Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Swiss Roll: These 70-year-old snaps now have a worldwide audience. The hunt...

Swiss Roll: These 70-year-old snaps now have a worldwide audience. The hunt is on

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An easy one—the Julier Hospiz is still in existence and it was easy to place this picture. The car and its owner remain elusive

It is just two weeks since the BBC website published a link to our September article on the roll of film which was discovered and developed by Macfilos author William Fagan. Our article in September had started the ball rolling. This story has had 31,000 views and has attracted a discussion thread with 245 interesting comments, some of them attempting to solve the mystery. For a niche photography website, this is quite something.

Since then BBC article, crazy things have happened here at Macfilos. I have been fending off enquiries from media all over the world as well as dealing with hundreds of comments and emails from people who have a theory on the mystery couple in the photographs. Fortunately, I spent most of my working life either in journalism or in handling media relations. It’s just like old times for me.

Who is she? If we could only find a name we are well on the way to finding descendants who might be able to tell us more about this captivating mystery.
Who is this woman? If we could only find a name we are well on the way to finding descendants who might be able to tell us more about the captivating mystery of the abandoned Leica photographs.

Some of this has been pure conjecture; interesting to read but ultimately of no real use. But an army of volunteer researchers has taken up the story, visiting locations and using their knowledge of Switzerland and Northern Italy.

As a result, as disclosed in this follow-up article, we now have detailed knowledge of the journey and the places the couple stayed—including the remarkable calculation of the floor of a particular hotel they occupied for at least one night.

A forensic examination of old photographs of Bahnhofplatz in Zurich, where the adventure began, places the journey in 1950 or 1951. Investigations continue.

An easy one—the Julier Hospiz is still in existence and it was easy to place this picture. The car and its owner remain elusive
An easy one—the Julier Hospiz is still in existence and it was easy to place this picture. The car and its owner remain elusive
A difficult one, but not beyond the abilities of our Swiss-based sleuths. While I wrongly thought it may have been a picture of the glacier at the Jungfraujoch, it is now known to have been taken on the Julier Pass, not far from the scene with the car on the left
A difficult one, but not beyond the abilities of our Swiss-based sleuths. While I wrongly thought it may have been a picture of the glacier at the Jungfraujoch, it is now known to have been taken on the Julier Pass, not far from the scene with the car on the left

We still have no way of unlocking details from the American Occupation Zone vehicle archives, which would have been the obvious means of putting a name to the car owner, nor do we have any clear leads to the couple’s identify. While we’re not expecting to get the name of the dachshund, we still hope to pin down the people…

If anyone has a lead on the location of the vehicle registration documents from Bavaria in the period 1948-51, William and I would be supremely grateful for any help. They could well be in the United States. A trace of the car’s owner would be the most significant clue we could have.

Following the worldwide coverage, the quest has been taken up by blogs—this is an example— but it is remarkable how this story has captured the attention of international media. And, in turn, is has drawn in the public. This is a perfect human-interest mystery which acts as an antidote to the present-day atmosphere of doom and gloom.

Here are a few more example articles from the English-speaking media which have appeared over the past few days. There have been hundreds more, but this will give regular Macfilos readers a flavour for the way in which the story has been handled. I will try to keep you up to date with the story over the next few weeks.

New York Times

CNN

The Times, London

Irish Times

28 COMMENTS

  1. For William Fagan re your mystery couple photos seen on the CNN website , photo 4 of 10 of a building on the bank of a lake is a picture of the Albergo Lenno in Lenno on Lake Como. Picture 3 of 10 of the man could well be at the bar of the hotel.

    We have stayed there but not at the same time as the mystery couple!!

    Doubt this helps but happy to re-see a famiiiar and beautiful place.

    • Yes, again, Birgit, we have attempted to do that. We have even enlisted the help of the chief press officer for Bavaria who has made enquiries on our behalf. Unfortunately, as far as anyone can determine, the records no longer exist. Right from the beginning we have been trying to find the registration details but with no luck.

    • Good thinking from Birgit regarding the German TUV, just as bit too early I guess. TUV in Germany is the know all and be all when it comes to vehicles.
      I e-mailed you suggesting you contact BMW Clubs Europa. Just want to stress that in my opinion, the unlock key concerning the car is the car. Not the license number. The license plate number is a cold lead (but may be the icing on the cake at some point!).
      I hope the Club network in Germany takes this mystery under it’s wing. My firm belief is that someone, somewhere in the enthusiast BMW community can provide real insight.
      Best,
      Marty

      • I will try to reach out to the BMW clubs but the registration on the car is , as you say, likely to have changed, possibly starting not long after this trip and certainly after 1955 when German self government commenced again,

        William

  2. Excited to see this on CNN in addition to NYT. So many pieces that still remain to be solved. Apart from who the couple were, what happened after this trip? Why was the camera abandoned?

