Just days before my book deadline in early December 2009, I learned of Rich Brookes and a set of postcard proofs he had in his possession which showed the very early days of Rock Springs Park. I called ahead and stopped by his workplace, Pottery City Antiques in East Liverpool. The proofs were black and white photographs of images I recognized from antique postcards of the park. It was interesting to see the original images which through various artisits techniques became some of the same postcard images I was planning to use in the book, but I was really looking for more pictures of Rock Springs Park's later years.
Rich did not disappoint. He said he also had a book of photo negatives at home that was given to him by Ira Sayre. Ira, as I explain in the book, had a large collection of photographs and postcards of the park. He took many pictures of the park himself but also collected works from some of the older photographers in the area, including Clarence Durbin. Ira used to give slide show talks, and although I never saw one in person, I did see a video of one he gave outside in summer.
When I met Rich later and saw his book of negatives I was truly regretting that I could not use any of them as my deadline was just days away. I drove back to Greensburg and thought about them all the way home. I decided to call my editor to see if I could get an extension. Clarence's photographs, especially the ones of the Cyclone taken a year after the park closed, needed to be shared in the book. Fortunately, I was given ten days and returned to Chester the following week.
Rich was gracious enough to let me take the book back home and gave me as much time as I needed to have the proofs developed. The book was like a family Bible that had been passed down from the original owner to several others before Ira gave it to Rich. I felt privileged to have it, even if it was just for a short time. Each owner's name was written on the inside cover. The original owner and photographer was Clarence Durbin of Chester. He had taken the photographs over the course of seven years (1968 – 1974).
The book was organized in such a way that he could show potential customers the tiny proofs and they could choose from the numbered collection and place an order. Behind each proof was a small hand-folded envelope containing the negative. Most were labeled with the subjects name and the year, which made my job a lot easier.
I gave all of the negatives to a local photographer and she was able to develop about two-thirds of them. They were, after all, 40 years old. While some came out with tiny scratches that look like hair or fibers, most were as clear as if they were taken yesterday.
I scanned the ones I wanted for the book and made two sets of CDs of the rest: one for my family and one for Rich. It took a couple months before I was able to get the collection back to East Liverpool. (Those in the area will remeber 2010 was the worst winter we’ve had since 1978, as far as snow accumulation is concerned.) Eventually, I made it back and Rich and I sat in the backroom of the antique mall and reviewed all of the CD images on my laptop. He was impressed with their quality and grateful to see them finally enlarged.
Rich recognized a lot of the faces in the park and I noticed he took extra time examining many of the scenes along Carolina Avenue taken from the park. When he saw the image above of the Jennings Randolph Bridge under construction, he laughed in surprise and said, “Hey, that’s my car! That’s my Volkswagen” He didn't mean it was a VW Bug like his. He meant the car in the photo was his! Weird, huh?
I had been researching the park and collecting digital images for five years prior to the book's publication. Writing a picture history was not on my radar until Kassy Hand, granddaughter of Bob and Virginia Hand, suggested it on this blog several years ago. The coincidence with Rich seeing his car under the bridge was one of dozens of unusual coincidences which have led me to think that the timing of the book and the events leading up to it were somehow in bigger hands than my own.
I heard about Rich and his collection because Bill Gray of ELO saw an article about my visit with Dick Bowker to the Lou Hotz Museum in the fall of 2009. Bill is an author and collector himself and appears in the final chapter of my book. He came to a book talk I gave at Fox’s Nursing home and invited me to see his collection. Afterwards, he set up the meeting with Rich.
I am now learning that some of the people who shared their stories and collections with me are at this time too ill to have helped me had a waited a year or two to write the book and still others have since passed. Everything seems to have fallen into place just so. Had I waited even a few months I may not have been able to do the book at all.
My editor kidded me about the length of my acknowledgements. She said normally an author will thank one or two people. I chose to thank everyone who gave me even the slightest bit of help along the way as well as those whose work on the park’s history preceded mine. I would like to end today's blog post by thanking all those people again. It has been a wonderful ride! "Punch Buggy!"
Read the "Punch Buggy" rules here.