The J.B. Muecke (pronounced “Mickey”) Collection was loaned for archival last year to the Franklin County Historical Society, but many details about the images only recently have been uncovered. The photo collection, which included more than 6,000 negatives and 2,000 photos, is the most recent acquisition by the society, Deborah Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said.
“It’s professional photos from a man who was doing all kinds of different things, but just had interest in how everything worked,” Barker said, her face lighting up with excitement as she talked about the “unbelievable” collection that dates back to the 1940s through 1960s.
Former Ottawa resident E. Morgan Williams, who now lives in Washington, D.C., bought the entire collection, Barker said, afraid that Muecke’s work would vanish with the passage of time. Since the donation in February 2012, the historical society has cataloged about half of the large collection; a daunting feat for the small staff at the Franklin County Records and Research Center, 1140 W. Seventh St. Terrace, Ottawa.
The new photos increased the archives’ collection of photos by more than 50 percent. The Muecke collection is worth more than money, Barker said, because it is of great historical significance to the people of Franklin County.
“These photos are stories,” she said. “This is one of the most significant collections we’ve ever been given.”
Some of the photos from the collection have been featured in The Herald in the past few months, since the historical society began releasing the images in August.
As a freelance photographer, Muecke (1902-1985) worked part time for The Herald, local insurance companies and private clients. Known for documenting the 1951 flood and a 1957 tornado that hit Franklin County, Muecke produced a public awareness booklet leading up to the implementation of the current flood prevention system.
Subjects in the negatives Williams donated have proven increasingly difficult to identify, Barker said. Community members have come in to help determine the identities of those featured, but with mixed results. The historical society continues to ask for help with the process.
Williams, who also is an authority on another famous Ottawa photographer, William H. “Dad” Martin, recently mailed another two large boxes of photographs and documents to the society. Included in the shipment were articles written by Muecke to accompany the photographs — supporting information that has proven very helpful, Barker said.
“These not only are actual 8-by-10 photos, but in many cases, he had a lively business of writing little feature articles to go with them and sending them out all over,” she said, adding that the shipment from Williams also included a draft of a history of Ottawa Muecke had been writing.
Each artifact is being scanned and cataloged for the archive. Barker said residents are welcome to make an appointment to come to the records center and look through the collection by calling (785) 242-1232.