Mystery Couple Found in a Roll of Film From Nearly 70 Years Ago

For nearly 70 years, a partially finished roll of film that documented a couple’s escapades in Switzerland and Italy was hidden away in a brass container, forgotten as it changed hands.

The roll fell into the possession of William Fagan, a film collector from Dublin, in 2015 when it arrived in a box with a vintage Leica camera from 1935.

from the New York Times, December 5, 2020

There have been some fascinating articles on old film rolls people have developed. And this particular article, which was sitting in my drafts for a couple of weeks, sprouted legs and ran around the world.

The image at the end of the CNN article was snapped from the lake just offshore from Bellagio. My photo above is taken from a different angle, coming in from the left during our ferry ride on Lake Como in 2012.

William Fagan, the person who found the film roll in the box with the Leica camera he purchased, has published several updates on his website and since his initial post back in September, the trip, the locations and the car have all been identified, but the question of who these people are remains unanswered.

My thought is that if the camera was sold, it might be possible to trace the camera sale and purchase records. That seems far more workable than trying to identify the people themselves. The fact that the film roll was left in the camera and the camera itself sold makes me think there might not be a happy ending to this story. Regardless, read through the posts on his site if you’re interested. The generosity of folks on the internet stepping up to assist on this challenge was amazing.

More from our 2012 visit to Lake Como. You can see the full-size color image by clicking on any thumbnail below.


  1. Weird . . . no one commented on this, but I’ve seen it referenced in other places.

    Interesting that one can reconstruct travels via photos . . . which is the same reason I snap photos. Many times, I look at some photos and I have to “adjust” the memories of what I think happened with the truth of the captured images.

    Thanks for the glimpse into the past.

  2. Oops . . . I thought I was commenting on the site you linked . . . but, the comment stands. And, the site has comments, so it doesn’t need mine.

    I’ll add this . . . few people take photos with the awareness they’ll outlast them (except, maybe, people on Instagram, hence all the fake poses). I think they are primarily for one’s benefit. I’m referring, of course, to selfies and other posed photos, but even for travel photos, the primary purpose is (I think) for one’s own benefit.

    I speak often of the ‘grandfather effect’ whereas a photo of someone or something has little interest unless there’s a personal connection. That’s especially true for geographical features seldom change and the only reason to snap a photo of a place that is exactly the same as thousands of other photos is because one can say “I snapped that; I was there” and not so much to show the object itself.

    I have an old father-in-law (96) and if we bring up a topic or show a picture or mention an article, no matter how interesting, he’d rather talk about how it was and what happened when he was there (often, with a bit of embellishment) and somehow, no matter what it is, it was always “better” when he was there. Better views, better food, better circumstances . . . just better. I think we all have a little of that in us . . . which makes sense. It stands to reason we prefer our memories over those of other people . . . unless it’s people we don’t know, like in that old film.

  3. You know, I would have thought that people take photos because they *will* outlast them. It’s not only contemporary interest, and it depends on the content of the photo, of course.

    I’ve been taking part in an online course from the Museum of Modern Art called “Seeing Through Photographs” and I highly recommend it, if you can catch your breath in the New Year. 😉

  4. I should clarify . . . people with families (kids) probably do more of that (my sisters are big on documenting stuff for the kids — although I don’t know if they will be interested in it). The selfie craze (if it’s a craze) seems more self-centered.

    Posed family shots are probably more those kinds of photos.

    It’s interesting that we’re discussing this because I had a recent similar discussion about the post in memory of my brother (

    There were a lot of photos on that post that I had never seen and that, while interesting, did not have as much of a connection for me (apart from being of my brother) precisely because they weren’t my memories. I don’t want to sound callous and say they meant nothing because they did, but more so in the context of him having died and me being curious about parts of his life I wasn’t familiar with than the photos eliciting a response to a shared experience (of which we had few).

    And, perhaps, I’m not the one to make these observations in the first place. I very much tend to look forward, and even photos of me from years ago seem more a curiosity than something that brings up fond memories (with a few exceptions). In fact, for many instances in my life, I have no memory of the events the photos depict.

    I don’t mean that I don’t remember going to Hawaii or the Grand Canyon, but rather I don’t relive the experience of me being there; I can’t “place” myself in the scene, even though I can see I was there doing something or other. All I remember is that we went there, but in non-specific terms.

    I postulated that perhaps the act of photographing robs a part of the experience for me so that while the photos bring up memories of the places, they don’t relate to the actual experience. This is also evident in what I remember versus what Melisa remembers because I’m always focused on composition and framing almost everywhere we go, whereas she’s absorbing the totality of the place unencumbered by other considerations.

    . . . oops . . . too long again.

    As for the course . . . I’m almost reluctant to say this because it can be misconstrued, but I already know it’s not a match for me.

  5. Sorry about the delay. First of all, I’m sorry for your loss and that was a lovely tribute to your brother.

    There is a theory, or maybe more than that, that a photograph of something replaces the memory of it. So far, I don’t find that to be true for me. I find that photos of a shared experience tend to enhance my memory of that experience. Photographs not part of a shared experience sometimes rank right up there as “Let me show you slides from our vacation!” It’s pleasant, but doesn’t evoke the same response as photos of shared experiences. The experience doesn’t necessarily have to be from someone else who was there in the same place at the same time, but can be entirely different people being in the same place at different times, like the images of Garden of the Gods or Pike’s Peak in your brother’s tribute and your site, which I can certainly relate to, or even Bellagio.

    One other thing I remember reading was that because we are so intent on photographing the moments of our experiences, we are not “present” in them. And I do think there is something in that.

  6. Thank you, and yes, for what you say about photos and experiences.

    Although, when it comes to memories, people can be influenced rather easily — as many studies readily prove — and be made to “remember” experiences they didn’t actually experience.

    And truthfully, how would we know if that happened to us?

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