Malta historian Ivan Prall died in 2016 at age 94. His wife, Betty, died last year at age 95. Their two sons, Rhys and David, and their families spent months sorting through their possessions before holding an auction last Saturday.
I found it fascinating, being a collector of sorts myself, to see how much a couple can accumulate over 65 years in the same house. I knew Ivan for the 11 years since we moved back here and he was a wealth of knowledge pertaining to local area history, not only about Malta.
Auctioneer Steve Almburg began the sale by paying tribute to Ivan, a World War II veteran, and told how Ivan had helped his son with a paper he was assigned in junior high on Malta history. I can relate to that, as Ivan was always willing to provide information when I called to ask about something I was composing but unsure of the facts.
Almburg alluded to Ivan’s service in World War II and how he was part of the American forces that fought at Iwo Jima. He also mentioned that Ivan “took a bullet” in the knee in that battle, which remained there the rest of his life. Among the military artifacts being sold that day was a tattered Japanese flag that brought $300. His son Rhys filled me in on the story behind it. While battling the Japanese, many who were occupying caves, Ivan was able to retrieve a flag from one of the caves, then displayed it outside for a photo. Rhys still has that photo. But Ivan never told him how he was able to capture it.
Ivan spent the war years in the Pacific Ocean theater, much of the time providing support for the bombing runs over Japan by printing photos from the cameras mounted in the planes that recorded the extent of damage from each mission. His experience in the darkroom generated a lifelong interest in photography. Although his career at Wurlitzer and then 37 years at General Electric did not center on photography, he took many photos around the county, including freelancing for the Daily Chronicle. His two 1940s-era large format Speed Graphics are keepsakes for David and Rhys.
Wandering among the flatbed wagons that filled the front yard, plus tables full of household items inside, including a room with stacks of hundreds of magazines and books, I had trouble keeping my bidding number in my pocket. I did mange to score one modest artifact, which I plan to display at the antiques and collectibles show being held at Oak Crest later this summer. DeKalb historian Steve Bigolin bought a box of old dishes, which included a 1956 Malta centennial plate.
I left there with mixed feelings, admiring all the artifacts Ivan must have enjoyed over the years, but realizing that those left behind to sort through the mountain of materials must have been overwhelmed. It gave me pause to think what our sons will have to contend with down the road. But I still find it difficult to bypass signs to estate sales and auctions...
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at email@example.com or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be seen on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com.