Bringing Springfield's Photos Back To Life

The first photography staff at the Illinois State Journal carried heavy, clumsy and slow Speed Graphic cameras. They shot on glass plates, and only had a few precious exposures to use throughout their day.

After their images were published in the 1920s and '30s, the glass plates were boxed up and effectively lost in the newspaper archives. Stories vary about how they were saved from a wrecking ball, but the plates eventually wound up at the local Springfield library, which is where Rich Saal found them and began the monumental task of bringing them back to life.

  • Conrad Griesser, brewmaster for Reisch Brewery in Springfield, stands in front of a brew kettle with a 360-barrel capacity. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Reisch family raised $250,000 to refurbish the plant with new equipment. The State Journal published a package of pictures on July 8, 1934 just as they were reopening. The brewery closed in 1966.
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    Conrad Griesser, brewmaster for Reisch Brewery in Springfield, stands in front of a brew kettle with a 360-barrel capacity. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Reisch family raised $250,000 to refurbish the plant with new equipment. The State Journal published a package of pictures on July 8, 1934 just as they were reopening. The brewery closed in 1966.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Elizabeth Skadden, 18, wanted to become an endurance flyer when she was featured in the State Journal on Oct. 6, 1929. Her dreams may have been inspired by Charles Lindbergh, who just two years earlier made his famous nonstop flight across the Atlantic. "Just as soon as my chance comes, I hope to set a new endurance record for women flyers which will stand for a long, long time."
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    Elizabeth Skadden, 18, wanted to become an endurance flyer when she was featured in the State Journal on Oct. 6, 1929. Her dreams may have been inspired by Charles Lindbergh, who just two years earlier made his famous nonstop flight across the Atlantic. "Just as soon as my chance comes, I hope to set a new endurance record for women flyers which will stand for a long, long time."
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Triplets born to Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Atterberry of Petersburg at St. John's Hospital, two girls and a boy, Aug. 21, 1930.
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    Triplets born to Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Atterberry of Petersburg at St. John's Hospital, two girls and a boy, Aug. 21, 1930.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Civil War veteran Lee Graham served three years in the Union Army. He was recognized by the State Journal when it published his picture on his 84th birthday in July 1929.
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    Civil War veteran Lee Graham served three years in the Union Army. He was recognized by the State Journal when it published his picture on his 84th birthday in July 1929.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Palmer School eighth-graders pose with their miniature gardens, a project they had completed along with students at other city schools. More than 100 of the models were displayed in the community room at the State Journal building, May 1931.
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    Palmer School eighth-graders pose with their miniature gardens, a project they had completed along with students at other city schools. More than 100 of the models were displayed in the community room at the State Journal building, May 1931.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Springfield High School Senators defeated Peoria Central High School, 19-6, Oct. 31, 1931.
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    Springfield High School Senators defeated Peoria Central High School, 19-6, Oct. 31, 1931.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • The Springfield public square, circa 1931.
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    The Springfield public square, circa 1931.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Aerial golf was played with a two-man team, one of which was on the ground and the other in the passenger seat (or sometimes at the controls) of a small airplane. The airborne player would drop the ball in an attempt to get the ball as close to the hole as possible. His teammate on the ground would finish the job. The game was played for the first time in Springfield on Oct. 5, 1931.
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    Aerial golf was played with a two-man team, one of which was on the ground and the other in the passenger seat (or sometimes at the controls) of a small airplane. The airborne player would drop the ball in an attempt to get the ball as close to the hole as possible. His teammate on the ground would finish the job. The game was played for the first time in Springfield on Oct. 5, 1931.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Greenberg's clothing store, fire sale. Date unknown.
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    Greenberg's clothing store, fire sale. Date unknown.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • The Illinois State Police purchased new Thompson submachine guns in 1931 to help them face the threats of the day, which included bootleggers and labor unrest that frequently turned violent. The guns were issued to every sergeant in each police district throughout the state. Capt. Carr (left) posed with his officers and their guns in front of the Centennial Building, February 1931.
    Hide caption
    The Illinois State Police purchased new Thompson submachine guns in 1931 to help them face the threats of the day, which included bootleggers and labor unrest that frequently turned violent. The guns were issued to every sergeant in each police district throughout the state. Capt. Carr (left) posed with his officers and their guns in front of the Centennial Building, February 1931.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Display of new Norge refrigerators to be installed in the Plaza Apartment Building, January 1933.
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    Display of new Norge refrigerators to be installed in the Plaza Apartment Building, January 1933.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • President Herbert Hoover visited Springfield on June 17, 1931, to rededicate Lincoln's Tomb after an extensive renovation. The country was the depths of the Depression. Millions were unemployed, thousands of factories shut down, businesses were in bankruptcy, and agricultural prices were at the lowest levels in 30 years. While waiting for the procession to start, Hoover appears lost in thought.
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    President Herbert Hoover visited Springfield on June 17, 1931, to rededicate Lincoln's Tomb after an extensive renovation. The country was the depths of the Depression. Millions were unemployed, thousands of factories shut down, businesses were in bankruptcy, and agricultural prices were at the lowest levels in 30 years. While waiting for the procession to start, Hoover appears lost in thought.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • H.G. Buttrick of Springfield returned home from a hunting trip in northern Minnesota with his bounty strapped to the fender of his car. His wife, not in the picture, shot the deer that was strapped to the other side of the car, November 1930.
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    H.G. Buttrick of Springfield returned home from a hunting trip in northern Minnesota with his bounty strapped to the fender of his car. His wife, not in the picture, shot the deer that was strapped to the other side of the car, November 1930.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Snyder Super Service Station, Fifth Street and South Grand Avenue. The design of early filling stations evolved from offering just gas and having a basic shed, to providing shelter for the attendant, to being designed to fit into a residential setting. As stations added auto servicing capabilities, they were built in the form of a house with a service bay and softened with a landscaped lot.
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    Snyder Super Service Station, Fifth Street and South Grand Avenue. The design of early filling stations evolved from offering just gas and having a basic shed, to providing shelter for the attendant, to being designed to fit into a residential setting. As stations added auto servicing capabilities, they were built in the form of a house with a service bay and softened with a landscaped lot.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Five-person bicycle in front of Sears, Roebuck & Co., downtown Springfield, circa 1933.
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    Five-person bicycle in front of Sears, Roebuck & Co., downtown Springfield, circa 1933.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • A heat wave that saw temperatures in the upper 90s for 11 days in July 1932, caused several deaths statewide. Frank Dillon wipes perspiration from his brow while walking along Adams Street on July 22, 1932.
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    A heat wave that saw temperatures in the upper 90s for 11 days in July 1932, caused several deaths statewide. Frank Dillon wipes perspiration from his brow while walking along Adams Street on July 22, 1932.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Polar Wave root beer and sandwich stand, circa 1936.
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    Polar Wave root beer and sandwich stand, circa 1936.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • T.M. Travis, owner of Travis Cafeteria at 624 E. Capitol Ave., tries to prove, or disprove, the belief that it is sometimes hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk in July 1930. Despite it being 115 degrees on the concrete, the experiment did not work.
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    T.M. Travis, owner of Travis Cafeteria at 624 E. Capitol Ave., tries to prove, or disprove, the belief that it is sometimes hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk in July 1930. Despite it being 115 degrees on the concrete, the experiment did not work.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Girl Scouts enjoy a swimming hole at Camp Shuster, July 30, 1929.
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    Girl Scouts enjoy a swimming hole at Camp Shuster, July 30, 1929.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
  • Girls drink from a water fountain on the courthouse square, circa 1930.
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    Girls drink from a water fountain on the courthouse square, circa 1930.
    Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register

