Circa 1919: Tony Laurence & the mysterious vehicle crash

Sepia Saturday 598. Twentieth in a photo blog series on my maternal Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

We all have them. Those mystery photos, with no caption, that show a major event in our ancestors’ lives. Those pictures that are worth a thousand words — too bad nobody thought to write down one or two to give us a heads up. So, we are left to conjecture and try to make sense of the images left behind in albums, boxes or file drawers.

One of my more intriguing mystery photos is shown below. It features an overturned vehicle – possibly a car, but more likely a truck – lying belly up by the side of the road. Tires in the air, running boards aloft, license plate askew and debris strewn about seem to indicate a major accident.

Mystery vehicle crash with inset of Tony Laurence (circa 1919). This photo has no caption or other markings. So, what happened and how was my maternal grandfather involved? Scan by Molly Charboneau

Oddly, there is an inset photo of my Italian American maternal grandfather Antonio W. “Tony” Laurence, who may have been about 17 years old at the time the photo was taken. In the distance, past the vehicle wreck, two standing women appear to be pondering what may have happened – much as I am doing now, in the absence of other clues.

A few possibilities come to mind: Tony was in the crash or he saved someone after the crash or he towed the vehicle from the scene long after the emergency was over. So, let’s unpack the possibilities and see what emerges.

Possibility 1: Tony was in the crash

This option does not seem likely. Although this photo looks like a newspaper memorial for someone who died in a vehicular crash, my grandfather Tony lived to age 80. I also don’t remember any references in the family to him being in a serious roll-over like this one. And I have not yet found any newspaper articles linking him to such an accident.

Possibility 2: Tony saved someone after the crash

This option seems more likely. At age 17, according to the 1920 U.S. census of Gloversville, Fulton County, NY,[1]FamilySearch requires free login to view records Tony was working as a junk collector in his father Peter’s junk dealership. He may have been out on his rounds, saw or came upon this accident, and helped the driver/passengers out of the overturned vehicle – meriting an inset portrait in the larger photo of the accident.

Gloversville Morning Herald, 27 March 1919. An ad for my great-grandfather Peter Laurence’s junk dealership, which he took over from his father-in-law, Antonio Curcio. Image:

Possibility 3: Tony towed the vehicle after the crash

This option is not out of the question. Peter Laurence had a tow truck, and Tony later operated it to rescue stranded vehicles. However, it seems unlikely that Tony would have gotten a cameo photo for the routine task of righting and hauling off a vehicle after it overturned.

There is no way to know for sure what happened — unless future research turns up some solid evidence. But my best guess is Possibility 2: My grandfather came to the rescue to help people out of the overturned vehicle – earning him a hero spotlight in this mystery photo.

Up next, more mystery photos of my Italian extended family. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1 FamilySearch requires free login to view records

14 thoughts on “Circa 1919: Tony Laurence & the mysterious vehicle crash”

  1. I love the way you set up this blog with different possiblities/scenarios! I think possiblity 2 seems like a good possibility. I love mysteries of any kind! Please keep us up to date on it! 🙂

  2. I love a mystery photo like this. The car accident type is rare to find in family collections, though my grandfather, a railroad brakeman and yardmaster, collected similar postcards of train wrecks. That was a serious accident and it definitely looks like a newspaper’s photo montage prepared for print publication. I think you are right about the second possibility. Good luck solving this.

    1. The photo is so intriguing, I couldn’t pass up posting it — even though there are no tangible clues so far. Will keep it on my to-do list as more news stories go online.

  3. I think your second choice of options is most likely why his photo is inserted in the accident scene. I do hope, however, you are able to learn more in the future? It’s a good guess, but I know you’d like to be certain and not always wonder. 🙂

    1. Totally agree. If I am able to locate a news story, that may explain what actually happened — but so far, no results on news searches.

  4. Thinking through all the possible scenarios is a good way to analyze our puzzling photographs. A good reminder for me!

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