  3. I’m not a serious photographer, but this story reminds me that I should document my own family’s life more, and not worry if the occasion doesn’t seem important since the memories can be so rich in content and emotion.I commented on another article on this site about a mountain bike trip in the Blue Mountains of Australia. I don’t have a single photo of a similar trip I did in 1988. But the sights, sounds, smells and emotions all came rushing back as detailed memories based on their photos.

  4. I believe the lake photo is Lake Maggiore in Locarno, Switzerland. I have the same photo taken from a tour boat in 2011, which I emailed to Mike.

  5. Do you think anyone on Ancestry.com could help? They have millions of photos, and I wonder if there is a way to identify them using the same (creepy) tech that Facebook uses. I hope you solve this puzzle, and I admire your thoughtfulness about this subject matter.

    • Thanks Becky. My only objective was and is to trace the people in the photos and their families. The likes of Ancestry.com might become useful later when we have a positive confirmed identification of some kind.

      William

  6. According to the list of American number plates in Bavaria the plate was issued in Garmisch. Maybe there are still papers available which can identify the car. This could also lead further at the BMW club.
    Hope you can solve this! Warm regards,
    Ralf

    • Garmisch Partenkirchen area was a major hospital and recreation area for US forces and personnel after the war according to Wikipedia.

      • This is a possibility and we will add it to the list. There is obviously a possibility that he could be American but, frankly, my instinct says he is German or Swiss, with German being more likely because of the car. This isn’t to say there isn’t some link with the hospital.

        • Indeed. And no reason the woman isn’t occupation forces rather than the man. If you live and work in an area I guess you’d wear wedding ring on the finger that locals do – a wedding ring is a signal so you’d want it to be in local language. So man could be a local. But i bet the car has some link to the occupation facilities.

    • Thanks, Ralf. Our previous researchers were sure it was a Munich plate (I think 52 was cited as being Munich, although I didn’t check any lists). You are saying that 52 was Garmisch, in which case the city must have had a different number. If you can send any links I would appreciate it.

  7. The city photo with the car in the foreground and the tram in the background is taken just outside the Zurich main train station. The avenue the tram is entering is the very chic Bahnhofstrasse.

  8. Can the photo of the women sitting on the park bench with the dog be enlarged. The dog tag might have information of the owners name or someone who is related to her.

    • William as already tried that. Don’t forget these are scans and the detail you would get from a modern digital full-frame camera just isn’t there.

  9. Hello Mike and William, I of course have been following the story with some interest as you know. I received a link to the CNN story, and followed up and read it. It was quite unintentionally humorous to read. One of the things the writer pointed out was that in the photo of the man had his eyes closed because of the camera flash!?! Obviously, he had no experience with a Leica of similar vintage.

    I would also think that the German BMW club would be of some use. I used to have contact with them 25 years ago, when I owned several BMWs in those years. As it was such a rare version of the car pictured, I would think that the factory would have some idea of where the few models they made went to. I would also think that if the car was truly registered in Garmisch, the chances of tracking down these records would be much greater than if they were located in Munich.

    Garmisch is a relatively small town in Bavaria and saw little or no war damage, and I would bet that they preserved their records better than the big city of Munich. I visited Garmisch as a 12 year old back in 1969, and I recall there being a lot of Americans around at that time.

    Looking forward to running a version of this story in Viewfinder!

    • Thanks Bill. It is always good to hear from you. I missed that bit about the flash in the CNN piece, but I do know a lot of people who blink their eyes when they are being photographed, even when there is no flash involved. Having done many media interviews in my time I am very used to garbled stories coming out the other side. This one does not bother me as it adds a bit of humour.

      I have written tonight to the association which represents BMW Clubs in Europe and I will report back here on anything which emerges from that. I am doing another article for Macfilos matching the frames on the roll of film, in the strict sequence of the frame numbers, with the different legs of the journey, Zurich-Bad Ragaz, Bad Ragaz-St Moritz, St Moritz-Bellagio, Bellagio-Lenno and Lenno – Zurich. I will show on maps roughly where the various frames were taken. There was no GPS data available in 1950, of course. I will add at the end of story a photo which I took with the ‘suspect camera’ soon after I got it.

      I will talk to you about what way we might do the story in Viewfinder. As it has now been pretty well done by media outlets, we might look at a different layout. I hope you liked the Korelle story which I sent to you last week.

      William

    • Ships are similar, but that ship is more likely a ship on the Lake Como in Italy (see other comments on one of the pics being the Albergo Lenno on the Lake Como)

  10. CNN and NYT are primarily American news outlets. I would think there is a better chance of solving the mystery if the story is carried by some German media since the relatives/friends of the photographer are most likely living in Germany.

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