Archived moments: Museum creates online collection with 8,000 photos; thousands more yet to be processed
In the 1930s, when Dickinson’s college was literally out of town — separated from the city by open spaces and a now long-gone golf course — amateur and professional photographers were taking pictures of those and other sights.
Now, those thousands of images, some 19th century, but mostly 20th-century — everything from landscapes to Dickinson businesses, to wedding pictures, team photos and ranchers at work — have landed on one spot on the Internet.
Dickinson Museum Center’s new online photo archives, after two years of work, has progressed far enough that the museum has announced its new archives is ready for public use.
Museum staff and volunteers have been able to process, scan and put online 8,000 photos — and another 1,000 photos are being processed, said Dan Ingram, coordinator of the the Dickinson Museum Center.
And they’ve barely started.
‘Everything goes online’
Ingram said there are literally “tens of thousands of images” and that the project will take many more years to complete. Their goal is to put absolutely everything online, which is unique, he said.
“I can’t think of any other place (that has put) the entire archives on,” said Ingram, former curator of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association in Johnstown, Pa. “We’re putting it all on there.”
Usually things are weeded out, only giving a sampling of various categories, he said. But not this archives — everything goes up, even an image or two that might be uncomfortable for some people.
He said there is a photo of a program put on by a private kindergarten in 1936 — back when the Dickinson’s schools didn’t offer kindergarten. The photo is described as “Mrs. Currier’s Minstrel Show,” and shows teacher Currier’s kindergartners all in black face except for one little blonde girl sitting in the center of the group.
“What do you do with this? We have it. It’s part of our history,” Ingram said, and so it’s going in.
There is one thing the project is short of: photos of American Indian life.
“I’m not sure people are aware we’re actively seeking pictures for the collection,” he said.
“A lot of people aren’t aware we’re here,” he said about the museum center, at 188 W. Museum Drive. It includes the Joachim Museum, the Prairie Outpost Park, the Pioneer Machinery Building and headquarters for the Historic Preservation Commission.
Where did the photos come from?
Ingram said thousands of prints and negatives were donated from the longest-running photography studio in Dickinson, the Osborn Studio, which Ambrose Osborn bought in the 1890s from another photographer, O.S. Goff.
The studio was run by Osborns until the mid-1970s, when a Fargo photographer Larry Brown bought it and ran it for a couple years before returning to Fargo.
The museum received about the same amount of photos from the Horstman Studio, which was operated from the 1920s to early 1980s, first under the name Prestus Studio and then Horstman.
Other photo donations have come from families, schools, businesses and other sources.
You never know what you’ll find
People should take note that the photography studios’ donations may include photo proofs not picked nor purchased by the customers, said Brian Belden, a retired history teacher who is working this summer at the museum scanning pictures.
Belden suggested that if someone has a photo of grandma from Osborn Studio and thinks that’s the only photo there is, that could be wrong. There may be other proofs grandma didn’t pick, and those proofs now may be in the museum’s collection.
Speaking of grandma, Belden related a discovery of his own, thanks to audio found in the archives.
Belden didn’t know that his grandmother, Pauline Belden, who came to Dickinson in 1907 as a teen and became entrepreneurial, had been interviewed. He said the family didn’t have any recordings of her voice, but then Ingram found her recorded interview and shared it with him. Now, Brian Belden has 11/2 hours of her voice.
“It blew my mind,” he said.
From the interview, he now has new information — such as how she met her husband and the name of her camel.
Pauline Belden at one point had a camel named Charlie as a tourist attraction at her Bahgdad dance hall, located in the Palm Beach Road area near the Heart River.
But the former circus camel had a bad end when someone left a gate open and he wandered away. Brian Belden said the camel ended up at the train tracks because that’s what he was used to — that’s how the circus had transported him.
Unfortunately, he was waiting on the tracks that day, not near the tracks, Brian Belden said.
Other audio and written transcripts of interviews from former residents are also being put into the archives.
Ingram said they could use some more volunteers for the online-archive project. They also need people to help identify people and places in the photos, and that time is of the essence.
“The number of people who remember the fifties and sixties is getting smaller,” he said.
Ingram said a major funding source for the project has been the ongoing sale of some of the more stunning shots put on canvas. The museum has some of those on display. There are also monitors showing 800 photos that haven’t yet been put into the archives, Ingram said.
In other news, the museum, which has free admission and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is also opening a new exhibit Tuesday, “Obsolete,” featuring items that were once cutting edge, but are no longer — like an original section of a 1930s Dickinson telephone switchboard.
For more information, go the Dickinson Museum Center’s website, at dickinsonmuseumcenter.com or call 456-6225.