Of all the items within the Special Collections unit of the Harvey A. Andruss Library, one collection has undoubtedly the strongest personal connection to Bloomsburg and Columbia County — the images taken by photographers from The Morning Press.
First published on March 1, 1902, The Morning Press mainly featured photographs of national news events during its first three decades. These wire service photos were joined by local images in 1936, when the newspaper began to employ photographers who used cameras that produced large black-and-white negatives, either 4-by-5 inches or 3-by-4 inches.
Although reused occasionally, most of the images were seen just once and some negatives were never printed or published. Even so, all were saved, placed in envelopes and stored away. The first set of negatives, approximately 20,000 taken between January 1936 and January 1958, eventually made their way to the helicopter hangar of Press Enterprise owner Paul Eyerly III, where they were stored in two filing cabinets and sometimes pulled for use in special publications. Press Enterprise is the successor of The Morning Press and the Berwick Enterprise.
At the same time, as Bloomsburg University’s archivist, I noticed unique images in scrapbooks of articles from t
he newspaper and wondered if the original negatives still existed. In summer 2005, I met Press Enterprise chief photographer Bill Hughes at the hangar to examine the contents of the cabinets. An agreement was worked out whereby the Press Enterprise would maintain its copyright to the content of the images but, otherwise, they were the property of the Andruss Library Special Collections.
Three condition issues quickly became apparent: some envelopes had sustained water damage, some negatives were bonded to envelopes and to each other, and other envelopes contained newspaper clippings that had become attached to negatives.
In addition to this preservation nightmare, many of the envelopes, especially those containing pre-1946 negatives, were not identified and, although each envelope was given a unique number, they were not organized by date of publication. After 1946, the newspaper staff attempted to identify the images more systematically and better organize them, but it became clear that many were missing, sometimes with gaps of several months. What was most apparent was that these negatives had to be preserved as a visual record of the area from the 1930s to 1950s.
Preservation work rescued a number of the negatives damaged by water. Those stuck together were placed in a humidity chamber, allowing water molecules to come between them until the negatives could be peeled apart. Most were left undamaged and the images could be used. Paper attached to a negative from the envelope or newspaper clipping presented a greater challenge. If stuck to the non-image side, humidity moistened the paper to the extent it could be gently wiped off after several weeks, uncovering the image beneath. Hundreds of previously unknown images were identified through scrapbooks and the newspaper’s microfilm.
As restoration work continues, Press Enterprise has occasionally reprinted a selection of images with their original captions. Readers have again seen celebrations of past Halloweens, Christmases and Easters and revisited scenes from the Bloomsburg Airport and the Bloomsburg Fair. A total of 300 images documenting the Bloomsburg State Teachers College from the 1940s and 1950s are online in an Andruss Library digital collection.
Individuals have a personal connection to the history, as well. A member of the Whitmoyer family, who lost their Millville-area home to a 1951 fire, requested a photograph to give to relatives as gifts. Researchers used the collection to help illustrate the history of Jonestown, the Bloomsburg Moose Lodge and the Town Athletic Park and the winners of the Berwick Thanksgiving Day Run for the Diamonds. The most recent and largest use of the negatives was in a book covering the last 100 years in Columbia County, published in March as part of the county’s bicentennial celebration.
The Morning Press images, like those of any daily newspaper, originally were created to do nothing more than illustrate current events. Most likely early photographers did not foresee the valuable historic record they were producing for the Bloomsburg University community and area residents. •
Robert Dunkelberger, University Archivist
(Editor’s note: Images showing Bloomsburg State Teachers College in the 1940s and 1950s may be found at http://library.bloomu.edu/digitization.project.)