Downtown Banning was still. Not even a stray cat was prowling. The day didn’t seem to hold any expectations.
My car nosed along the streets, gas tank veering toward empty, when I suddenly hit the brake. I'd spied a sign: Estate Sale. Oh, no. I wasn’t going in that old house. I had no business going to an estate sale, not with my empty wallet.
I parked and went in.
It was Lewis Robertson’s estate sale. He had died at age 92.
Mr. Robertson exemplified Banning's small-town good heart. He served his community on different boards and as a volunteer in many ways, over many years. In his later years he ate just about every day at until it closed, always sitting at the same table. He always had an interesting story to tell, whenever one asked. He was a guardian of many Banning memories. Now he was gone. Mr. Robertson’s wife and only son had died before him, and the relatives already had taken all they’d wanted from his house. The house, which he had built in the 1940s and called home until his death in August 2011, needed to be emptied right away, the estate sales person explained. She said that the stuff she couldn’t sell would go to the dump.
Everywhere I looked, I saw Banning’s history. While I was browsing through books, someone snagged all the school annuals. Before I even saw it, someone bought the majestic saddle belonging to Mr. Robertson’s father, a Banning pioneer, and carted it away. Mrs. Robertson’s beautiful, old piano sold at a bargain price.
Then I saw them, in the corner, stacked in massive columns from ceiling to floor: boxes and boxes of slides. And more boxes.
Who looks at slides anymore? Do kids even know what they are? Who wants to buy someone else’s family slides? Where would you put them all? The sales person told me she felt badly, that they probably would have to be dumped.
I explained that I’m a volunteer helping plan Banning’s 100th birthday in 2013. I said that because they were Mr. Robertson’s, I guessed they were valuable to Banning's history. She kindly offered to give them for saving and sharing as Banning history. But I couldn’t reach anyone. I even raced to the library, and raced back. So, I gulped, and said I would take them all. All the boxes and boxes and boxes.
A friend helped me stuff the boxes with hundreds of slides into every available space in our two vehicles. Should we leave behind the ones labeled “Montana” or “Europe”? No, some boxes seemed to have double and contradictory labels.
Window into the Past
The other day Bill Bell from Banning Library District and I began looking at the Robertson Collection. We used Mr. Robertson’s old slide projector, which I’d bought at the estate sale, but the machine was too tired to move to the next slide without getting stuck. We persevered ...
And, here was the 1966 Banning Pioneer Days Parade, marching along Ramsey. Here was Banning Water Canyon after a 1960s snowstorm. Here were cowboys riding hilly trails and rounding up cattle in the Morongo Roundup, 1956.
Mr. Robertson chronicled his world. Thank you, Mr. Robertson. You’re our hero. We found other treasures at the Robertson’s estate sale, and I’ll be writing about them later.
We hope eventually to present a slide show of Mr. Robertson's gems — maybe during Banning's yearlong centennial celebration. Yes, meanwhile, we need to scan them. And yes, we need a slide projector, so we can look at, sort, and document these. (Got a working projector you’re willing to donate to the library?)
In This Blog
You’re all invited to help discover the Pass Past. You're invited to help investigate some of history’s mysteries, and look for stories that are still untold. Most of the region’s history is not written down in books. It’s in family memories and photo albums. It’s in your garage. Sometimes it’s even in dumpsters.
What's more, Beaumont is celebrating the city's 100th birthday this year and Banning will celebrate its 100th in 2013. I'm a volunteer leading a quest for 100 Things for Banning's centennial celebration, and here, we'll also hunt for some of those 100 Things important to Banning history. Have you looked in your closet today?