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Mystery Of The Trunk, Part Two of Three

By Staff | Oct 29, 2008

Bill could feel the morning breeze on his face as he sat down on the ground looking toward the small steamer trunk. He thought to himself for a moment, “What do I do next?”

He realized this must belong to someone who lived out their last days in this place. Perhaps that person may still have family and this belongs to them. He turned his head and looked back at the old crumbling staircase and could see the framework of a door closed long ago on this trunk.

Bill loaded the trunk into the bed of his pick up truck as the rest of the crew returned with the dump truck for another load of scrap from the building. As he continued tearing the old structure down, it somehow took on a new meaning to him. Before it was just another job, but now his fascination for history and the old trunk had changed everything.

By the day’s end, Bill decided to tell his boss what he had found and his plans to find its proper owner. Big Jim looked at the dusty trunk sitting in the bed of the truck. “I wonder how long it has been there?” he said. As he turned to leave he said in almost a whisper, “It’s hard to believe after all this time.”

That evening Bill sat the box on his workbench and opened it to look more closely inside. The first thing he removed was a carefully preserved newspaper. Yellowed with time and brittle by age, it was a copy of the New York Times dated April 14, 1912. Next was a small leather journal with fading gold lettering. These two items were lying on what appeared to be a beautiful handmade quilt. The fabric appeared to have been made on a home loom. Each stitch was precisely put in place with great care.

Bill laid the newspaper and leather journal to the side carefully so he could remove the colorful quilt. As he began to remove the quilt he heard a sound as if something metal slipped out of a hidden place between the layers of fabric and come to rest in the bottom of the trunk.

Leaning over, looking deep into the box, he could see a silver locket on a chain. With his large callus hands he carefully picked up the silver locket-the chain in one hand and the locket in the other. Cradling it in his hands he could see inscribed; To My Beloved Annie. A small latch released the front cover. The silver locket spring open to reveal its hidden contents.

Inside was a picture of a beautiful young lady and a child of five or six years old. Their faces unsmiling and eyes fixed and unfeeling. This was typical of those days’ photographs. The exposures took several seconds so the subjects were instructed to sit very still and hold their face in a neutral style.

Annie, that had to be the young lady’s name, but who was she and who was the boy with her? Perhaps the small journal would reveal the identities of these long forgotten faces.

The leather journal opened with small crackling sounds. It had been a long time since being opened to the world and the paper let him know it.

This is the journal of Annie Doolin, 1910. These were the hand written words inscribed inside the cover. Bill sat down and began to read the carefully written words from long ago.

The journal told the story of Captain Matthew Doolin and his family. He grew up in New Martinsville in the late-1800s. Annie Harrison was his high school sweetheart. After high school Matthew went on to graduate from West Point. He then returned home and married Annie in the spring of 1905. A year later a son who they named Will was born to the young couple. Matthew was posted to the Army’s embassy service in Washington, D.C., at about the same time.

Matthew loved his young son and spent many hours walking with his wife and son on the streets of Washington. They would sit long hours in the park as he would read books to his wife and new son. It did not seem like much, but Matthew’s words would bring the worlds of Mark Twain and Herman Melville to life on those warm afternoons in Washington.

In 1909, tensions in Europe had begun to grow and Matthew received orders to move, along with his family, to the U.S Embassy in England. The thought of leaving the place they had called home for the past few years was hard, but the captain and his family knew sooner or later the orders would come and now they had.

By the spring of 1910, the captain was spending more time at the Embassy in London. The political climate in Europe was growing increasingly restless and demanded his constant attention. Germany was building an industrial base that indicated a growth toward some future war. Matthew sent weekly dispatches to his military commander back in Washington to inform them of the growing tension.

For the next year, Matthew spent many a long hour away from his beloved family. At best, the British Isle is a cool and damp county. The winds from the north Atlantic would often blow cold rainy weather inland. Walks in the parks with his family were difficult to fit into his busy schedule, but as often as he could, he would sit in the park and read to Annie and Will. By the fall of 1911 young Will began to understand the words of his father’s stories and enjoyed the world they showed him.

His favorite book was Herman Melville’s, Moby Dick. The story of the great white whale and Captain Ahab fascinated the young boy. He watched his father’s face as he read the words with great conviction. As he listened, his mother would smile as she stitched on the family quilt. His mother often wrapped Will in it to protect him from the damp English air. The quilt had been handed down in Annie’s family since her mother started it during the civil war when she married. Now it was her family’s and she continued the tradition of recording in delicate stitches the story of their family.

In the spring of 1912 Will’s health had began to fail.

Doctors recommended that he return with his mother to the states to find a drier climate. Matthew’s job would not let him return home as war loomed on the horizon in Europe. It was decided Annie and Will would book passage aboard ship and return to their home in America along the Ohio River.

The night before they were to leave, Will asked his father to once again read the beginning of his favorite book, Moby Dick. Matthew began, “Call Me Ishmael. . .”