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Saal is a photo editor at the State Journal-Register and was working on his master's project when he decided to revive the 1,300 glass plates. He spent a year and a half scanning them, and dug through old newspapers on microfiche to find the original captions.

The pictures were mostly shot by photographers Raymond Hodde and Ernest Pearson, and show an often idyllic view of life in Springfield. They are charming, earnest and heartwarming, and viewing them 80 years later brings on a certain feeling of nostalgia — and perhaps the notion that life was easier back then.

Raymond Hodde (left) was hired in 1930 and was the State Journal's first full-time staff photographer. He was joined later in the decade by Joe Imlay (center) and Charlie Bilyeu.

hide captionRaymond Hodde (left) was hired in 1930 and was the State Journal's first full-time staff photographer. He was joined later in the decade by Joe Imlay (center) and Charlie Bilyeu.

Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register

But Saal says that impression may be misleading. The heftiness of the Speed Graphic cameras hindered spontaneity — and the act of editing for the paper meant the pictures generally stuck to themes of progress and community spirit. Also, there are very few minorities representedthe paper's visual coverage was not a reflection of the actual racial makeup of the city at the time.

"It's just fascinating to linger over the informative detail that those large glass plates captured," said Saal. "You can see the texture of clothes, lines on faces, reflections on glasses. If you look closely you can see that people were dealing with the Depression — clothes look tattered, beat up, not new. You see that men always wore long-sleeve shirts with neckties and hats, even if was 90 degrees outside."

This blog has done stories on other collections of found photographs, including the work of Charles Cushman, Robert Capa and Jack Robinson. Saal says this Springfield collection, even while flawed in scope, is a valuable picture story of a Midwestern town growing up in the 20th century.

In 1930, the Illinois Power Co. operated the city's buses and streetcars and advertised regularly in the Journal, promoting the advantages of using mass transportation. The photo staff was assigned to capture street scenes that showed congestion, and their photographs were used in the ads. This image shows Monroe Street facing west from Sixth Street, December 16, 1930. i i

hide captionIn 1930, the Illinois Power Co. operated the city's buses and streetcars and advertised regularly in the Journal, promoting the advantages of using mass transportation. The photo staff was assigned to capture street scenes that showed congestion, and their photographs were used in the ads. This image shows Monroe Street facing west from Sixth Street, December 16, 1930.

Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register
In 1930, the Illinois Power Co. operated the city's buses and streetcars and advertised regularly in the Journal, promoting the advantages of using mass transportation. The photo staff was assigned to capture street scenes that showed congestion, and their photographs were used in the ads. This image shows Monroe Street facing west from Sixth Street, December 16, 1930.

In 1930, the Illinois Power Co. operated the city's buses and streetcars and advertised regularly in the Journal, promoting the advantages of using mass transportation. The photo staff was assigned to capture street scenes that showed congestion, and their photographs were used in the ads. This image shows Monroe Street facing west from Sixth Street, December 16, 1930.

Courtesy of Rich Saal/State Journal-Register

"It's essentially the story of every community. Most communities saw westward expansion, went through the Industrial Revolution, World War I, the Depression, Prohibition, World War II, the baby boom, expansion and urbanization of cities — it's a very common story."

What's not common is Saal's efforts to restore this lost history, and to bring the Springfield photographs back for us to ponder, reflect on and perhaps fantasize about life in a different time.

You can see more images from the Springfield Photographs here.

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