Leavenworth seeks scores of historical photos
Leavenworth The Leavenworth County Historical Society has launched a $1 million capital campaign to retrieve glass-plate photo negatives taken by prominent frontier photographers more than a century ago during Leavenworth's pioneer days.
The 40,000 photo negatives — some of which show steamboats, cavalry soldiers and General Custer sitting on a porch — were obtained in 1968, by David Phillips of Chicago, who got them in 1968 from local photographer, Mary Everhard.
Phillips doesn't say what he paid Everhard for the plates. But he said he she let him make payments on them, the last being $2,500 shortly before her death in 1971.
"Somebody told Mary they weren't worth anything and she just as well throw them in the river," Phillips told The Kansas City Star.
Leavenworth now wants the plates back, and the Leavenworth County Historical Society has launched its largest capital campaign ever to make that happen.
Society board member Mary Ann Brown, who is leading the effort, said the plates should never have left Leavenworth.
"A big part of our history left with those plates, and they've been gone a half-century," Brown said.
So far, the historical society has recovered 25,000 of the glass plate negatives that Phillips had sold to the Gene Autry Museum of Natural History. When the California museum changed its mission in the 1990s, the Leavenworth museum acquired them.
The historical society now wants the oldest and most prized, including about 2,000 images of early Leavenworth sites and street scenes. One plate shows Civil War veterans drinking beer in a military retirement home in the 1880s. In another from about 1880, four horses lug a flagpole down a Leavenworth cobblestone street. Another shows steamboats at Leavenworth landing in 1867.
Brown said Phillips, who used the photos in a critically acclaimed 1974 book, is working with Leavenworth to have the plates returned. Brown and Phillips acknowledge that a deal has not been finalized for the last of the prized negatives, but both say it will happen.
Brown said Sunday that several events are being planned for next year to help with fundraising. The $1 million would be used to buy the negatives from Phillips, as well as for storage, presentation and research accessibility for families, students and historians.
Brown said the Everhard collection would educate people about the roles of Leavenworth and Kansas in American history.
"We must not let this irreplaceable history be lost," Brown said.