Photographs And Memories

By Carmen Rath-Wald, Logan County Extension Agent

Rath-Wald, Carmen. "Photographs And Memories." Napoleon Homestead, 18 January 2012, 2.

      Photographs and memories
      All the love you gave to me
      Somehow it just can't be true
      That's all I've left of you
            ~ Jim Croce

They are standing behind the counter in Wurl’s Café once located where the Downtowner Bar/Restaurant in Napoleon, ND, now stands. In the enlarged black and white photograph their sweet smiles welcome you to the café and the sign above their heads reads, “Pleasing you keeps us in Business.” The ornate clock on the shelf says 4:25, but the year can only be found in the clues around them. The rounded edges of the small refrigerator, the large decorative radio, the dress and hairstyles of the girls, but especially the prices on the menus:

      Steak 55
      Sandwiches 10 & 15
      Malted Milk 15

Yes it was a time long ago, early 1930’s was the guess from my friends, Theresa and Irene. They also identified three of the girls in the photograph as: Elsie Seiler Burgad, Mathilda Piatz Arntz and Alice Wentz Siewert. Sadly, the fourth girl, second from the left in the photograph remains a mystery. While the other three girls lean an arm on the counter, she holds back just the tiniest bit.

The photograph of the girls at Wurl’s was hanging on the wall in Reuben’s Restaurant in Napoleon. I borrowed it to scan and possibly use it as an inclusion to the German Russian Country coffee table/cookbook that is being put together. If anyone knows who the fourth girl is, please contact me and share the information.

I’ve been sorting through old family photographs, and I realize the main value of them comes from the fact that I value them as part of my history. Looking at a photo of my grandmother standing with her sisters somewhere around the 19 teens, it is nostalgic and has sentimental value even though I have no personal memory invested in it. It allows me to connect with my grandmother. I notice her hair, her dress, her demeanor, and that allows me to imagine more of her life. Of course, the line between actual history and imagination is as sharp as the black and white images themselves.

Since photography was developed, the photographic image has been regarded as an aide-mémoire. Taking a photograph signals the moment as worthy of remembering and, while objects break, landscapes change, and people die, the photograph endures, allowing it to be used to remember ‘what has been’. The huge number of family portraits and snapshots that document personal history attests to the memory value placed on photographs. In sociology, visual ethnography, and (more controversially) the work of historians like Michael Lesy, family photographs have been used to elicit information about practices and relationships in the past.

Lesy, M., Time Frames: The Meaning of Family Pictures (1980).

Wurl’s Café: From left to right: Elsie Seiler Burgad, unknown, Mathilda Piatz Arntz, Alice Wentz Siewert.

Gathering information about food practices and relationships in the past is one purpose of the book in development. If you have recipes, photos and stories to share contact: Sue B. Balcom at 701-527-5169 or by email: or Carmen Rath Wald at 701-754-2504, or by email:

You can also create a Word document with your recipes and email it to us at:

If you want to send us your recipes by snail mail, mail to Sue Balcom, 2145 34th Street, Mandan, ND 58554 or Carmen Rath-Wald, 301 Broadway, Napoleon, ND 58561. Photos should be scanned at a minimum of 300 dpi and sent in a separate email.

As Sue Balcom says:

The final product will be a beautiful narrative with stories about food, preparation, gardening, butchering, wha ever comes straight from the oldest living generation of Germans from Russia in three counties – Logan, McIntosh and Emmons.

Please consider being a part of this important documentation of the food culture of the Germans from Russia. Our mothers taught us to cook, but the connection between food, farms and families has been lost.

If you have any questions about this column, or any other concerns, please contact me at the NDSU Extension Service Office in Logan County, located in the courthouse on Broadway in Napoleon. I would be glad to help!

      I keep your picture by my bed for when I’m feeling sad
      and I don’t know why I would be.
      the way your smile looks so real
      I feel like I could start to understand your grace.
            ~ Jason Reeves

Reprinted with permission of the Napoleon Homestead.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller