Sarah Jane Murray was a local mother and Sarah Louise Murray was her real mother. I discovered their stories by way of a dumpster. Sarah and Sarah passed away a few years back, and it was the younger of the two that left her legacy to her son. Sarah’s only child was responsible for the Death Purge. He left the remnant memorabilia of the material side of his family, in a dumpster for reasons that are unknown. Based on the paperwork, handwritten notes, family history, and photographs, Dumpster Archeology was able to recreate a narrative of the lives of these two women. This is the beautiful beating heart of Archeology itself, where the Art is in the telling of these remarkable stories with a dramatic flair of historical awareness.
The year was 1967 and Sarah Louise is teaching 1st grade. She was a strict but devoted woman who dressed like a classic sitcom Mother. Dark hair and a thin frame, she had a life that was sold to girls at the time as idealistic and important. The beautiful house in the small town with one boy and one girl, each named after a parent. Junior was older and was bred to be a car salesman like his Dad, and baby Sarah was destined to be a housewife.
On the first day of school, Sarah Louise handed out a poem she wrote to the parents of her new kids. The poem contained a theme about the importance of finding the time to play with your son before they grow up. Sarah Jane was not included in the poem, nevertheless she kept the memento in a folder along with other paperwork left by her mother.
Sarah Louise liked to clip inspirational quips from the newspaper. She loved positivity and emphasis on a traditional family. Besides the photographs, we know very little about the teacher other than the traits we see in Sarah Jane.
Sarah, the daughter came of age in the early 1970s and learned to be fiercely independent. She grew up in Union Missouri, a reasonable sized town and pure Americana through and through. Sarah Jane was pretty, smart and proper but dreamed of Paris. Driving into the city of St Louis over an hour regularly, Sarah went to see the famous department store Stix, Baer and Fuller and discover the latest fashion, cross engineered from France and locally made.
St Louis at one time, had an edge in the garment and fashion industry of a growing America. From the beaver skin hats, shoes and many fur made items. The Department store was a promise to young Sarah that a more refined way of living was possible. The newly graduated student on a scholarship from that same department store, ended up at the University of Missouri working on a degree in Home Economics with several side studies into textiles, fashion and design.
How do I know any of this?
Sarah kept everything. From her grades, letters of recommendation, school card and photos of the pretty small town girl making her way towards her dreams.
Somewhere in-between years of school, St Louis apprenticeships, and time living in the big city, she met her love. He was a tall dark, handsome Italian man from Connecticut and tried to be a doctor while at Yale, but it didn’t work out. Robert lived the lifestyle of of leisure and refinement, and at some point he switched careers to that of a lawyer in St Louis. I don’t know much about him other than he once raced fast cars, he enjoyed luxury and he bought a better future for his family with hard work .
They were married with a 1980s lifestyle. It was their era and they living in the heart of the wealthy St Louis “County” social scenes. Sarah Jane worked hard too, leaving gracefully (I have her resignation letters) Stix Baer and Fuller, to work for more modern importing, textile and fashionable worlds. She was also organized to the point of obsession. Sarah kept every scrap of history, every note and every list. She built a career.
A letter was discovered to her design team from Disney. It was the year after the Minnie Mouse shoes took off in popularity. The company wanted to re-brand Minnie as modern woman. They needed her hip, sophisticated and ready for mass consumption. I have the letter. It is a rare look into the mindset of a company on the edge of massive economic shifts.
By the late 1990s, Sarah and Robert had it all. A big house, important friends and success but they didn’t have a child. Sarah was pushing her late 30s and all the successful couple wanted, was someone to leave it too. Her mother was living in Dogtown in a small nice house bought by her lawyer and son in law after the death of her husband.
In 1991, the miracle occurred, Sarah was pregnant. Letters from Connecticut, from sorority sisters and the whole town of Washington all excited to see the new life. She was popular on levels that is touching. Everyone knew she was going to be the best mom, she had been bred to be so since childhood.
Then she had a miscarriage.
There is a strange darkness that permeates the Sarah Murray papers. A collection of death “cards” of the Catholic variety that go back to the time of her father’s death. Every significant soul she knew from her small town who passed on, is memorialized to the family of her husband in funeral bills. One beloved coach that was murdered, is represented with every scrap of press on the subject. Sarah’s obsessive collecting contains a lot of death, and one birth certificate from 1993.
