This story has a happy ending, even though it starts off in frustration:
Where are all our East Falls photos from the last 40 years?
You’d think history blogging would be easy because everything’s already been written but unfortunately almost none of it has been saved. At least, not the interesting stuff.
Oh, you’ll find major city newspaper collections online (and you’ll likely pay for them) but when you’re digging around for neat local scoops and photos, you’ll run into the same few again and again, but nothing else.
It’s as if decades of local history just disappeared, leaving behind a few scraps: which is, essentially, what happened.
If you’re researching old articles online, both the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News archives go back only to the late 80’s, when typewriters got all digital and turned into “word processors” — revolutionizing not only editing, but finding and retrieving saved information.
Photos and articles earlier than that can usually only be viewed on microfilm at libraries, thanks to efforts such as the United States Newspaper Program (1982 – 2011) that cataloged many periodicals across the country. But microfilm isn’t a cheap or simple process, and most small-time rags can’t afford to archive for themselves.
Not that microfilm is any miracle. A lot of that microfilm librarians once thought would preserve newspaper history forever is actually deteriorating just as fast as well-kept newsprint. Microfilm isn’t searchable, either — unless you mean with your own eyeballs. Forget about cut, copy and paste.
SAD TRUTH: Whether filed in cabinets or in The Cloud, the sheer volume of data newspapers provide creates a huge space crunch that nobody wants to deal with.
Bummer, because that data’s our history.
The good news is, at least two editions of our local Suburban Press (12/12/29 and 6/2/38) have been remarkably well preserved at the Falls of Schuylkill Baptist Church — we’re currently scanning these into our lame little EastFallsHouse scanner, stay tuned…
Meanwhile, the East Falls Historical Society continues their own archiving of the Chadwick Papers, a collection of clippings from Alex C. Chadwick, Editor of the Suburban Press in the 1930’s.
Whenever I think of the past, it brings back so many memories.
— Steven Wright
BIG SCORE: Falls of Schuylkill Baptist Church stores a treasure trove of local photos!
Administrators Marion Johnson and Barbara Shaw are sisters, both have been closely aligned with the church for decades, volunteering in many capacities. Their mother, Marion Welsh, was the church historian — she’s the one who saved (and helped compile) many of the records, articles and photos they’ve generously shared with us.
Marion and Barbara remember the Greenes, the Ponzeks and the Flanagans… all the neighbors back when the streets were full of laughing kids.
The sisters recalled how Sundays in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, a diverse congregation filled the church’s pews, thanks to Reverend Appel, who’d kindly ferry parishioners from the nearby Schuylkill Falls projects and Abbotsford Homes in a bus he drove himself.
Every room in the Sunday school would be filled, and there were parties and field trips and celebrations of all kinds! For about 30 years, Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops used the facilities as well.
Most of these pics were stuck to scrapbooky poster boards, with very little in the way of explanation. Fortunately, East Falls is a cozy corner of Philly, and neighbors tend to know each other, and keep in touch. Hopefully, familiar faces will find their way to the folks who will enjoy them.
Meanwhile, the old church hangs on. Their popular Wee Care daycare center pays the rent, so to speak, and neither Barbara or Marion seems too concerned with dwindling Sunday attendance. We’re told, it’s “a big day” if ten people show up for service — including the pastor and organist — but they’re a close-knit group, and proud of their local, enduring presence.
And, true Fallsers, they’re tickled to share their photos and stories. We’ve included names and annotations when provided. Please join the conversation on our Facebook page (where full-sized images are posted for better viewing).
No, the camera can’t steal the soul. But it can occasionally hold it hostage.
— Author Unknown