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Photographic Memory

Alvin Ward and Eloise Dielman work together to arrange hundreds of photographs into various categories. They often can put names to some of the faces, which sometimes brings a chuckle or a hearty laugh to fill the work room at the Oregon Trail Regional Museum. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Alvin Ward and Eloise Dielman work together to arrange hundreds of photographs into various categories. They often can put names to some of the faces, which sometimes brings a chuckle or a hearty laugh to fill the work room at the Oregon Trail Regional Museum. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Eloise Dielman and Alvin Ward are spending their Wednesdays in the Oregon Trail Regional Museum surrounded by boxes of old pictures.

The two are sorting and cataloguing historic photos that have been donated to the museum archives. This project follows their task of identifying other museum artifacts.

"So far we've catalogued over 6,000 items in the museum. We've been at this a couple of years," Dielman said.

The museum acquired a digital camera, CD burner and scanner through a grant from the D.E. Clark Foundation that was awarded to the Friends of the Museum.

The plan is to assign each photo a number, and scan it into the computer and onto a CD-ROM.

"In theory, probably it will take us six months to a year to get everything on the computer," Dielman said.

She estimated that within two years everything will be organized and available for use. The hard copies of the photos will still be located at the museum, stored in the facility's library for the public to view.

The museum has been acquiring historic photographs for about 25 years, Dielman said. "It's just been accumulating and accumulating. Sometimes when (people) close out an estate, they'll bring in bunches of stuff," she said.

Their task is to sort the photos into categories and document who donated them, if that information is provided.

"The biggest categories are portraits of children, families, men and women," she said.

Numerous wedding pictures have also found their way into the museum's archives, and there are even pictures of the museum itself, Dielman said.

Although a few photos carry a handwritten description on the back, many subjects are nameless.

Dielman and Ward will do their best to provide as much information as possible for each photo's description, such as the subject's gender and approximate age, and the date based on period clothing, she said.

However, even unidentified photos have historic merit, Dielman said, by providing a glimpse of "what life was like and what the typical citizen looked like."

These pictures, along with the 6,000 historic pictures available to view at the Baker County Library, offer a collective pictorial history of the area, she said.

"They're a wonderful heritage for the community," Dielman said. "The more pictures we get, the more complete the history of Baker County we'll have."

Maps tell stories, too

While Dielman and Ward wade through the piles of photographs, Karen Carriere stands at a nearby table, preparing old maps for public hands.

"We're enclosing them in mylar so people can handle them," she said.

The maps range in topics from mining, forestry, township, survey, old state highway maps and maps of the Sumpter Valley Dredge.

Ages vary as well — she has encased two pages of the Baker City Tribune newspaper from Oct. 30, 1883, and the oldest map dates back to the 1870s, she said.

When all the maps are preserved in the plastic sheeting, they will be organized and placed in a new 15-drawer map case in the museum's library.

Each drawer should hold 50 maps, she said, and the larger documents will be kept in boxes.

They will compile a list of the maps, and document which drawer they are in to reduce searching time.

Which could be helpful, considering that Carriere has 1,000 to preserve.

"We probably have enough maps to fill up the whole case," she said.

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