Vintage photos offer clues, mysteries

GLOVERSVILLE – Local history enthusiasts are slowly restoring about 1,200 antique glass-slide photographs that have been in storage for decades in Fulton County museums and archives. The images show a variety of local places, people and events that date from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“We have had these glass negatives in boxes forever and never really did anything with them,” said Noel Levee, Johnstown city historian and president of the Johnstown Historical Society. “A lot of these buildings and people haven’t been seen before, so it is great for these things to finally be put out for people to view.”

The process of digitizing the images is time-consuming, and almost all of the subjects in the photos are unidentified, so scanning the images raises as many questions as it answers.

During the time these antique photos were taken, photographers used glass coated with chemicals to preserve the images – the historical precursor to the film negatives that were the standard format for most of the 20th century.

The thousands of slides were found in boxes at the Fulton County Museum, the Johnstown Historical Society and in the Gloversville city archives over the summer. Ryan Lorey, an amateur photographer, has taken on the task of scanning the glass negatives to produce digital black-and-white photographs.

“I want people to be able to see what things were like back then,” Lorey said. “Also, I want them to have access to them so maybe some of the people that see them can help us identify the places or people that are in these pictures. A lot of these buildings or places are gone, so it is hard to know exactly where [the photo] was taken.”

Lorey said has already posted more than 1,000 of the restored pictures on his Facebook page, “Fulton County and Beyond.” Lorey said he decided to take on the task as a hobby because no one else was archiving the glass slides.

“It’s really exciting because you never know what you are going to come across when you do these … I can’t wait to do the next one because you just have no idea what will come next,” Lorey said.

Restoring the images can be time consuming and tedious, and the slides are fragile, he said.

“[With] some of these slides, you don’t even know what you are looking at, and when you come across these old photos, a lot of them will have cracking, be damaged or faded, so you really need to take your time when working with them,” Lorey said.

To process a slide into a viewable digital image, he puts the negative on a light box and scans it into his computer. He then uses software to correct the picture’s contrast and tones and fix any blemishes.

Some of the pictures he has come across include formal portraits, fire scenes and accidents, dead people in their coffins and sporting events. He also said some of the pictures found must have belonged to a local doctor because they feature graphic images of burned bodies in a morgue.

Mark Pollak, director of the Fulton County Museum in Gloversville, said when the museum opens again in the spring, it will display several of Lorey’s reproduced photos in a video slideshow.

“It is always good to have insight into the past,” Pollak said. “Some of these pictures for people will spark a memory or provide knowledge to what is being viewed.”

Pollak said Walmart recently gave the museum a grant to buy three flatscreen TVs along with DVD players to be used in different rooms at the museum.

Both Pollak and Levee said they have no idea how the museums acquired the antique slides.

However, Levee said, they were most likely donated by a photographer many years ago. He and credits Lorey for taking on the effort, because otherwise the public wouldn’t be able to view them.

Cynthia Morey, who has been gathering pictures of the old Gloversville for the last decade, has been working with Lorey to identify the people and places in the pictures.

“Some of these photos have been a tremendous find for the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville,” Morey said. “I will try to find what these pictures were and what period by looking to see if they had sidewalks, clothing or even types of vehicles.”

Morey said consults a friend in California who is an automobile enthusiast – he can give her the approximate date of a photo based on any cars in the image.

In 2008, Morey published her first volume of “A Pictorial History of Gloversville,” which contained 1,300 pictures. She spent almost a decade putting it together. She split the proceeds from the sale of the first album with the Fulton County Museum and the Friends of Myers Park.

Morey now is working on her second volume and expects it to be available next summer. She said hopes to include some of the new images reproduced by Lorey.

“I will be using some of his pictures of Gloversville, but I still have to identify most of the people or buildings,” she said.

She said the two-disc second volume will include pictures of the Gloversville Free Library, Nathan Littauer Hospital, the city Police and Fire Department and Catholic churches located in the city.

“It is important for the next generations to know what Gloversville was like,” Morey said. “This area has a very interesting history and was once the financial center for Fulton County. People should just know and be able to see where their roots are from.”

Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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