Someone moves. Someone dies. Someone cleans out the attic or basement. And, lo and behold, a mystery box of old family photos somehow surfaces.
Everybody can easily identify Uncle Sam and Auntie Em, but who in the world are some of these other people? It's like some reverse version of "Where's Waldo." The players are all in plain view, you just need a scorecard to determine who they are.
Longtime members of the Putnam County Fair family found themselves right in the middle of that game this week at Putnam Inn.
Sixteen local residents -- from current Putnam Extension Office personnel to ageless authorities on local history like Helen Hurst and Noble and Edith Fry -- studied stacks of old photographs from county fair activities of days gone by.
Their mission? With remnants of a pre-digital, black-and-white photographic world strewn in front of them, the goal was to identify as many people as possible in the old pictures before either memory or Kodak paper -- or both -- fade away.
"We've made some headway," Putnam County Extension Director and 4-H Development Educator Mark Evans assessed.
It was Evans' idea to bring the group together after Extension Office personnel discovered a large box with approximately 500 photographs when they moved last fall from the old Jones School to the rear of the bank building at 1 Central Square in Greencastle.
The identification group included past Fair Board members, longtime Extension Homemakers, one-time 4-H'ers and others with years of association with the fair.
"When they first got here," Evans smiled, "it was like a reunion. It was really a neat environment."
Some of the identifications were simple. Doretta Poynter found dozens of photos of her late father, Kenny Harris, who would have marked his 99th birthday as the group gathered on Wednesday.
Micalene Walton found a posed-up photo of three stern-looking gentlemen, one of whom she determined was her grandfather, Nobel Allee.
"He was a breeder of Poland China hogs," she offered. "I suppose that's how he ended up in a picture that way."
No luck for Micalene, however, on finding a photo of husband Don with a chicken or prize-winning goat.
A group shot of local 4-'Hers posed in front of the Union Building on the DePauw University campus emerged to yield such local names and faces as Gary Salsman, Jonathan Sinclair, Janet Lucas, Linda Dorsett, Ruth New and Marilyn O'Hair.
Katherine Benner, a former Extension home economist for the county, is captured in her share of photos, including one demonstrating chair-caning as the monthly home ec lesson and another in which she is presenting a ribbon to a very wide-eyed young female recipient.
The oldest shots in the box appear to be circa the 1930s and 1940s. Some photos depict the fair when it was on the courthouse square, while others capture activity when it was staged at Robe-Ann Park.
Tossed in among all the old photographs was another blue-ribbon souvenir now more than 50 years old.
Yellowed but still readable and in fairly good condition was a 1953 "Record of Achievement" card for a 4-H'er listed as Elaine McBride of Roachdale. According to the document, the youngster was the daughter of Mrs. Walter McBride and 11 years old at the time.
The achievement card lists her as receiving an A in Baking I from adult 4-H leader Roberta Espey.
Another one of the more interesting finds was an old photo that seemingly had already been identified with a name written on the back.
It shows a tall young man, certainly of high-school age, with a fine-looking calf posed in front of a straw hat-wearing group of onlookers at what is assumed to be Robe-Ann Park.
Mark Evans had come across that photo initially when he discovered the box of pictures. He excitedly had told former 4-H Youth Agent Lauralee Baugh that it was identified on the back as being her late husband, former Sheriff Jim Baugh.
Then the photo disappeared just as Evans wanted to share it with the Baugh family.
Wednesday it surfaced again as Edith Fry announced its discovery about 90 minutes into the trip down memory lane. Within seconds, Evans was on the cell phone to Mrs. Baugh.
But later, when Lauralee came by, she said that it was not Jim at that age. After all, he had lived his teenage years in Parke County. The photo ended up being someone from Belle Union.
Regardless, the situation proved to be a good example of the importance of accurately assigning names to old photos, whether in family albums or public places.
"Folks really talked about the need to ID pictures, and we made a good start on getting these labeled," Evans said later.
"It was an enjoyable time and a good opportunity to learn history from those who exhibited on the courthouse square or at Robe-Ann Park when the fair was there.
"We really enjoyed hearing the stories," the Extension director added.
"In one case there was the story of an only child whose mother was in every few days complaining about something to Kenny Harris, to which someone said, 'Some things never change.'"
Just picture that ...