As long as Barbara Helwig can remember, a large steamer trunk has been a fixture in her family’s homes.
Barbara lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and has only just realized that what seemed like a family heirloom actually bears the name and address of a woman from Rome. And now she’s on a mission to see that it comes back to where it belongs.
“I don’t know any of its background,” Helwig said of the large steamer trunk. “I don’t know how it came into my family’s possession or where they got it. I’m 72 and I know we’ve had this trunk for at least 50 years. It’s always been in the basement of my family’s home in Pennsylvania.”
The trunk belonged to Helwig’s parents who kept it in their basement, her mother using it to store extra blankets and pillows. It then passed to Helwig herself who kept it in her own basement to store Christmas decorations.
Recently Helwig sold her house and while moving her belongings she happened to scrutinize the trunk in a way she had never done before. It revealed it a label she had never even seen in all the years she’s owned it.
“I was cleaning out the basement,” she said. “I have never noticed this label in the trunk. Never took the time, I suppose.”
And there, in large clear print was a label that read:
The permanent address of the owner of this property is Mrs. C.W. Bailey, 407 First Avenue, Rome, Georgia.
The name and address intrigued Helwig. She googled the information and came across a story in the Rome News-Tribune which mentioned C.W. Bailey, a local commissioner in the 1920s.
In the RN-T story about the small park at the base of the Clocktower, it was revealed that the park is named Bailey Park. City officials believe it was named to honor Commissioner C.W. Bailey who served from 1925 through 1928. In May of 1927, Bailey suggested that property was needed and available for the expansion of playground activities for the students at the old Neeley School, which was located on the opposite side of the tower at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Second Street. The park was named Bailey Park and dedicated in 1928.
Helwig believes her trunk belonged to the wife of the former commissioner and would like her family to have it. She wants to see it back in Rome.
The finding of the label has sparked an interest in Helwig, to find Bailey’s family and perhaps return the trunk to them.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “Being retired I have time to do that. Now it’s intriguing to me. I watch the television show ‘American Pickers’ and I love it when people find these valuable items and don’t want money for it. They just want it back where it belongs. I would love to know how it moved from the South to the North.”
For now the large trunk, with brass studs across its surface, and brass fixtures and perhaps a few stories to tell, will await a descendant of Mrs. C.W. Bailey to claim it.
Rome native David Mitchell is operations director of the Atlanta Preservation Center. His father, Buddy, was a city commissioner some 30 years ago. David said he is professionally and personally interested in this story and has offered to care for the trunk until family comes forward to claim it.
“This is from around the late 20s or 30s,” Mitchell said.
So often our local history is told from a standpoint of the Civil War or the Cherokee Indians or WWII or a more modern construct. This is an heirloom from a different period. It shows a certain level that’s personal. That’s more interesting to me. The fact of the matter is, as technology encroaches on our life, it’s refreshing to see something that has some function and use, return to us.”
Mitchell said the trunk has intrinsic value to our region. As Director of Operations at the Atlanta Preservation Center, he’s exposed to a variety of items and objects. But as a native Roman whose father was a commissioner, this particular piece is reflective of the time frame his grandparents lived and it stirs some personal emotions in him as well.
Mitchell has arranged for trunk to be shipped to him and he will care for it until family comes forward to claim it. If no one does, the trunk will be used for educational purposes.
“I don’t know where the family is,” Mitchell said. “But by weird defacto, I’m going to steward something that reflects the community I came from. One of the things I do is work with schools in the STEAM program. If family comes forward to claim it, I’ll gladly give it to them. But barring that, the trunk will be used as an educational tool. One way or the other, it’s back in the game.”
So a relic of a bygone time will find use again — either as a treasured family heirloom or as a way to bring history to life for students. Though it’s been sitting in a basement in Pennsylvania, the trunk will make its way back to Georgia where Helwig believes it belongs.
“I don’t have any use for the trunk anymore,” Helwig said. “And I think something like this has some history to it. I would hope that someone today would like to have a piece of their family’s past. I would like it to go back where it belongs.”