CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There wasn’t a lot of money to go around when Brenda Dodd’s daughters were young, especially for luxuries like professionally made portraits.
But then she got a coupon in the mail from Lindsay’s Studio on Charleston’s East End, offering a free photo session.
She loaded up her daughters Stephanie and Angela — now 43 and 41, respectively – and took them to the studio, which was actually a small room in self-taught photographer Lindsay Hignite’s apartment.
Hignite took the girls’ photos and asked Dodd to come back a few days later to see the finished products.
“When you came back they had them all printed up,” she said.
The photo session was free but the studio charged for prints. Dodd couldn’t afford much, so she selected a few photos of Stephanie and left the rest with Hignite.
“It was hard, because then you have to walk off and think they’re just going to tear them up,” she said. “That’s what I figured happened to them.”
But that wasn’t what happened.
Hignite was something of a pack rat. When he died in 2000, he left behind thousands of unclaimed photos of babies, toddlers, young brides, first communions and family reunions.
The photos weren’t discovered until last fall when the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority purchased the building at 1601 Washington St. E.
Daily Mail local government reporter Matt Murphy heard about the photos at an Urban Renewal Authority meeting and asked to take a look at the former studio.
It was a mess. The apartment was filthy and had been vandalized at some point over the last 14 years. A flight of pigeons had taken up residence in the kitchen.
But stacked in Hignite’s front rooms were boxes and boxes of old photos.
The Daily Mail ran a front-page story about the abandoned studio and, within 24 hours, both of the photos featured with the article were claimed by family members. Another photo, featured in a follow-up story later that week, also was claimed.
That gave assistant city editor Billy Wolfe an idea.
With permission from the Urban Renewal Authority, the Daily Mail hauled those photos out of the second-story apartment and back to the newsroom, where Murphy and Wolfe cataloged and photographed the pictures.
They began uploading those photos to the Daily Mail’s Facebook page in an attempt to reconnect them with the subjects. That’s where one of Stephanie Dodd’s friends spotted her photo.
“A girl that was my best friend in third grade tagged me and said ‘This is you,’” Stephanie said.
The photos were not torn up as her mother had feared. They just spent the last 40 years in the bottom of a box.
The Daily Mail has now posted more than 1,200 old photos from Lindsay’s Studio on Facebook. More than 100 of those photos have been identified and returned to their rightful owners. Hundreds more have been identified and are in the process of being claimed.
Sherry Phillips was on a business trip to Phoenix when she received notification that someone had tagged her in a photo on Facebook.
She was soon looking at photo of her much younger self, dressed in a pinstripe jacket with a big white bow around her neck. She remembered her close friend’s mother, Fid Davis, took her to Lindsay’s Studio to have the portrait made.
“I was like one of their family members. That picture was on their family wall for years,” Phillips, now 56, said. “I knew of it, but I didn’t have that picture.”
Phillips began flipping through the rest of the photos on the Daily Mail’s Facebook page. To her surprise, she also found a photo of her mother, who died in September 2008.
Phillips had seen the photo before, but only a photocopied version she found while sorting through her mother’s belongings.
“I went ‘Oh my God, that’s my mother!’ I jumped off the couch and ran over to this paper photo I had ... and it was the exact photo,” she said. “It teared me up. It makes me cry now.”
Phillips grew up in Charleston but now lives in Savannah, Ga. She contacted the Daily Mail, which mailed her the photos. She is now having the 11-by-14 print framed for her brother.
Aziza White spent much of her childhood hopping around the country with her mother, Johanna.
Johanna was trained in ballet and ballroom dancing but eventually became a noted belly dancer, helping to popularize the style in the 1970s.
Aziza, now 46 and living in North Carolina, followed in her mother’s footsteps and performed around the country from the time she was a young girl.
But throughout all of their travels, Johanna never went very long without a trip back to her native West Virginia.
“We were always on Amtrak to Charleston to visit my grandmother,” she said. “She was a proud West Virginian and always told people that.”
They moved to Charleston for a short time when Aziza was a teenager, although they stayed long enough for Aziza to spend a few years at Stonewall Jackson High School.
Mother and daughter also made a trip to Lindsay’s Studios before they left to take promotional photos.
“We took the few shots we could afford and thought, well we’ll come back and get the other ones,” she said. “We did it in a hurry and moved to Boston.”
Aziza forgot about the photos, however, until a high school friend spotted her photo on the Daily Mail’s Facebook page.
“They kept inboxing me, saying ‘Isn’t this you and your mom?’ I’m like holy cow, yes, it is.”
One of the uncovered photos show a young Aziza dressed in full belly dancing garb. The other shows Aziza holding a mandolin and Johanna holding a tambourine.
It was an emotional discovery for Aziza. Her mother died in 2012 at 84 years old.
“I’ve not had an easy time missing my mom,” she said. “The photos were a great surprise. It was a beautiful gift that I’m grateful that came to me.”
To view a selection of photos from Lindsay’s Studio, visit www.facebook.com/CharlestonDailyMail.
The Daily Mail also will host an open house Saturday at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1600 Kanawha Blvd. E. The event will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and there is no charge to the public.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.