Historical Adventures through Photography

When people find out you’re interested in analog photography, all kinds of interesting characters and situations pop out of the woodwork.

I made a friend at a Peoria Historical Society event this year who is the resident scanning extraordinaire of historical glass plates, medium format, and bric-a-brac, turning them into fantastically intriguing windows into the past for our local population to see a bit of what Peoria was once.

This friend, Christopher Traugott, had come into contact with a Catherine Moore, the owner of  Golden Age Gifts & Antiques in Henry, Illinois, who happened to have a few boxes of film canisters containing rolls of negatives from some of the most tumultuous years of the 20th century, spanning from 1939 to 1945.

How could you not want to scan something like this immediately???



If you read this and can provide any more detail from what I’ve been able to figure out from a short night of internet research, please let me know, I’d love to update the post – contact me at brian@argentography.com.

One face kept popping up regularly – so we have to deduce that this is our anonymous photographer – the translucent figure on the right. This picture is from a canister labeled “U of I” – University of Illinois, 1939.

More pictures from University of Illinois show this young man already had naval aspirations – several shots in this same roll were of a book containing prints of tall ships. He can not have had any idea that he would take soon take part in the largest ocean warfare campaign in human history.


At this point in the story, this lovely young lady makes an appearance – and will continue showing up in these rolls for the next several years.

At some point, our mystery photographer went from a civilian….

….to a Navy man.

Then from what I can tell he must have traveled with the Navy for a while, and at some point got furloughed to Boston Harbor and to New Orleans. The next cans of film from there are marked 1944 – we are missing a few years in between.

Again there’s a gap – as we go straight from New Orleans to Yokosuka, Japan and what is apparently photography from after the Attack on Yokosuka.

In this picture you can see the Japanese battleship Nagato.  Historical records say this burned a mixture of oil and coal which then powered steam turbines for a total of 80,000 shaft horsepower.

Nagato had a long history – according to Wikipedia she was built in the 1910’s for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nagato was present in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but did not directly attack, rather, it covered retreating japanese ships from American fire.

During the war it was damaged and parked outside Yokosuka as coastal defense – an anti aircraft platform. She was attacked in July 1945. However, because this roll of film contains images of the town of Yokosuka, shot by an American serviceman, I believe these must date from after the war. The sources I’ve read (ok, just wikipedia here) say that Yokosuka was not occupied by American forces until the end of World War II.

After the war, Nagato was used as a target ship during Operation Crossroads, where it was destroyed after 2 nuclear bomb tests.

Here’s another ship from the same roll of film. Comments on this article (thanks Will) have narrowed this down to be a Iowa / Missouri class battleship. Further research indicates this is likely to be USS Wisconsin (BB-64), which according to Wikipedia was the ship that disabled the Nagato. The ship’s number can’t be made out in the photograph unfortunately, which would have made identification easier. From what I can tell from this navy.mil article, these pictures may have been taken around July 24th 1945, which would put these photos less than a month before the end of the war on August 13th.

From the same roll of film labeled Yokosuka – there are also scenes of the town after air raids – people are continuing to cope and deal with what must have been a traumatic time. However it is possible that some people were feeling relieved because the war was over.

One of the other interesting photos on this roll of film is of a bombed Japanese “Koryu” midget submarine. This picture is of the same ship in this Navypedia link – which you can tell by the ladder leaned up against the ship on the right side of this picture.


After the war, our mystery naval photographer spent some time in Oahu. I wonder how much of these huts are still there – I am thinking these must be from a US Navy base there.

After Oahu, he finally sailed with the American fleet back under the Golden Gate Bridge – to be greeted home by his country after a long, long voyage.

Think about this last picture. these are all looking north – so this was taken immediately after the mystery navalman’s ship has sailed under the bridge and into San Francisco Bay. What a relief that must have been, to be home.

This is a picture of USS De Haven.

Finally, an official welcome party. What a great way to end this story and this batch of film I had the honor to scan in.

If there are any naval sleuths out there, I’d love to try to figure out what ship this mystery sailor was on, let me know!!

Also, hope to find more of the missing chapters of this story – this was only the first batch, so undoubtedly I will have some updates in the future.


All of the scanned images are:

Copyright 2017, Catherine Moore, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

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  1. If you are able to find a name of this sailor, the Navy records did not burn and his service history can be reconstructed. Once you know his ships, stations, time periods, etc. there are other records to learn more about him. Usually the Navy service files have photos of the sailor in them. If you are unfamiliar with Navy records, visit my website and look under Research. I have some examples. If you have questions feel free to contact me. I’m based in Chicago and also the Netherlands. http://wwiirwc.com

    • Definitely will take a look thanks Jennifer. The antique store owner did get in contact with me and the photographer’s name is Bob Shelby. Will have to investigate more later, but need to sleep a bit! It’s been a late night.

      • Maria Edwards

        In one of the images he is wearing a pi kappa phi hat.
        If Bob Shelby is the young man in photos, you can check U of I student archives and the rest member archives circa 1939 (according to your article).
        Cross reference that with USNavy records – you have one image of a pinning (promotion) ceremony after 7/1945 by your account.
        Hopefully, you find more about him. Would certainly be interested in a follow up to your story!!

  2. the US battleship is a “Missouri” class ship…the biggest we had.

  3. With the help of a friend, Chris Traugott (Thanks Chris) we found an obituary for Bob Selby (Not Shelby as I mistakenly thought his name was earlier).


    “Bob enlisted in the Navy Reserves on Oct. 9, 1942, and was commissioned as a lieutenant (j.g.) on Sept. 3, 1943. He was sent to radio school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and was then transferred to photography school in Pensacola, Fla. Bob was stationed in Hawaii and Japan.”

  4. Maria Edwards

    Thank you for contacting the University of Illinois Archives. I was unable to find Bob Shelby listed as a member of Pi Kappa Phi between 1937 and 1942. I checked the Upsilon Ups newsletter, the Illio yearbook, and the Daily Illini newspapers from around 1939. You might try taking another look through the Illio yearbooks from this period which have been digitized and are available here. Group photographs of student organization are usually included. The Daily Illini is available here through 1976.

    Please contact me directly and let me know if I can provide any additional information.

    Thank you,

    Anna Trammell
    Archival Operations & Reference Specialist
    Archives Research Center
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    —–Original Message—–
    Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2017
    To: illiarch
    Subject: Title: The Upsilon Ups, 5/39-4/47 Series Number: 41/71/862

    Date: Thursday October 26, 2017

    Looking to find roster of pi kappa phi members circa 1939 +/- two years member name Bob Shelby

    Referral Page: https://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=2773

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