Lucas Hartwell’s unique hobby of collecting photos pays off for complete stranger
ALMA — When Joe Kastely received a call from an Alma College first-year student he had never met, he was more than a little skeptical.
The student, who identified himself as Lucas Hartwell, told Kastely he had recently come into possession of hundreds — if not thousands — of photographs that appeared to feature Kastely’s family, going back more than 100 years. Hartwell said he saw the name “Joe Kastely” printed on the back of one photo, searched the name online and found his phone number.
“People can get information from the internet in various ways that would blow you away,” said Kastely, 65, of Ann Arbor. “They can find peoples’ backgrounds, family members, like it’s nothing. So, I was curious — you don’t get this kind of spam phone call every day — and I still wasn’t truly convinced he was legit.”
Using his cell phone camera, Hartwell took a photo of one of the photos and sent it to Kastely, who confirmed Hartwell’s hunch. Within days, the two met up at a parking lot near Brighton, and the young collector handed over the bounty of records to a very grateful Kastely.
“I’ve been collecting photos for a few years now, tying into my interest in military history. I’ve donated some of the photos I’ve found to museums and people doing research into various topics. But I’ve never had a story end quite like this,” said Hartwell, a Grand Blanc native.
Hartwell explained that he recently started a Facebook account, primarily to use the Marketplace feature. A longtime volunteer with amateur archaeologists in Michigan, Hartwell says he uses Facebook Marketplace to buy photos and other historic memorabilia from people around the state.
But it’s rare to find a listing like this one, Hartwell said. For about $50, he could buy an enormous collection of what appeared to be photo albums for a family based in Michigan. The photos dated back to the late 1800s, but ran the gamut of time from World War I and World War II, all the way through to the 1990s.
From what Hartwell could gather, the seller had originally acquired them at a public auction. For the low cost, Hartwell figured it was worth the investment. But he couldn’t bear the thought of keeping them just for himself.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I had a collection like this, of my family, related to their history, I wouldn’t give it away,’” Hartwell said. “In other words, there must be someone out there who wants this. There must have been something that happened to take these photos away from their rightful owners.”
Hartwell combed through the photos, looking for identifying information. On one of the newer photos, which appeared to depict a man graduating from the University of Michigan in the 1970s, he found a name, “Joe Kastely.” Sure enough, on the social networking website LinkedIn, he found a University of Michigan graduate named Joe Kastely. Hartwell appeared to be on the right track.
On a boxing website — Kastely is the head chief of officials for amateur boxing in Michigan — Hartwell found his phone number. So, he made a phone call that had the potential for awkwardness.
“I said, ‘You don’t know me and I don’t really know you. but I have hundreds of photos of you and your family, and I would really like to give them to you, unless you want to refer me to another family member,’” Hartwell said. “He didn’t really believe me at first. But when I sent him the picture, his mood changed immediately.”
Staring back at him from his cell phone, Kastely said, were his brother, his parents, his uncle, and many people he didn’t know or couldn’t identify.
“There were some pictures I had copies of, but many of them I had never seen before. Some were very rare photos, of much-older family members who didn’t have access to cameras. It was incredible,” Kastely said.
Kastely said that the photos were once the property of his uncle, a nonagenarian from the Dearborn area who had recently downsized his living arrangements. When the uncle moved, Kastely believes, he left behind the photos, which were seized and put up for public auction.
The two arranged to meet in June of this past year. Kastely happily reimbursed Hartwell for the money he paid for the photos and added gas money. It was worth the cost many times over to be reunited with these pieces of family history, he said — and it wouldn’t have been possible without Hartwell’s caring effort.
“The photos are invaluable to me. I can’t thank him enough for the detective work,” Kastely said.
Hartwell added: “Being able to connect this person to their family photos gives me a sense of joy, because the more history and knowledge we have out there, the more people can feel connected to the past.”