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Archive for Sunday, March 6, 2011

Behind the Lens: A staggering find

In this photograph from March 21, 1958, from left comedian Jack Benny, former President Harry S. Truman and Hans Schweiger, director of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra visit after Benny's arrival in Kansas City to perform in a fundraiser for the orchestra. This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence by an unknown photographer.

In this photograph from March 21, 1958, from left comedian Jack Benny, former President Harry S. Truman and Hans Schweiger, director of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra visit after Benny's arrival in Kansas City to perform in a fundraiser for the orchestra. This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence by an unknown photographer.

March 6, 2011

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Among the thrift store shelves at the Social Service League, 904 R.I., Jim Russo recently spotted several former presidents of the United States. They were in a collection of 50-year-old color transparency slides.

“They were all in boxes, some with labels, and one said U.S. Presidents,” said Russo, of Lawrence.

What he thought would be commercial reproductions turned out to be originals.

“Low and behold, the photos of presidents someone took up close, maybe a newsman,” Russo said. “We have (Dwight D.) Eisenhower’s library dedication with Ike and Mamie. We have several of (Harry S.) Truman, one of the best is of him and Jack Benny.”

Seated from left, Sen. Stuart Symington, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy, former President Harry S. Truman and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, then Democratic National Committee Chair, speak at a press conference on August , 20, 1960, after Kennedy had won the nomination for At an August 20, 1960, press conference at the Truman Library in Independence, MO., This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence, Kan. by an unknown photographer.

Seated from left, Sen. Stuart Symington, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy, former President Harry S. Truman and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, then Democratic National Committee Chair, speak at a press conference on August , 20, 1960, after Kennedy had won the nomination for At an August 20, 1960, press conference at the Truman Library in Independence, MO., This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence, Kan. by an unknown photographer.

Also in the collection is one of Sen. John F. Kennedy at a 1961 press conference in Independence, Mo., soon after being nominated Democratic candidate for president.

They are wonderful historic photos considering the subject matter and the proximity of the photographer to the subjects. Although they were mixed in with family vacation shots, Russo figured it to be the work of a professional photographer and contacted me to see if I could help identify him. After looking at the collection I have a couple possible scenarios.

In this photograph from March 21, 1958, from left comedian Jack Benny, former President Harry S. Truman and Hans Schweiger, director of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra visit after Benny's arrival in Kansas City to perform in a fundraiser for the orchestra. This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence by an unknown photographer.

In this photograph from March 21, 1958, from left comedian Jack Benny, former President Harry S. Truman and Hans Schweiger, director of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra visit after Benny's arrival in Kansas City to perform in a fundraiser for the orchestra. This image is from a collection of photographs found in a thrift store in Lawrence by an unknown photographer.

First, the photographer was an acquaintance of Truman or Eisenhower or was a prominent citizen in the Kansas City area, invited to participate in these regional events that occurred between 1958 and 1962. One reason for thinking this is that the photographer used Kodachrome film, which required a week or more for processing and wouldn’t be used by a news photographer on deadline. He could have been a magazine photographer assigned to shoot color, but it’s interesting to note that even the Truman Library’s online site contains only black-and-white images, several from the same event and almost the same moments.

The second possibility is that the photographer was a indeed a journalist but used two cameras — one for his black-and-white daily news coverage and another camera with color film for his own personal documentation of the event.

Regardless of the scenario, there is no indication in the slides of the identity of the photographer. The lack of documentation is unfortunate, but the fact that these valuable images could have been lost is worse. If you have a collection of photographs and don’t know what to do with them, my next column will offer some options. Meanwhile, don’t throw anything away.

For another story on hidden treasurers, check out the story of Chicago nanny Vivian Maier, whose 100,000-plus negatives photographed between 1950 and 1990 were discovered at an auction. The images are getting a lot of attention in the museum and photography community. Visit www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com.

— Chief Photographer Mike Yoder can be reached at 832-7141.

Comments

jackpot 3 years, 9 months ago

"Also in the collection is one of Sen. John F. Kennedy at a 1961 press conference in Independence, Mo., soon after being nominated Democratic candidate for president." Was this in 1960 as photo on left states or 1961 as the body of the story states?

riverdrifter 3 years, 9 months ago

Oops, posted in the wrong place. Anyway:

OK, I'll throw out a shot at the identity of the photographer: Robert Ellsworth.

http://www.nndb.com/people/219/000059...

Just a guess.

BigPrune 3 years, 9 months ago

I posted in the wrong place as well........ There was an old guy who lived in the now former rest home on 31st Street (on the curve) - now DCCCA that I met 25 years ago that told me all about his exploits of taking photographs of famous presidents - I specifically remember him mentioning Eisenhower. If my faded memory serves me right, he was a photographer in the service during WWII and started with Ike when he was Allied Commander. Wish I remembered his name, because I bet money it was the same guy. He also had photos published in Life Magazine.

I wonder if the JW ever did a feature story about him? The guy would be over 100 years old now, so I doubt it is Robert Ellsworth.

Actually it was in 1985 when I met the guy.

BigPrune 3 years, 9 months ago

Chicago also came to mind from my ancient conversation, so I googled and came up with Myron Davis. my memory isn't as good as I thought, but this guy sort of fits. He was 90 when he died.

from the obituary linked below:

"Mr. Davis, who lived in Kansas and Oklahoma for part of his childhood, had an immediate connection with the Kansas-bred Eisenhower. Because the two men got along so well, Mr. Davis was chosen to travel with Eisenhower when he was president to his hometown of Abilene for a Life feature."

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-21/features/ct-met-0422-davis-obit-20100421_1_mr-davis-life-magazine-photographer-chicago-sun-times

TSCNicole 3 years, 9 months ago

Beautiful find, and more inspiration for us all to shop in thrift stores more often. Russo not only helped the community, he made an impact of historical proportions. Thrifting rocks!

m199551 3 years, 9 months ago

JFK was inaugurated in Jan 1961, so the press conference must have been in 1960.

BrentS 3 years, 9 months ago

A shot in the dark, but you might try contacting the Kansas City field office of the Secret Service. My grandfather was a Secret Service agent around this time period, and after he died the family discovered a large collection of presidential signatures and photographs that he'd stored. (None of this looks like his, though.) Depending on their assignment, an agent could have had a lot of access to presidents and candidates.

Jim Russo 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond with leads about the identity of the photographer. My best guess is that the photographer is the same balding man who appears in the family photo (see photo gallery accompanying the story); he's the one constant in the 11 slide magazines I found, and one picture of him is simply labeled "me." Some of the other slides indicate he served in the military: two slide magazines from 1957-58 document time in the Phillipines and Camp Hague, a US Marine Corps installation in Okinawa. Although he is dressed in civilian clothes in the slides, they are captioned "My mess section," "My cave building 542," etc. There are also pictures of soldiers in uniform that are captioned with their names ("J.O. Black"; "T/Sgt Martin, S/Sgt Zastrow + Smith"; "Lt. J.A. Western"; "T/Sgt. Michel"; "S/Sgt. Bradley"). These are intriguing clues, but my cursory searches have yet to yield any fruit.

The vacation photos are fun to see (probably not too many people put on suits and ties anymore to gawk at California's redwoods), but the vast majority are simply shots of landmarks and landscapes.

I am confident that sooner or later somebody will solve this mystery.

cozborn 3 years, 9 months ago

I actually have some slides that I found at a local thrift store, They include some vacation shots. I have dated most of them from the clothes and cars, but what really helped was the uso shows that this man photographed. I have a name and address, just would like to know KODACHROME? on your slides?

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