There is a note of exasperation in Heidi Wineland’s voice as she describes the collections in back rooms at Kentucky Christian University’s Young Library. But it turns into tones of excitement when she talks about the discovery of hundreds of antique glass slides reflecting the history of the school, the city of Grayson and scenes from life throughout Appalachia during the early part of the past century.
“All of this was just packed to the gills with valuables and trash. There’s going to be years worth of stuff to do,” she said as she pointed out the progress made in recent months to identify and organize the collections, which have been accumulating at the library for years.
Wineland, a librarian and archivist, practically lights up as she describes the discovery of 200 glass slides in a closet during Christmas break.
“We had lots of staff around, so we were just going through them and holding them up,” she said, explaining the collection provided a series of fascinating scenes, including people and places immediately recognizable to KCU staff members such as the school’s founder on his mule-driven “Gospel Chariot” and early photos of the school’s campus. “Of the 200, half of them are KCU buildings or people, but about half of these things ... we don’t know.”
Among the images are photos of a blacksmith in Elliott County, well-attended baptisms along what may be the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers, “typical” mountain homes, a family portrait of “Devil Anse” Hatfield and his clan, flood scenes and other depictions of Appalachian life from the early 1900s into the World War II era. Wineland said her favorite from the collection is a picture of an unidentified young girl holding a rifle so long it extends beyond the frame. “A true mountain girl,” she said with a chuckle.
Wineland, her husband, John, and others divided the images into things they recognized as part of the school’s history, and labeled the unknown photos with descriptions such as “three kids on a log,” “man in a tie,” “serious man” or “elegant man.”
Based on the numbers and notes along the edges of the slides, Wineland said the collection seems to have been something used by the school’s first president while making presentations, speaking to church groups or seeking support for the school, and includes advertising for Grayson- and Ashland-based businesses that likely sponsored the slideshow. Somewhere in the school’s collections, she said she hopes to someday find the script used by the school president while the images were displayed.
Wineland said she recruited her husband, a history professor and dean of arts and science, to help clean the slides and make new photographs of the images, later noting they’ve been able to initiate the archival project on a zero budget, using available resources to preserve the images and pass them along.
“They weren’t in this shape when we found them,” John Wineland said, explaining each of the “Magic Lantern” slides was a precursor of the more-modern 35-mm slides, utilizing a photographic image sandwiched between two panes of glass. The slides had been kept dry and in the dark, he said, which helped preserve them, although many in the collection were cracked, broken or had signs of internal degradation.
To illuminate the pictures and make digital photos of each, John Wineland said he used a broad-spectrum “Happy Light,” often sold at drugstores as a tool against winter depression, his mother-in-law had given them a week before the slides were found. The reproduced images were then loaded onto the Young Library’s Facebook page with the hope of someone recognizing the pictures and identifying the people and places within.
His wife said the response was “immediate,” and included many personal observations and memories.
“People added great details of things like, ‘I remember when Mom said this,’ or ‘That’s when they rented those two rooms,” and there was a lot of back and forth between people,” she said. “The best thing we did was mislabel something,” because people who recognized the content were quick to set the record straight. Wineland said she encourages people to “just chatter away” in notes they add to the photos, explaining anecdotal information is often quite useful in the quest for archival facts.
Each of the pictures will ultimately be recorded in the Digital Library of Appalachia, she said, “but before we do that we want to get as much accurate information as possible.”
With information often limited to the hand-written notes on the frames of each picture, Wineland said there is no point in calling her with questions about the photos, although she has pledged to make herself available to take information someone has to offer.
“If they are local and want to come in and tell me what they know, I will do all the typing. Or, we can do that over the phone,” she said, repeating the school’s desire to have people add the information to the photos on Facebook if at all possible.
Wineland asks potential contributors to leave her a message at (606) 474-3241, explaining she often works during the evening and on weekends, and will return calls as time permits. The entire photo collection can be found at the Young Library/Kentucky Christian University page on Facebook. The first photos will primarily be the known images from the campus and Grayson, while pictures toward the end of the collection are among those with little or no known details.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.
com or (606) 326-2651.