MACOMB TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — When Tommy Dilger of Macomb Township purchased some old cameras and a box of slides at an estate sale he was not surprised to learn that there was still film in the cameras.
“Every time I buy a camera with film in it I develop it,” Dilger told The Macomb Daily. It’s an exciting process because you never know what might you might discover, although nothing out of the ordinary family photo has developed, until now.
“This is significant,” he said, excitedly.
After researching how to develop a roll of Kodachrome film, which businesses stopped doing more than 15 years ago, Dilger went into the dark room that he built in his parent’s home and developed the film.
At first he was disappointed.
All he could see was a strip of black frames but after a second washing several images appeared. So, he hung it up to dry, so he could scan it later.
“I didn’t realize what I had until I scanned it,” Dilger said.
The first few images were faint but he could tell by the silhouettes that it was a crowd of people, and a ceiling fan, or what appeared to be one. However, upon further examination, he could see it was not a ceiling fan but a helicopter.
“When I saw it I knew, I’ve seen that helicopter before,” he said.
His grandmother had a photo of a helicopter that was taken in August of 1972 at Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, the same high school he graduated from this year, and that his mother and her brother attended as well.
Eisenhower High School was named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. After it opened former President Richard Nixon, who was also the former vice president to Eisenhower, visited the school and gave a speech during its dedication ceremony. In attendance for the historical event were many families from the neighborhood including Dilger’s grandparents, Phil and Joyce Stoeger, and their two children.
“I was only 4-years-old at the time,” said Dilger’s mother, Beth Dilger (Stoeger). “I don’t remember the crowd. I just remember the sound of a huge helicopter.”
After recognizing the photo he compared the two. He could see they were similar but not exact matches. So, he researched the event online and found a video of the dedication posted on YouTube. It showed the helicopter from the exact angle as the one shown in the film he developed. He also came across other photographs, clear images of the crowd of people, who were only silhouettes in his photos, waving to the helicopter and a VIP on a platform. That’s when he realized the figure in his photographs waving back to the crowd was Nixon.
“I knew it was him,” he said. “It was the same wave.”
His photos also showed silhouettes of people holding up peace signs, just like the news photographs he found online.
“It’s pretty interesting that they sat around for 50 years and that the last pictures the person took were of Nixon,” said Dilger, who will be attending Savana College of Art and Design in Georgia this fall in hopes of pursuing a career as a film director.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when it became apparent that there would be no graduation ceremony for the class of 2020, Dilger helped to produce a film that captured the seniors’ accomplishments and aspirations. He also produced and directed a western that earned him accolades and the attention of Savana’s prestigious film school.
“Beth and I think it is very cool to see Tommy’s excitement about this discovery as well as his talent to process and publish his find,” said Dilger’s father, Tom Dilger. “We could not be more proud of all he has accomplished and we are looking forward to him entertaining us for many years to come!”
Discovering the photos of Nixon was a real treat. But also part of his discovery was the box of slides that came with the cameras. For the past six months, he not only scanned all of the slides but produced a short film about his discovery. Dilger posted it on his YouTube site, TBD Productions, not only for the interest of his friends and followers but in hopes of finding someone who might want the photos for a museum or a family album. Judging by the documented and well organized collection, whoever owned the cameras knew what he or she was doing. Many of the photos are newsworthy including several shots of accidents that happened in the area, a collapsed building and historic photos of steamships that carried passengers traveling from Detroit to destinations along the Great Lakes.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, trips on smoke-belching steamships were commonplace, whether Detroiters boarded steamers to Belle Isle or ferries across the Detroit River to Canada. But such voyages were not only pleasure cruises, they were also one of the main ways people navigated around the Midwest,” according to an article by HistoricDetroit.org.
There were also some fashionable photos of a young couple known only as Chris (possibly short for Christina) and Tony, who would probably be in their seventies now.
Dilger is hoping someone will recognize the photos and help to solve the mystery.
Then there is still a second roll of film that needs to be developed.
“Who knows what I’ll find on that,” Dilger said.
Maybe more shots of Nixon or John F. Kennedy, who visited Mount Clemens during his run for president on Oct. 26, 1960?
“It’s very possible,” Dilger said. “They took photos of some pretty interesting things.”