In February 1944, a photographer took a series of photos at the opening of a Labor Canteen in Washington, DC. The entertainment that night was a young Pete Seeger and in the audience First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Two years after I found the picture, I wrote Mr. Seeger asking if he remembered the photographer. I was hoping for but not really expecting a response. But one day I checked my mail and there was a postcard.
One side was covered with words, actually one word, peace, translated into many languages. On the other side, handwritten, was essentially the following note: “Cynthia, I’m 94 years old. The details from that time aren’t so clear anymore but my memoirs are being updated and I will make sure that the photographer’s name is duly noted. Joseph Anthony Horne.”
Joseph Anthony Horne was born in 1911 and died in 1987. I began researching his life out of curiosity. You see, I knew a man who kept telling stories of a 1950s and 1960s childhood spent in exotic places. Of fishermen in Genoa, Italy dropping seahorses into his hands. Petting a white elephant belonging to the Maharaja of Mysore. Skating in Vienna by doctor’s orders. It was a life made possible by his father, Mr. Horne, working for the U.S. foreign service, a post he’d taken on after World War II. As for what he’d done during the war, “something involving art and books while stationed in Germany.” In the 1960s the family moved back to the U.S. to the Maryland/DC area where Horne continued to work in foreign service until retirement.
I already knew from the son that his father had been a photographer, loved books and music, and that the foreign service position held in all the various countries had involved working with libraries and inviting American musicians, writers and other artists to share their works. Perhaps inspired by that PBS show, History Detectives, I asked the son was there anything more he’d like to know about his father. I was given carte blanche to research as I liked. Those mysterious post-war German years working with books drew my attention but soon I was researching his early years as well. So many files from the early and mid-twentieth century have been digitized, but I kept hitting a wall with finding information prior to 1940. When I queried the son he mentioned, “that might be because he changed his name. ” Turned out that Mr. Horne used to be Mr. Wisniewski and had grown up in Nebraska not Maryland as I had assumed. “So he was born to the Wisniewski family?” The son shook his head. “He was adopted, along with a baby girl. My father thought he’d been born in New York.” When asked why he had selected Horne of all names, the son replied with a smile, “He thought he was an illegitimate love child of two New York families. the Astors and Langhornes.” As I stared at the son, he laughed. “My dad was quite the storyteller. He even mentioned studying in Europe and hearing G. K. Chesterton.”
One bit of information was easy to find thanks especially to National Archive records available online. In 1946, Joseph Anthony Horne joined the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archive unit. From 1947-1948, he would serve as the director of the Offenbach Archival Depot, one of the primary collection points for preserving and returning books, artwork and cultural items stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II. He had been a Monuments Man. As for how an orphaned baby in New York City might travel to the American Midwest (along with many thousands of other orphaned and homeless children), and how a young man from Nebraska might find himself working as a photographer in Washington, DC … not to mention exactly who were the people, places and events experienced in Europe during and after the war … Well, all of that, would take a bit more digging. It would be a treat to discover his connection to photography historians like Erich Stenger and artists like Karl Hofer and quite a surprise to learn of the drama at Offenbach involving missing books and the complex decisions made as the Cold War loomed, reminiscent of decisions made in the world today. This post is just to set the stage. More stories to follow.