Ordinary photos reveal extraordinary stories


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Unraveling the mysteries presented by the Pierce photo collection requires a determined approach, and the skills of a private eye.

In her office in the basement of the Lyman Museum, Miki Bulos keeps a wall plastered with photographs, looking not unlike the walls of clues one might see in the background of a police procedural on TV.

Those whose subjects have already been identified are organized into groupings based on subject matter as the museum plans a public exhibit. But the photos that haven’t yet been identified are organized more haphazardly, based on whatever information can be gleaned from their content.

Connections based on common people, places or dates are highlighted. The dates stamped onto the sheets containing the photos’ original negatives have proven to be unreliable, so first-person narratives have given Bulos her best information to go on.

It’s a job that’s certainly been made more manageable by the tight-knit nature of the Big Isle’s communities, she said. But it’s still no walk in the park.

“I’ve been working on ID’ing these photos for about a year. … We’re just scratching the surface. I’m just really helping getting this started. This is the community’s project,” she said. “It’s something that will take years.”

As new discoveries are made about the photos, they take on much greater significance, and help to inform inquiries into other photographs. Take for instance the photo of a young woman in a pretty floral dress as she stands with a group of sailors on a Navy ship.

“We didn’t know who she was, or what they were doing,” Bulos said. “It wasn’t necessarily that compelling of a photograph.”

But when members of the community recognized the young woman as Lovey Mae Akamu Scott, who served as Miss Aloha Hawaii from May 1958-May 1959, that started an avalanche of information that has proven to answer questions about a great many of the photos Pierce took during her reign.

“She came and helped us identify people she was pictured with in many other photos,” Bulos said. “She’s been a huge help.”

Among the questions she answered definitively was that of the naval ship photo: It was taken on the occasion of the arrival of the first U.S. flag that contained 50 stars after Hawaii was added to the union.

Suddenly, a photo that didn’t appear to be terribly important on first glance took on a whole new meaning once Scott was able to provide context, Bulos explained.

Further, as Miss Aloha Hawaii, Scott’s duties included welcoming various dignitaries when they arrived on the island and being presented at important community gatherings. And, thanks to a fastidious grandmother, all of Scott’s exploits were carefully cut out of copies of the newspaper and pasted into a family scrapbook, complete with names, places and all the other information Bulos could hope to ask for.

Like a snowball, she said, pieces of information lead to greater pieces of information at a faster and faster rate, she said.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Scott, 73, said she was thrilled to be able to contribute to the ID project.

“I heard through a friend about it, and they just said that Miki was looking for people who could ID people in the photos,” she said. “When she mentioned the name Howard Pierce, I immediately was excited. I knew him well, and I had often wondered what became of his collection.”

As for her role in the unraveling of Hawaii Island’s local history, Scott said she was surprised that her involvement was so highly valued by Bulos and others at the Lyman Museum.

“There were so many important people and important things going on at that time, and I just thought, ‘Well, why are they looking at me?’” she said. “I was delighted and surprised.”

Despite the ubiquitous nature of her appearances in Pierce’s photos during her year as Miss Aloha Hawaii, however, Scott said being the subject of pictures hasn’t exactly been a priority for her.

“I personally haven’t kept any photos from those days,” she said. “To be honest with you, I didn’t like being photographed. I always came out looking real dorky. I didn’t like seeing myself in photos.”

Even so, she’s looking forward to attending the grand opening of the Lyman exhibit and showing her grandsons the photos, she said, although she may be blushing at a few of them.

“After the presentation of the flag, there are pictures of me welcoming all the crew members — you know, the young men — on the ship,” she said of the photos taken during the presentation of the 50-star flag. “I’m giving them kisses on their cheeks. When I saw that I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t remember doing that to all those young men. But there the moment was in black in white, so I must have done it!’”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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