ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As hobbies go, Wim Goddyn’s small collection of cameras is fairly unusual.
Over the years, he had amassed about 20 of them, some from his decades as a videographer in the Netherlands. He’s 67, but he likes his work too much to retire.
Of the cameras in his collection, among the most interesting are the ones made of Bakelite, an early plastic often used to craft cameras from the 1930s to the 1960s. Of those, one of his favorites is a Falcon Miniature, a Bakelite beauty made by the Utility Manufacturing Co. of New York beginning in 1939.
But what makes this camera his most curious find is the secret behind the crude scrawl of a name and numbers scratched into the bottom of the camera.
That scrawl, he thinks, was inscribed by the camera’s previous owner.
That owner, he thinks, may have been from Albuquerque, more than 5,000 miles away from his home in Katwijk in western Netherlands.
How the camera came to be there and whether the previous owner had been there as well is, obviously, a mystery. Goddyn has done some research, and so have I, and though what we have independently found is neither conclusive nor confirming, it’s always worth a shot to see whether any of you fabulous sleuthing readers can help connect the dots.
You folks are good at that.
Katwijk is eight hours ahead of Albuquerque time, so Goddyn and I agreed to chat about the camera via email, our missives zipping back and forth across the globe, often arriving in the dead of night in our respective countries. Language was also a concern, although Goddyn has an impressive mastery of the written English language. I, on the other hand, know nothing in Dutch other than “bedankt,” which means “thanks.”
Goddyn said he found the Falcon Miniature around 2009 in a “jumble-shop,” which is similar to a rummage store, in the nearby city of Leiden.
“There were several different models,” he explained. “But because of the simple styling, the material, I thought it was an example of the simple life that was worldwide in the ’30s and ’40s.”
He hadn’t noticed at first the scribbles on the bottom of the camera, scratched apparently with something sharp like a knife. It read: “S/Sgt Connelly,” followed by the numbers “32747257.”
That got him to thinking.
“When I saw the name and the number, I thought of my army time in 1966,” he said. “Then, we didn’t have a volunteer army, so every healthy boy of 19 years had to serve in the army for 1½ years. I also remember that everything that you owned and what you had with you had to be engraved or marked with your name and army number. When I saw that name on the camera, I understood that it must have been owned by a veteran of World War II.”
Goddyn said he searched the Internet and found a Connelly with the matching Army serial number who listed his place of residence as Albuquerque. He sent a letter to Albuquerque’s City Hall but did not receive a response.
So he contacted the Journal .
“I would like to send the camera to him or his children or family,” Goddyn wrote, as a small way to say thanks to American soldiers who, as part of an Allied military force, liberated the Netherlands from Nazi control in 1944.
“We still are grateful that the American, Canadian, Australian and British soldiers have helped us in those years to free us from the German occupation,” he said. “So, you could say that we are free because of Mr. Connelly also.”
But here is where it gets tricky. Goddyn said he cannot recall where he found the information about Connelly, and my own search of the number and the name turned up the military records of Charles E. Connelly, who was born in New Jersey in 1906 and enlisted in the Army in February 1943 in Albany, N.Y., five months before U.S. troops stormed into Europe, the first such foray by Allied liberation forces.
Connelly, described in records as a mechanic and repairman, would have been 36 when he enlisted. He served for the duration of the war plus six more months. He is listed as a private and not a sergeant.
He died in 1995 at age 88. I could find no relatives in New York, New Jersey or New Mexico. The trail goes cold fast.
Most discoveries, as the saying goes, are the result of a combination of serendipity and searching. Perhaps Goddyn’s searching for Sgt. Connelly steered him to Albuquerque for a reason; perhaps it’s merely a mistake made by a kind Dutch man who has never been to the United States but who has a wish to make this small gesture from across the globe.
“I hope that I could find Mr. Connelly or his closest family to send the camera to them,” he said. “I think it a good feeling to express my thanks in that way, because it could be a kind of respect to an American veteran. I hope they like it, too.”
Bedankt, Mr. Goddyn, for that lovely thought.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.