A group of invited guests gathered at Lamson Library on Sunday, October 2 to see the digitally restored photographs from the McGoldrick Collection and hear David Switzer, professor emeritus of history, tell the story of their discovery. In fact, they were discovered twice.
The photographs were taken by Lt. C.D. Kennedy of the Revenue Marine Service (the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard) in 1886, the “official” photographer for the voyage of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, which ranged from Siberia to the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands and up the west coast of Alaska.
No one is quite sure how the photos came to be left in a box under a porch of a Thornton, N.H., house, but they were discovered by the late Professor Charles McGoldrick, who taught psychology at Plymouth State. He passed them to Switzer with the words, “The historians might be interested in these.”
During their years under the porch, the group of photographs had bent into a severe arch. Switzer tells how he used a piece of (inert) ordnance from the Spanish Civil War that he “happened to have” in his office as a weight to flatten the photographs—which he then forgot about. When he was packing to move out of his office upon retiring, he “discovered” the photos all over again.
Switzer worked with Dr. Katherine Donahue, professor of anthropology-sociology, and Dr. Mark J. Okrant, professor of geography and tourism and director of the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at PSU, to arrange the exhibition. PSU archivist Ginny Fisher helped them figure out how to frame and hang the exhibition.
But first the images had to be restored. A grant from the Gordon Foundation of New York City made possible the digital restoration and enlargement of these old and fragile photographs by Black and White Image (Portland, Maine). The digital restoration brought out new and exciting details. “We saw things we’d never seen before,” says Switzer.
For scholars, these images are a treasure trove of information about their time and place: sail and steam American whalers, scenes of former Russian settlements such as St. Michael’s on the Alaskan mainland and Unalaska in the Aleutians, a U.S. Army signal station at Point Barrow, and many native Siberians and Alaskans. Among those images are native water craft, groups of various Arctic peoples and their hunting and trading camps, as well as burial practices.
The exhibition was sponsored by PSU’s Institute for New Hampshire Studies, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. To learn more about the Institute, visit the INHS web site.—Marcia L. Santore
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