Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Photographic History Lesson From My Grandfather – 70+ Years Later

Many years ago, after my mother’s father had passed away, she gave me a box of black and white photo negatives that were from snapshots taken by my grandfather over the years. With some of the negatives, he had them carefully rolled up and put back in their metal film containers; some were flat and grouped together using small slips of paper where my grandfather only wrote the year he took the pictures. At one point, I did attempt to look through some of them. Many of them were apparently photos of people that I could not recognize by looking at the negative. I tried to take a few out of the film containers and unroll them to determine the subject of the photos, but the negatives seemed brittle in some cases and I stopped so as not to ruin them. One thing was obvious: my grandfather liked to photograph people.

I tried scanning a few of the larger, flat negatives, but without having a software program at the time to help me convert the negative to a positive image, it became too time consuming to try to make anything of the pictures. So I carefully packed them back up, with the intent of going back one day when I did have better software to help me.

And then, I forgot about them.

Years later, and having some time on my hands today, I decided to bring the negatives out, scan some, and see if Photoshop would be of any help in figuring out what was on some of these pictures. I stayed away from the negatives that were rolled, as they still seemed to be too fragile to unroll. I selected a few from the larger, flat negatives that appeared to have a subject other than people in them. I was surprised to find that my grandfather appeared to have photographed a collapsed bridge sometime in 1938, so I searched the Internet to see if I could find out anything about the location of the bridge.

I appears that the pictures, dated January 29, 1938, were from the collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge (also known as the Falls View Bridge) at Niagara Falls. Ice that had blown down the river from heavy winds off Lake Erie a few days before had caused an ice jam that put too much pressure on the bridge supports, resulting in its eventual collapse.

Considering my grandparents lived in Cleveland and there wasn’t freeway access then as there is now, this was probably a big trip for them to undertake, especially in the dead of winter through the Lake Erie “snow belt.” (My guess is that they took US Route 20 most of the way.)

I thought I’d share some of the photos I was able to get from the old negatives. Granted, they are not as clear as others that can be found on the Internet, but to me they are priceless. It is as if my grandfather left me a gift of experiencing some of the history that he experienced, 70 years later.

By the way, you can find out more information about this bridge and its collapse, with some pictures, here and here.

Here are his pictures:
(the Falls)
The area where the bridge crossed over the river
The collapsed bridge in the ice filled river

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

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