glamour shots to kids opening Christmas gifts in 1950's to a man swinging a bat with a pipe hanging out of his mouth. One black and white is of a pensive-looking woman. The name: Ruth McCullough. Date: 1938.

The pictures arrived in varies degrees of condition from muddy and torn to surprisingly pristine. History buff Atwood wiped off mud and dirt and worked meticulously to separate some that were stuck together. Sorting them into groups "was like doing a puzzle," said Atwood, and connecting them to their owners "is like Christmas."

That's how it was for Wendy Osterman, who found the 200 or so photos that scattered after a shed in which they were housed literally blew away. "I can't tell you how happy we are to get these back," said Osterman, who returned the other day to find about 20 more, including baby pictures of her son. "We're so fortunate that someone thought of doing this."

By Ken Perkins

Tornado Photo Project

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