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Time: Not on Their Side

This old photograph from the 1930s is of Emil Shiel and Helen St. John. It was taken at the Conklingville Dam, Hadley, New York on the Hudson River.[1]

Emil was born 1912 in Booth, Scott County, Arkansas. His parents, Rudolf and Rebecca (Starr) Shiel sold the family saw mill business, packed the car with all their belongings and four kids and drove north in the midst of the Great Depression. After a brief stay in Binghamton, New York the family continued north until finally settling in small rural town of Lake Luzerne. It would not take Emil very long to discover a pretty teenager who lived just down the road named Helen Josephine St. John. They married on 12 November 1934, just across Lake Champlain in Rutland, Vermont. She was only 18 years old and Emil, four years her senior at 22. According to their marriage record, Helen’s parents were Levi St. John and Mary Daniel.[2]

Little did Helen and Emil know then, that they would share but just a brief moment in time together, a mere five years. However, in that precious time, Emil and Helen would have two boys, Joe and Bob, before Emil would be involved in a deadly motorcycle accident that would end his life. On that fateful night of June 29, 1940, Emil was driving near Lake George. He tried to take a sharp turn, lost control of his bike and hit a telephone pole instead.[3] Upon impact, Emil was killed instantly with a fractured skull. He was just 27 years old. After an autopsy, the coroner ruled the event as an accidental death.

For a young woman, now a widow at age 24 and two little boys to take care of, Helen surely felt those long, dark days of loss. She was fortunate to have a large, supportive family surrounding her to help. Helen would eventually move on and remarry, having another son and three more daughters.

While Emil and Helen’s time together was all too short, their story is told through many photographs like the one above, and this one of Emil hanging out with his two little guys. You know it was a chilly day as both boys were bundled in hats, gloves and wool jackets. With a smirky but subtle grin on his face, and with an adorable little Joe smiling at his dad, you just know that Emil was one happy man. Just a moment in time captured on just an ordinary day. Just a man pictured with his sons…but time, not on his side.



[1] Research of photograph location by grandson, Daniel Shiel. More information at: Conklingville Dam.

[2] "Vermont Vital Records, 1760-1954," Marriage, 1934, Emil Shiel and Helen St. John, digital images, FamilySearch ( : 6 December 2014), Montpelier; citing FHL #2051424.

[3] Hadley-Luzerne newspaper, “Motorcycle Crash Fatal to Emil Shiel, Luzerne” 1 July 1940, page unknown, in possession of author.

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