Reapers’ Portraits: May 1896


I made it a habit of checking in on Meredith Aldrich, the only one of Thomas’ children who wanted to continue the family’s photography. On occasion, I saw new portraits among the wall of reapers. Since Meredith didn’t bring the subject up, neither did I. I would wait for her to speak about it.

Early in May of 1896, when I was walking home from the Historical Society, Meredith stopped me on the street and asked if I would return to the studio with her. Her face was pale and drawn, her mouth set in a firm line.

I did not need to ask why my company was desired.

When we entered the studio, I found a young woman present. She, like so many other reapers, greeted me by name and stated she was pleased that Meredith had found me. I politely inquired why my presence was requested, and the reaper smiled gently at Meredith.

“She has not had to record a momentous event, and I wanted a friendly face here with her,” the reaper replied.

I saw Meredith’s eyes widen, but to her credit, she didn’t say a word. I could only imagine what events she had jotted down in her family’s ledger.

As we waited for Meredith to prepare the studio, the reaper and I chatted. She was a vivacious young woman, one with a flair for the dramatic. When it was time for her portrait, she posed herself. When everything was finished, she requested Meredith to take out the ledger and to write down the date and the city of St. Louis, which Meredith did.

“The twenty-seventh of May is a day to remember,” the reaper told us, smiling. “Mark it well, and stay indoors as much as you can.”

We agreed we would and bade her farewell.

The end of May saw tornados in East St. Louis, St. Louis, and along the east coast. I am certain, as the winds howled far above, that I could hear the reaper laughing.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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