She looked at the grainy image again and an indescribable feeling washed over her. The black-and-white moment that was eerily frozen in time would haunt her dreams.
While she slept, she saw it creeping down from the mountainside. Then, everything went black. She had never meant to find it. Nevertheless, it had found her.
Kati Dimoff laughed her friends’ comments off when she told them about her new hobby. She knew it was weird, but she found so much pleasure in peeking into other people’s lives.
Her favorite pastime was to trawl thrift stores for vintage cameras. But, even though she had dabbled in photography, it wasn’t the cameras she was interested in. Rather, she was interested in their contents.
Kati’s obsession began when she purchased an old camera in a thrift store and found a roll of film inside.
“The first roll of undeveloped film I ever found had a photo of the Portland International Raceway in maybe the ’70s or the ’80s,” she explained. “That inspired me to keep looking for old film in Goodwill cameras.” Kati was hooked. But she had never expected her unusual hobby to lead to this.
On one fateful day, Kati was taking a stroll through the town when she suddenly found her feet moving toward the doors of Goodwill.
She hadn’t meant to indulge her peculiar hobby today, but she couldn’t resist. She let her intuition guide her idly down the aisles until her eyes fell on exactly what she had been looking for.
Kati reached for the dusty old Argus C2 that had been sitting on the shelf of the Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon.
Turning it over in her hands, she can hardly contain her excitement when she realizes that this is just what she’s been looking for. Inside the camera was a roll of undeveloped film. But she never could have imagined what secrets it held.
Kati knew that this particular make and model of camera was from somewhere between 1938 and 1942, but that didn’t tell her how old the roll of film actually was.
She immediately took the film to her favorite photo lab, Blue Moon Camera and Machine, in hopes that they could salvage some of the images. What secrets did the old camera contain? And would she regret seeing them?
Experts at the Portland photo lab told Kati that developing the film would be almost impossible — it would take an enormous amount of care and patience, and even then they may not get to see what was on the film.
But Kati was insistent. Could the negatives possibly have survived the ravages of time? There was only one way to find out.
Although Blue Moon specialized in developing old film, they were still presented with a challenge.
The photo lab no longer had the machinery to process colors on the film from the Argus C2 — the best they could do was process the images in black and white. But when the photographs eventually began to emerge, they were astonished.
One of the pictures depicted a family — it seemed ordinary enough. A pair of new parents smiled at the camera while an older woman held their baby in her arms.
But the images at the end of the reel were not so benign. In fact, the technicians at Blue Moon were so taken aback by what they saw that they left an urgent message for Kati.
For 37 years, the film in the old Argus C3 had slipped under the radar. And now that it was exposed, Kati realized that she was looking at images that were tied to a major disaster.
Shivers crept down her spine as she studied the old photographs that were never meant to see the light of day.
On the second-last photo on the reel is a house. It seemed innocuous enough. Surrounded by an ivy-covered fence and situated beside an industrial building, it was picture-perfect.
Even though the photograph is in black-and-white, the sky is clear and bright above the house. A few clouds swirl overhead. Then, Kati flipped to the last photograph.
The last photograph is the same house — but taken a few moments later. The clouds have become an eerie white plume of smoke, ominously threatening to swallow the entire sky.
Kati shivers as she reads the note the technicians left her. What she is looking at is a disaster that had unfolded in 1980. The message reads: “Is this from Mount St. Helens eruption?”
Kati approached the Oregonian, who shared the story on the front page. Kati didn’t know if the owners would even remember the camera or the infamous scenes it contained.
She hoped and prayed that she would find them so she could reunite them with their precious memories. And, just two days later, her wish came true.
Mel Purvis happened to be scrolling through an article his buddy had sent him. But when he saw the photo, his eyes widened in disbelief. He hadn’t only recognized the family in the photo — he was one of them!
Mel got in touch with The Oregonian immediately and told them everything.
The photo was taken in 1980. In it was Mel, his wife, his grandmother, and his infant son, Tristan. They were preparing to go see a football game.
The photo was meant to capture his grandmother’s first time meeting her newborn grandson. But, unfortunately, tragedy had followed soon after.