Hidden Gems | Vintage

Thrift Store Camera Turns Up Old Photos of Mt. St. Helens Erupting

Those who love to go shopping at Thrift Stores know that you can turn up some amazing finds, if you look hard enough.

For one Oregon photographer, she stumbled along something extraordinary when she picked up a roll of film from Blue Moon Camera and Machine in Portland.

When she got the prints back, she was astounded about the history event she witnessed from the film.

Kati Dimoff has been hunting down and developing old film in Goodwill camera for years.

"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 said.

Last month, the 38 year-old photographer spent $20 on an old Argus C2, a popular camera from the 1930s and 1940s with a roll of damaged film still in it.

In March 1980, earthquakes and small eruptions began at Mount. St. Helens in Washington state. This created a debris avalanche that spread out 3.3 billion cubic yards, sweeping 14 miles down the North Fork Toutle River valley. The blast knocked down trees as far as 19 miles from the moutain and the ash cloud stretched 15 miles tall into the sky overhead.

57 people lost their lives in the explosion.

After a little investigation Dimoff was able to confirm that the images on the roll of film were shots of the eruption.

Continue to the next page to see the images and find out about the camera's owner.

It was not clear if the photos were taken on May 18, 1980, the day of the eruption or after the main explosions had subsided.

“It looks like whoever took them shot a few from Highway 30 near the Longview Bridge,” Dimoff said. “Then they must have moved over to a neighborhood view when the ash cloud was really large.”

So who's camera was it? The clue lay in the rest of the photographs on the camera. Also on the roll of film was an image of a family with a baby standing in a backyard.

The image was published in Oregon Live along with the original story and that's when Mel Purvis stepped forward.

He was shocked to recognize himself in the photograph and believed that the camera once belonged to his grandmother Faye Gardner

“My grandmother had come to Eugene to visit her great-grandson,” he recalls. “It was in 1980 because my son was born in 1979. He would have been a little over a year old.”

Gardner owned a clothing store in St. Helens and passed away in 1981.

"She was a very independent woman," he said, identifying that it was a time when it was rare for a woman to own a business.

Purvis has no idea how the camera ended up in a Goodwill in Portland 37 years later.