Mysterious Photo of Kennedy in Oregon Raises Fascinating Questions

by | Jan 7, 2020 | Featured, History, Interesting, News, Portland, Stories

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Mistaken identity? Long lost family? I love a good mystery, and all things Kennedy-related still seem to fascinate even 60-years later.

The original attention-grabber from this post in the Forgotten Oregon facebook group was JFK himself. Charming as usual with a petite elderly woman clinging to his arm, the image was most likely taken during the future President's Oregon leg of the campaign trail in 1960. Poster Brandon Smith captions his upload, "Here is a photo taken around Portland. The little Irish gal with a stronghold on President Kennedy's arm is my Great-Grandma Maggie Smith..."

Commenters (including myself) praised the image, including personal remembrances and anecdotes of the era...that is until Oregonian Sam Foster entered the conversation.

"Actually, I have an original photograph. The lady hanging on to Kennedy is my Grandmother - Anna Esch, from Milwaukie, Oregon. And she wasn't Irish - her maiden name was Kropf. Where did you get your copy of the photo?"

Say what??

The conversation had taken a fascinating turn, with both Smith and Foster insisting that the sweet black-clad woman in the photo was indeed their grandmother, but with two completely different backstories and names.

--Each has original prints of the treasured image that has been in their respective families for years.

--Both Smith and Foster have provided additional family photos of their grandmothers.

--Smith's image was developed in 1963 (according to the film processing date in the margin), while Foster's was developed in December 1963, likely by her family's photo lab (Byer's, formerly located on SE Milwaukie Ave).

The Image in Question / via James M. Schultze and Sam Foster / Facebook

Smith's great-grandmother Maggie:

Maggie Smith / via Brandon Smith / Facebook

Foster's grandmother Anna, third from the left:

Anna Esch / via Sam Foster / Facebook

The only way to solve the mystery may prove to be a DNA test, but I for one hope these two families get some well-deserved answers. We will continue to update this story if and when new information becomes available (with the respective families' permission of course).



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Written By Danielle Denham

Danielle Denham is an award-winning and published photographer who loves her home state of Oregon. Recently she was featured on a regional-Emmy-winning episode of Oregon Field Guide, and is currently writing a book on Abandoned Oregon. When she isn't out and about exploring for derelict places to photograph, you may find her hanging around in Eugene Oregon with Tyler Willford and his two awesome kiddos.

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