Persistence and old-fashioned shoe leather found subject of 20-year-old photo

  • Burt Constable

    Burt Constable

 
 
Updated 10/1/2021 6:05 PM

On Aug. 25, Daily Herald Managing Editor Jim Baumann sent Assistant Managing Editor Diane Dungey and me an email with a copy of an old newspaper featuring Daily Herald photographer Brian Hill's adorable black-and-white photo of a little Naperville girl named Abby Stevenson in a field of flags in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The idea was that I'd interview the now-22-year-old Stevenson for a column as part of our 9/11 20th anniversary coverage.

 

As has become routine, the first thing I did was search for Abby Stevenson on Google and social media. The first Abby Stevenson who shows up in a Google search is a fictional character from the once-popular book series called "The Baby-Sitters Club." Among the dozens of Abby Stevensons on Facebook are a pharmacy tech at Hy-Vee, an animal shelter volunteer and lots of high school and college students from around the globe.

Twitter gave me Abby Stevensons who are "josh's baby mama," "coffee addict," a "personal trainer" and one in Northern Ireland who tweets, "Honestly couldn't live without my electric blanket."

Dungey sent me a phone number and an address for a family named Stevenson in Naperville. No one answered the phone, but the address seemed likely to belong to her family.

So, I did what I used to do as a cop reporter in the 1980s before the internet and social media. I wrote a letter explaining why I wanted to talk with her, then drove to the house and knocked on the door. When no one answered, I rang the Ring doorbell and was greeted by her dad.

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I held the letter and photo in front of the camera, and explained that I wanted to talk with his daughter and write a new column. He said she lived out of state, but to leave the letter and he'd pass along my number and email.

After a couple of days without hearing from her, I drove to the house again. This time, her dad was sitting in a car in the driveway. We talked again, and he said he'd text her.

The next day, Abby emailed me. We exchanged a few emails before talking by phone the following day. Two days after that, she emailed me a current photo of her with a flag that ran with the new column.

The only surprising part of this story is that editors, unable to locate the original photograph, turned to the original photographer Hill. He looked through his archives and found the original, in color, no less.

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