The mystery of Truckee’s original town portrait
The old Truckee town portrait, taken between 85 and 100 years ago, presents more of a clue to a larger mystery rather than a window into town history. So far, no one has been able to identify specific information about where the photo was taken, who was included – or if most of the people in the picture were even Truckee residents at all.
Louisa Skellenger, 66, a descendent of the Von Fluee family, drove up from San Francisco last Sunday, Sept. 10 with her mother, Isabella Von Fluee, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, to pick out relatives and friends in the portrait by comparing old photographs.
After scanning the photo for several minutes, Skellenger believes an individual in the center of the photo holding skis may be her grandfather, Joseph Frederick “Fred” Von Fluee.
“It’s hard to tell without a beard, but that looks like him. There is another photo of him and his dog hanging in a bar around here. He had a big white beard,” she said.
The Von Fluee family arrived in Truckee in the late 1800s by covered wagon from Ohio. They owned a dairy, which was located in downtown Truckee until the mid 1900s. The property was sold last year, after being in the family for more than 100 years.
Sharon Arnold, Vice President of the Truckee Historical Society, believes that many of the individuals included in the old photo are migrant workers. Neither Arnold nor Truckee historian Guy Coates were able to identify notable town residents.
“There was a lot of tourists in Truckee in winter because of the big winter carnival,” Coates said. “It took place every year. There was a large indoor ice skating rink next to the river below Hilltop. This was in the early 1900s. There was a ski jump on the hill, and people would come up on the trains and go tobogganing or sledding. Because the train came right into town it was convenient for people to stop,” he said.
Nick Sassarini has been a Truckee resident since 1925. He said his grandfather arrived in Truckee in 1782 after spending six months traveling west from New York.
“That photo was taken on West River Street. You can see the ski slope in the background. That’s where they used to have one of the old ski jumps,” Sassarini said.
Sassarini noted that many of the Italian workers who lived in Truckee wore mustaches, and that several of the figures in the picture looked like Italian workers.
“We worked for the railroad, building tunnels and at the roundhouse,” he said.
Sassarini also picked out several tourists in the picture. He noted that most of the industry in town revolved around masonry, lumber or ice harvesting. Many of the figures in the picture are wearing suits or dresses, which was uncommon for the average resident of the time.
The only two known copies of the old town portrait hang in OB’s Pub and Restaurant on Commercial Row and in the Old Jail Museum on Jibboom Street in care of the historical society.
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The past few weeks have felt choking. Every time I step outside, I feel like I can’t breathe. The walls that keep the smoke out seem to get smaller and smaller as summer crawls on.