Century-Old Photos Find Rightful Owner For 14 years, Gailen Runge had been haunted by a huge cache of century-old family photos she found in the house she bought in Oakland, Calif. But she couldn't find the rightful owner. This month — with help from a local newspaper — the family photos finally found a home.
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Century-Old Photos Find Rightful Owner

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Century-Old Photos Find Rightful Owner

Century-Old Photos Find Rightful Owner

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From lost costumes to lost photographs that have now found their way home. This week, Gailen Runge solved the mystery that's been pestering her for the last 14 years. Runge discovered what she deemed to be a treasure tucked away in a hidden compartment of an Oakland, California, home she had bought back in 1993.

Scores of century-old photographs, tattered and dingy, that captured scenes of life when there were no televisions, computers, or airplanes. Ms. Runge would have returned the pictures to the elderly gentleman she bought the home from, but he'd passed away.

Many years later, she decided to resolve the situation and called the San Francisco Chronicle. Robert Martin in nearby Alameda, California, read about Runge's plight. And when he saw the photographs in the paper, he instantly recognized the people in them as his family.

Robert Martin and Gailen Runge met face to face this week to exchange photographs for stories, and they are together in the studios of UC Berkeley.

Welcome folks. We're glad you could be here.

Ms. GAILEN RUNGE (Resident, Oakland, California): Thank you.

Mr. ROBERT MARTIN (Resident, Alameda, California): It's very nice to be here.

ADAMS: Let's start with Mr. Martin. When you actually got the pictures in the paper, did it make your heart beat faster? What happened?

Mr. MARTIN: It sure did. Yeah, my heart beat faster and I was like paralyzed. I ran into the bedroom. My wife was getting ready to go to work. And I said, Lee(ph), I said, look at the pictures of my family. She said, that's your family? I said, yes.

ADAMS: Now, who were you seeing in the pictures?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I saw my mother's wedding picture. I saw my sister's wedding picture and my brother when he was about three years old in a sailor suit. I can't recall all of them, but I recognized almost - my Uncle Jack with the wheelbarrow.

ADAMS: Were they pictures you had seen copies of before?

Mr. MARTIN: I have, yes. I've seen them before.

ADAMS: So no doubt, though.

Mr. MARTIN: No doubt at all.

ADAMS: Gailen Runge, where were the pictures in? Were they hidden away purposely, do you think?

Ms. RUNGE: I don't know what was in Harry's mind when he put these things where he put them. But some of the photos were above the sheetrock in a half-finished basement. Some of them were underneath a drawer in a built-in cabinet. And in fact, where we found the photos, we found some other things squirreled away in little hidey-holes. And some of the hidey-holes were a little bit dingy and dark and were clearly designed to be hidey-holes.

ADAMS: This is Harry Lima, the owner of the home that you're talking about?

Ms. RUNGE: Yes. Yes.

ADAMS: Right. What's the connection between Harry's family and Mr. Martin's family?

Mr. MARTIN: That was my mother's brother, my Uncle Harry.

ADAMS: Did you know much about Harry Lima?

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, yes. We were very close. Very close family. I used to go deer hunting and duck hunting. And he lived about a block and a half from my mother's house.

ADAMS: And Ms. Runge, you called the Chronicle and said, I've got these mystery photographs. Let's get the paper to help out. Why didn't you just let them stay, you know, where they were hidden and not worry about it?

Ms. RUNGE: Well, they're fabulous photos. And, you know, some are studio portraits. And some are really casual photographs of a family on a camping trip and it could be my family. I mean, I have similar photos. We have similar photos in my family. And it's a shame that they wouldn't have this record.

ADAMS: Mr. Martin, what do you intend to do with the pictures?

Mr. MARTIN: I have a lot of pictures of my family. And so I'm going to have to get a couple of, you know, more albums so I can store them away and keep them. And I have three children. And I know they'll want them. And so I'll leave them to them.

Ms. RUNGE: Bobby remembered who everybody was. So his wife, Lee, and I, we made him promise that he was going to put them in an album and label them all.

ADAMS: You know, I figured this lack of care is happening all over the country to all of us, really. I'm sure somebody said to Harry Lima, gee, Uncle Harry, you really should be writing down this information. We have to take care of these pictures for the family that's going to come after you.

Ms. RUNGE: Well, I think someone made the joke that they're going to have to hide photos in their walls. But it was more like they're going to have to hide the memory chip from their camera.

ADAMS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUNGE: So it's kind of a different ballgame.

ADAMS: Gailen Runge and Robert Martin talking with us about photographs that were found in Ms. Runge's home of Mr. Martin's family, taken long ago, talking with us from Berkeley, California.

Thanks very much to both of you.

Ms. RUNGE: Thank you, Noah.

Mr. MARTIN: And thank you.

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