Alla Nazimova walked the streets of Hollywood in another era.
She shared the marquee with Rudolph Valentino and owned a Bohemian hotel on Sunset Boulevard where the rich and famous came to play. She was a star when movies didn't talk, and now, a century later, she is speaking through a trove of costumes discovered in a decaying steamer trunk found in midtown Columbus.
Only serious students of silent films recognize her name today, but in the early 20th century she was the highest-salaried actress in the industry, earning $13,000 a week. Almost as fascinating as her story is how 70 years after her death, Nazimova's treasures ended up in someone's backyard.
The story began last fall when Jack Raines and Brooks Arnold were cleaning out a vacant house that their grandparents had bought. They came upon five trunks in a storage building out back. Four were empty and the fifth had gaping holes on the side.
"We thought it was empty and we almost threw it away," said Bob Raines, father of the two college students.
When they opened up the trunk, they brought to life a career that was as neglected as those old trunks.
Inside were costumes Nazimova wore in silent classics and on the Broadway stage. On sheets of stationary her partner, actress Glesca Marshall, carefully described each item.
The two women lived together for 16 years, mostly at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which Nazimova once owned. They lived in a small cottage on the grounds when the silent movie vamp died in 1945. Marshall was her sole heir, receiving a monthly $60 annuity and her theatrical memorabilia.
Marshall later entered into a relationship with Columbus native Emily Woodruff, one of the early patrons of the Springer Opera House. The couple moved to Georgia and so did the trunks. They stayed together until Glesca died in 1987 and Emily passed away in 1994.
Over the past few months after discovering the trunks, Raines contacted the Alla Nazimova Society in West Hollywood, a group founded in 2013 that hopes to resurrect her legacy. Its members catalogued and validated the costumes and clothing.
The most talked about item in the trunk was a headpiece festooned with pearl-like beads that Nazimova wore in "Salome," a film she made in 1923 that has become a cult favorite on YouTube.
Once the collection made it to the Internet, Raines was peppered with questions about what they intended to do with the items. On Tuesday, he said his family had decided to return the treasures to the Woodruffs.
"We didn't realize how close a relationship the family had with Glesca Marshall until we met with them today," Raines said. "It would not be right for us to keep what rightfully belonged to that family."
Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.