Bill Lamb collection gives historical society 150 years of photo history
PRINCETON — Maybe you’ve seen cable TV shows where scavengers bid on items abandoned in storage units, capitalizing on someone else’s misfortune.
Quite the opposite has happened in Princeton.
A massive community treasure was rescued in recent years by Princeton residents — including a former storage and delivery business operator — who did not want priceless history to disappear into a landfill.
When photographer and former Apollo Theater projectionist Bill Lamb became ill and later died in 2013, he still had a downtown apartment filled with prized possessions.
Gary Johnson and other community friends worked together to pay off the missed rent, and to save the Bill Lamb photography collection, as well as Princeton and Bureau County films shot by Lamb and old photos collected by Lamb while composing 20 years of “From Out of the Past” articles for the Bureau County Republican.
“They rescued it so they could donate it,” said David Gugerty, Bureau County Historical Society curator.
And now, thanks to Bureau County Historical Society and community members who helped identify people and landmarks, 100,000 photos in Lamb’s collection have been cataloged or at least categorized and made available for public perusal.
In addition, people can now seek photos year round at Bureau County Historical Society — Gugerty broke with recent tradition and won’t close the historical society in winter.
That may come as good news for genealogists seeking images from their family tree, as the historical society constantly receives requests for viewing of its collection of portraits taken by Henry Immke in Princeton from 1868 until 1923.
Simply huge photo collection
The Lamb collection, coupled with 20,000 Immke portraits, photos and plates, provide the museum and historical society with a photographic history of Bureau County from 1868 into the 2000s.
“It’s amazing we have 150 years of photos just from those two collections,” said Gugerty.
Gugerty thinks of Lamb’s local collection into three or four categories — local film reels he shot, local photos he took both as a hobby and for his side job as Princeton High School yearbook photographer, and antique photos and copies he collected through two decades of history pages for the Princeton paper.
Lamb started taking and saving photos while in high school in 1937, before serving in the Army Signal Corps 1942-46 in World War II. Between 1946 and 1952, Lamb was in the Eureka area, but some of those photos spur local interest — such as then-actor Ronald Reagan mixing with students at his alma mater.
From 1952 into the 1960s, Lamb worked as a projectionist at the Apollo Theater, which was built as an opera house in 1882. While there, he put together local film reels of major events, storm damage, parades and community activities as well as sports highlights.
Lamb then worked for the Josten’s class-ring factory for 20 years, while also working for 30 years as Princeton High School yearbook photographer.
Gugerty recalled someone coming into the museum, noting that they had seen Lamb with his camera at a track meet or event in the 1970s and museum had one of Lamb’s photos from that event.
Part of the museum collection comes from Lamb’s work as a correspondent for the Bureau County Republican as well as the creator of the “Out of the Past” pages.
Jim Dunn, who has returned as Bureau County Republican editor and general manager after to spending several years at other newspapers, worked at the BCR in the early 1980s. Dunn said Lamb often walked in with interesting old photos and urged the editor to publish them. Dunn said he talked Lamb into doing his own stories about the subjects of the photos. Gugerty said area residents liked the articles and offered more and more old photos for Lamb to borrow. As a result, many of those old photos cover Princeton and Bureau County history from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s — decades when Lamb didn’t shoot as many local photos.
More to the collection
The photographer’s last apartment — just a couple of doors south of the Apollo — contained 60,000 feet of film, darkroom equipment such as photo enlargers, huge projection equipment, an obsolete sound recorder that captured sound on monofilament line and his many cameras — from 35 mm to boxy large-format cameras he would have used for yearbook portraits, Gugerty said.
The society displays some of the equipment (right) in the Newell Bryant House on Pleasant Street, west of the courthouse. along with the Lamb Collection. The society also stores some equipment in the former Matson Public Library building north of the courthouse.
DVDs available to public Dec. 1
Area residents got a sneak peek at a medley of Bill Lamb’s locally shot, hometown movies earlier this month.
Now, starting Dec. 1, DVDs filled with footage from Princeton sports, school and community events, news happenings and parades will become available from the Bureau County Historical Society. The keepsake DVDs will cost $20.
For a DVD or more information on the Bill Lamb Collection, call David Gugerty at (815) 875-2184.
Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.