Do You Know the People in These Old Photographs?

Unidentified men at John Brown’s grave, in North Elba. Photograph courtesy of the Lake Placid–North Elba Historical Society

The folks at the Lake Placid–North Elba Historical Society museum want your ID this summer—but not to sell you a tall, cold one. They’re asking for the public’s help in identifying some of the people and places in their latest exhibit, “Developing our History, Finding our Family: The Stedman and Moses Collection of Historic Photographs.”

The basis for the show is a stockpile of about 10,000 glass-plate negatives from early-1900s Lake Placid that had been gathering dust in Lake Placid Club storage until the 1970s. That’s when Dr. George Hart noticed workers at the club chucking boxes of the plates into a truck bound for the dump. He saved the cache from destruction and gifted it to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, who, in turn, passed it on to the historical society.

Although commonly known as the Barry Collection, the photographs are the work of two photographers associated with the Lake Placid Club, Chester D. Moses and Irving L. Stedman. (Barry was a photographer’s assistant who inherited their inventory.) Moses and Stedman captured Lake Placid at the birth of the 20th century through family portraits, images of wildlife, and shots of characters at work and play. Now a fraction of the pictures—under the headings “Then and Now,” “Building a Dynamic Community,” “Birthplace of Winter Sports,” “Dressed for the Photographer,” and “Who am I?”—line the walls of the historical society museum.

But through the years the names of some of those long-gone people and places have faded from memory. That’s where you come in. Visitors are encouraged to write on the walls of this exhibit—sticky notes and pens are available for anyone who recognizes a familiar face or landmark. And as images are identified, new mystery shots will take their places. The historical society hopes to continue the ID project over the next couple of years. But even if you can’t add to Lake Placid’s collective community knowledge, the show is still worth your time. The images were chosen, according to the society’s administrative director, Jennifer Tufano, “to tell a story on their own, without the need for much explanation.”

The Lake Placid—North Elba Historical Society, at 242 Station Street, is open through Columbus Day, every Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.

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