By Melissa Crowe
For Sno-Isle Libraries
A man in a suit and overcoat and a woman clutching a Sears bag stand among a crowd gathered outside the Owl Drug Store on the northeast corner of Hewitt and Colby avenues in Everett.
The caption provides few clues of the chain of events leading to the sepia-toned photograph snapped in February 1953. From the clarity of the film, to the man’s pose, fingering a cigarette with a gaze into the camera, it’s like seeing into another time.
“I just always found this one striking,” said Katie Mayer.
The image is among the 1,127 preserved in Sno-Isle Libraries’ Historical Photo Archive. The page includes links to other library resources related to history, genealogy and photography.
Mayer, a University of Washington library sciences graduate student and former Everett Daily Herald staffer, recently worked as a Sno-Isle Libraries intern, scanning photos for addition to the archive. She was attracted to the community-building nature of the project.
“The library becomes the keeper of community memory,” she said.
Her favorite pictures, like the one outside the drug store, capture ordinary life.
Worldwide access to Northwest history
The collection started in 2013. Colleen Brazil, the libraries’ content access manager, hopes it will be a resource that people across the world can use to explore their ties to the region, that teachers will use the images as classroom resources, and that kids will have a greater appreciation of their roots from of the photos.
The collection is focused on local interest: people, landscapes, buildings, industries, sports, construction, education, and daily life.
“Some of these images had never been seen before,” Brazil said.
The collection includes photos from the Everett Daily Herald, along with the Darrington, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Monroe, Snohomish, South Whidbey and Stanwood historical societies. The PBY Naval Air Museum in Oak Harbor will add photos this year.
A boon to historical societies
Katie Kelly, director of the Edmonds Historical Museum, said the partnership has created an invaluable resource for the museum and historical society. The museum’s own collection contains more than 6,000 images.
By partnering with Sno-Isle Libraries, the small historical societies like Edmonds’ can continue the mission of sharing local history.
“I hope it creates more ways to work together to showcase the history that is happening every moment of every day,” Kelly said.
Some of the photos are very old; one from the South Whidbey Historical Society, of the Emil Pearson home, was taken in 1870. But there are many pictures from the 1900s.
“The film and paper are degrading with time, and many smaller organizations do not have the resources to preserve them, or to keep their doors open as much as they’d like for visitors to view the originals,” Brazil said. “By digitizing these images, they will be preserved forever.”
Cultural memory preserved
“I like the idea that you encounter these earlier versions of this place that you know,” Mayer said. “It gives people this chance to be hands-on and involved in the preservation of this history and this cultural memory. They can know, love and use it themselves. It’s their community history.”
During 10 weeks scanning and processing historic photos, she added more than 100 to the collection.
Some have detailed captions including names and meta-data with geo-coordinates. Others are just an image leaving questions of who the person was and what their life was like.
“I want to be able to answer those questions,” Mayer said.
She uses microfilm to match dates where possible, and clues found in street signs or store fronts to determine where a photo was snapped.
“I’ve learned a lot about the community from poking around in these images,” Mayer said.
One in particular has her stumped. The envelope reads “Everett High Golden Wings.” The photograph shows teenage boys after dark in mid-October wearing only shorts, socks and shoes. They’re all holding their clothes, save for one boy who is holding out a can of cat food.
“I love the idea that someone will know the story behind that photo,” Mayer said.