Tuesday, August 16, 2022


Meet Sylvia Plath's grandfather Theodor, master-blacksmith/inventor, and his wife Ernestine, grandmother who died in the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. These are Otto Plath's parents, from Budsin, Prussia (today, Poland). Otto got to America the year before they did.

The props of fancy chair plus classical column mean the portrait was taken in the U.S.A. where bad taste reigns in such things. I mean, our four-year-olds get studio-photographed holding golden plastic "4"s. Already approaching age 50 when Mr. and Mrs. Plath arrived in 1901, they are likely closer to 60 in this photo. The narrow necktie suggests it's after 1905. Ernestine was in a North Dakota mental hospital from 1905 to at least November 1910, so it was taken between then and October 1916 when Theodor signed her into the Oregon state mental hospital, where she came to a tragic end.

Embossed in the corner is the photographer's name, hard to read. If it says "Hale" it was Herbert A. Hale, longtime Portland, Oregon photographer, turn of the century to 1917. Enlargement reveals beneath the logo small roman letters that look like "ego" or "eco" and might say "Oregon."

I think there is something of Otto Plath in the looks and stance of both parents. The photo, scanned into a public family-tree gallery, is the first I've seen of either parent. Ernestine died in Salem, Oregon, the tin of her ashes finally claimed by a descendant in 2020; Theodor, buried in Oregon City, had a pauper's grave with no stone. But, very good news: In 2021 a seeker located and marked his grave.

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