As I was going through some photos of my grandfather’s, I came across this great shot of him I presumed was from the 1930’s:

11187330_10153215402436271_979285843678304469_o (1)

Note the “With all my love” scribbled at the bottom. I’m guessing he gave this to my grandmother while they were still dating.

Naturally the question came up, “Where is he standing? Is there any significance to the location?”

I posted to Facebook and Metafilter to see if anyone had any ideas:

A few things worth noting:

  • Initially, I thought the “927” was an address, but I think it’s more likely the year (“1927”)
  • This was almost definitely taken in Philadelphia, PA
  • The brick configuration is unusual in that they’re all lined up [called a “stack bond,” I later found out]
  • Perhaps a church, given the cross, but the simplicity of the door may be more indicative of a church-related institution (like a school or convent)
  • My grandfather was Catholic, but that may or may not be relevant

I did some initial searches of Philadelphia buildings built or dedicated in 1927, but couldn’t find any images that seemed to match that unusual brick layout.

I got a bunch of good suggestions from the Ask Mefi thread that I followed up on: a company that does historic brick restoration in Philly (I wrote, they replied but didn’t recognize the building), the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Center, and @roccopalmo (tweeted at him, no reply).

Things went quiet for a while until I was digging through a large box of photos my mom had brought by for me to scan and archive. Digging through some very small prints, I came across one of my grandmother that made me pause:

Irene Chmielewski - March 28, 1937 - Easter Sunday - McAdoo - Front

No doubt, that’s the same building that my grandfather was standing in front of. To make things more interesting, the back had an inscription:

Irene Chmielewski - March 28, 1937 - Easter Sunday - McAdoo - Back

Turns out that my assumption that the building was in Philadelphia held me back from finding the answer. I’m going to let my mom take over the story from here:

I Googled “McAdoo” and found that it is a small town in Pennsylvania. I thought perhaps it was a place where mom’s oldest sister, Sister Albertilla, had been stationed. I searched for Catholic schools in McAdoo but couldn’t find any pictures. Then I searched for “Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth McAdoo, Pa” [Sister Albertilla’s order] and found reference to St. Kunegunda Parish. I looked at a biography we received from the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth when Sister Albertilla passed away and sure enough she had been stationed in McAdoo. It went on to say that “in the school and convent of St. Kunegunda, Sister served as principal and local superior. Here, too, she played the organ, gave piano lessons, and painted lovely pictures of nature in addition to her other responsibilities.” I did a search for “St. Kunegunda School McAdoo, Pa” and found a real estate listing for the building. Fortunately, it had a wonderful picture so we were able to compare the brickwork, doors, etc. After so many years the date was no longer visible [or they could have been standing in front of a different set of doors elsewhere on the building -ram] but we were pretty sure we had solved the mystery.


I then did one more search and found a PDF of “A Brief Historical Sketch of St. Kunegunda’s Parish.” Next to the last paragraph on the first page this was written: “On Sept. 23, 1927, the new school was blessed: the following year, Sept. 23, 1928, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth of Torresdale, Pa., opened the doors of the St. Kunegunda School to the increasing student enrollment.”

There was further proof! The year “1927.” It had to be the same building! Mom and Dad probably went to visit Sister Albertilla and took pictures of each other in front of the school.

What satisfaction to have finally solved the mystery of the building with unusual brickwork.

Well said, Mom.

Update: December 2, 2015

This past weekend as I was on the way home from northern Pennsylvania with my family, I noticed an exit sign that read “McAdoo.” “Folks,” I told them, “We’re taking a short detour.”

Less than five minutes later, we were parked in front of the former St. Kunegunda School and I was taking this photo:


There are spaces I visit frequently (ie. my parents’ house) where my grandparents had also spent time, but being able to take this shot today sent some chills up my spine. My grandmother was only 18 at the time and my grandfather 24, so standing in that place 78 years later as a 40-year-old was a connecting experience for me. The older I get, the more these odd little moments of connection to the distant past move me.

(Thanks to Chuck and Huyen for taking the shots.)