Indeed, Sarah did have her miracle baby two years later and they named him John Augustus, though he was called Gus for short. He had a wonderful childhood, filled with Game-boys, soccer, little league and I know every gift he got during those years, as she kept careful records.
Baseball would be a theme, as she loved the game and did long road trips with the family to see spring training. A collection of baseball, football and hockey cards were also found. It seems almost as if the collection was curated by an obsessive neat freak, perhaps the cards were a joint effort of passion.
Sarah spent so much time being the mother, that at some point, she was asked what it was she wanted and the answer was fairly easy for this Midwest mother. She wanted to go to Paris. That little girl who watched Audrey Hepburn dance across the city, studied the fashion from it’s culture and cooked high class meals from gourmet cookbooks (I got some of those too), Sarah wanted to fulfill a very old dream.
They flew out of St Louis Lambert in November of 1999, Robert and Sarah traveled first class on the trip of a lifetime. In her usual manner, she planned the whole thing, took french language classes, built up a collection of French books and mapped out every gourmet shop in Paris with a side trip to see Monet’s garden.
Four postcards from the trip, paint the picture of their good time. Gus stayed with Sarah, his grandmother, and played too much Game-boy. They saw Eiffel tower, the Louvre, and ate the most delicious food on the planet. She also kept the receipts. I saw that at least two dinners were over 2000 francs. A bottle of wine cost them 300 but this was pre 9/11 France and it doesn’t matter the cost, this was a vacation.
In the “french collection” are many maps, business cards, matchbooks, sugar cubes, mementos, tourist receipts, shopping bags, and a set of notes on how to properly pack a bag. Sarah spent every moment of the Paris trip reveling in the glory of it all.
She went back in 2005 with Gus. For a woman who spent her life caring for others, it is wonderful to see her so happy. Sarah truly found her spirit.
Sarah volunteered down the road at a consignment shop started by her Sorority. A little known fact, is the sororities around St Louis are some of the first in the country. Many non profit socially responsible programs come out of the educated women of our local colleges and Sarah was involved. A photo from that era shows a refined well dressed woman, with a err of sadness on her face. Paris wasn’t just a trip, it was a refinement towards who she wanted to be.
One could get initiated with all the raw data that was in this collection but we must end and sadly death is always the end. Sarah Louise Murray, mother passed away, her Will and Testament signed by Robert (I have that too).
Sarah Jane Murray Cappiello passed away on December 22, 2013.
Of course all of this is conjecture. I have never spoken to anyone from the family. This story is abstact and based on the details that are there in the collection. What happens next is equally sad. Gus, would move into his grandmothers house in Dogtown as his father sold the big house in Ladue. Sarah’s things would end up in his basement and at some point water started to seep in.
Gus was young and the day I found the Collection, I saw him standing by his car crying with a younger woman. He was moving away, perhaps to college somewhere, maybe even his mother’s old college. The dumpster was filled with his childhood artwork, trophies and old junk. It confused me at first as I shifted through the boxes looking for the story. Here was a teenager’s things mixed with crafting material, cookbooks and a definite feel of an older woman who had the tastes of a 90s Mom. Gus purged his mother because it was time to move on, grow up and see the world much like his mother did 40 years before.
Unfortunately …..he left his birth certificate, social security information and the monetary records of his family as well. Of course I didn’t grab everything, just the 4 boxes that called to me. The cookbooks, the French stuff, the death box and that file folder containing the rich history of the family.
Sarah was just a small town girl who got her big house, her devoted husband, her own boy to raise, and several amazing trips to Paris. Why did her own son purge the past? None of the items in the collection is worth any money and she’s not famous in any way. Sarah Jane was just a suburban housewife, and a refined woman of the world. She left us Paris, and a nice collection of baseball ball cards.
I believe that within the story of Sarah Jane is a sort of feeling, when one attempts to capture one moment in time, and share it with the world. It’s why we photograph vacations and then share it collectively with your friends. All of us have our “Own Paris”, that one thing we wanted to do before we die and that place we must see.
I look at Sarah’s life not with sadness but with inspiration. She fought the odds, did the work and became the person she knew she could be and that is a worthy tale.
The dream of one Sarah, bleeding into the dream of another Sarah and with both we begin to see that the human condition is diverse and filled with all the range of emotions/experiences that come with living.
So I ask, is it any different for any of us? After all, we all have a version of our …..