Whenever I look at an old photo that once hung on my grandfather’s cabin wall, it conjures up memories—revealing a sliver of one of his lived experiences from more than a century ago. My grandfather often talked about this photo of him, his brother, and two friends while he reminisced about growing up in Nederland, Colorado, a small mountain town in southwestern Boulder County.
In the photograph are the monochromatic faces of four boys: my grandfather (Roland Giggey), his brother (George Nelson Giggey), and two of their friends. The boys wore hats and dressed for the crisp mountain air as they looked out on Nederland’s Barker Reservoir, named for Mrs. Hannah Connell Barker, the owner of the meadow where the dam was built. Based on my grandfather’s age at the time, the reservoir was newly built. In 1908, the Central Colorado Power Company started construction of Barker Dam—a project to provide hydroelectric power. Workers scrambled to finish the dam in 1910.
The Tangen photo is also the only photograph of George Nelson Giggey that exists. George was 17 years old when he came home one day from work. He was not feeling well and sank into the couch with aches that felt like his bones were breaking. George never left the couch, and a bitter gloom filled the room as he died on October 13, 1918. He was a victim of the flu that would soon become the deadliest epidemic in human history. My grandfather disappeared outside as he shut the door. He stood on the front porch, blinked some tears away, and took the seven dollars George had in his wallet that day. He carried them for the rest of his life.
The person I wanted to talk to about the photo, my grandfather, was the person I was trying to remember the most. I tried to summon up those days when my grandfather told me about growing up in Nederland and the story behind the photo. It was like trying to corral ghosts in the night. Although it is true that time tries to blow out that small flickering flame of memory, a photograph keeps a moment more complete. It preserves a single step in the march of time.
I think about this photograph now, and how it captured a day in the lives of four boys, all on the threshold of life. One died young; the others spent a few more years in the little mining town watching the world change from horse and buggy to cars, airplanes, radios, and televisions. They grew up, held jobs, raised families, grew old, and then crossed that final threshold. Although more than a century has passed, and these boys are gone and will not return to life, this photograph brings my grandfather and his brother back to the present—to the living; to me.