Once in a while, during visits to places around town for Urban Spelunking stories, I come across unexpected things.
Take, for example, the old wedding portrait hanging in a vacant apartment full of junk in complete disarray above a former grocery store and bakery on Burleigh Street, that is currently for sale by the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development.
Something about the soft focus pale sepia-tone image seemed wildly out of place; the glamorous woman with the hopeful smile in a room empty except for discarded junk.
I checked the back to see if there was any info – there was not – and I took a photo of the framed photograph and then a close-up of the photographer’s name on the bottom right corner.
When I got back to the office, I did a web search on the name of the photographer – B. Artin Haig – and was surprised by what I found.
Haig, it turns out, died this past March. He was 104 years old (just five months short of 105!) and if that wasn’t amazing enough, he was an orphaned survivor of the Armenian genocide, came to America in 1924 after living for a while in Marseilles and Buenos Aires – at the age of 10 – and learned photography from a cousins in New York with a photo studio.
Plus, a big baseball fan, he was old enough to have seen Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth play ... in person at Yankee Stadium.
AND, in the late 1930s, he moved to Washington D.C. to wrok as a White House photographer, during which time he shot images of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1954, after living for a time in Dallas, Haig – who was born Haig Artin Kojababian and went by the nickname Bob – came to Milwaukee and set up a portrait studio on East Wisconsin Avenue, across the street from The Pfister and it is perhaps there that the wedding photo was taken.
Haig continued to work as a photographer into his 90s and over his career he captured the faces of hundreds, if not thousands, of Milwaukeeans, including the one you see above.
If you recognize the face, please send me an email. At my request, the Department of City Development has taken the photo out of the building and it is now in an office Downtown, awaiting a potential return to the family of the woman pictured, or to Haig’s family.
Alas, the photo was found just months too late to ask Bob himself about it.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.