Tonawanda News — The Eastman Kodak Company, at the turn of the previous century, offered two brilliant innovations: the development of what could be termed the personal camera, and its marketing, convincing customers using the device that it was as easy, and as crucial, as using a pen or pencil. Thus were billions of photographs taken and developed, then either treated like treasures or tossed somewhere.
Those who study the past the way others worry about the future pore over these things, detailed souvenirs of another time, another place, with a perceived responsibility of learning from them, explaining them and their eras. Western New York’s history museums, small and large, are filled with posed portraits, amateur snapshots, official photographic records of construction sites. So are attics, warehouses and file cabinets.
Call it forensic history.
Historians consider an old photograph, say one of a sunny day at an intersection, perhaps Delaware Avenue and some other street, then grab a magnifying glass and begin looking for clues.
When was it taken?
Let’s see. That building went up in 1921. Are those trolley tracks in the street? When were those weird lamp posts installed? The trees and foliage are abundant, so it’s not November. What are the people wearing? How old is that parked Packard? Can we read a sign telling the speed limit?
Thus does one get a handle on things.
I do this a lot, probably more than is good for me, and so do the other municipal historians, but there are things that regrettably have not turned up.
In pre-Prohibition days, a national lobbying group, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was everything its name implied, installed several thousand public water fountains across America, offering a drink to discourage the thirsty from entering saloons. Kenmore’s was adjacent to what is now called the Village Green, roughly where the Delaware Avenue mailbox is, and had an added virtue — one side offered water to horses.