Call it fate, call it luck—you could even call it the power of the Internet. Whatever it’s labeled, a search for some kind of information about six people in a photograph discovered near the site of the 9/11 attacks 13 years ago has ended on a good note.
After thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook helped spread the word that Lesley University assistant professor Elizabeth Stringer Keefe was trying to find the owner of a picture located at Ground Zero, which was given to her by a friend from New York in 2001, Keefe said she spoke on the phone with a person that’s in the image:
— E. Stringer Keefe (@ProfKeefe) September 12, 2014
That person was Fred Mahe, a former New York City resident who now lives in Colorado with his wife. In the photo, Mahe is seen on the far left, staring into the camera:
@ProfKeefe I KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE! I was at the wedding.
— Fred Mahe (@FredWMahe) September 12, 2014
The connection, made possible after the image went viral, put a cap on Keefe’s annual hunt on the anniversary of 9/11 for the group of people in the picture.
In a followup Tweet, Mahe said that the picture belonged to him, and was lost in the rubble after the Twin Towers collapsed. Mahe said that the photo was originally taken during a friend’s wedding in Aspen, Colorado, in 2001.
“The picture was at my desk in the World Trade Center, Tower Two, on the 77th floor,” said Mahe in a Facebook message to Boston. “The picture has been kept safe by [Keefe] for the last 13 years.”
Mahe described his phone conversation with Keefe, after they initially connected on Twitter, as “amazing,” and said he felt inspired by her “dedication and persistence” to continue to seek out the owners of the photo. “She kept my photo safe for 13 years in her favorite Ernest Hemingway book, A Moveable Feast.”
Mahe said he wasn’t yet at work as the attacks began on 9/11, and, “thankfully never got a chance to go up to my office.”
He said September 12, 2001, was always a meaningful day to him, because it was when he saw “the best of humanity,” as rescue efforts and support poured in from around the world. Now, 13 years later, it signifies the day he reconnected with a piece of the past, and also made a new friend.
A Lesley University professor who possesses a crumpled up photo of a married couple that was discovered near Ground Zero in 2001, not long after two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, has spent the last 13 years trying to find the picture’s owner.
She had hoped this year would be the year, but as the anniversary of the September 11 tragedy came and went, still, she heard nothing back.
“I have always said to myself about the photo that I try not to think about what the story behind it is, and that I just want to get the photo back,” said Elizabeth Stringer Keefe.
On Thursday, Keefe, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at Lesley University, and a PhD candidate at Boston College, shared a scanned version of the photo that she came into contact with more than a decade ago, which depicts a young married couple surrounded by what appear to be friends and family, outdoors in the snow.
Each year, it’s been difficult for the message about the photo, given to her by a friend from New York who located it near Ground Zero one month after the terrorist attack, to get out. But when she shared it on Facebook and then Twitter on the most recent anniversary, it quickly picked up attention all over the Internet, and garnered more than 40,000 retweets:
— E. Stringer Keefe (@ProfKeefe) September 12, 2014
It has also sparked a Reddit investigation where more than 1,000 people have responded.
“I feel like people are giving it the exposure it needs to get the right set of eyes on it. Twitter has literally taken it up. I think that it could be the year that it gets back to the owner. I hope so,” said Keefe. “I never anticipated the overwhelming interest in it. I’m just so shocked. But it’s great, I’m thrilled. I would like to give it as much exposure as possible.”
With a greater audience, Keefe, who keeps the image of the couple tucked away in a copy of an Ernest Hemingway book, is hoping her efforts to reconnect the owners with the priceless memorabilia pay off with a happy ending.
“I would like to just, sort of in my mind—I really resisted being fatalistic about the photo, and thought that this could just be a photo that was in someone’s office, or someone that made it out alive,” she told Boston.
While she isn’t entirely sure that the photo has a true connection to the September 11 attack, she feels it’s more than likely because it was found in the area at a time when the site of the rubble was “still burning,” and there was “ash everywhere,” she said.
Whether it belonged to a victim, or was accidentally dropped in passing in the days following the devastation in New York City, it means something to someone. “It’s a beautiful photo. There is a lot of happiness in it. There are tons of possibilities. And I think the thing that kept me committed to getting it back is that it was found regardless of what the story is,” said Keefe. “Whatever it is, it deserves to get back to where it came from.”
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