From the founder of Picnooga, David Moon, Chattanooga Then elevates and shares Chattanooga’s history through photographs, postcards, and other historical artifacts.

Preserving a Lookouts legacy

Some time ago, I ran into a local collector with an epic Lookouts and local baseball collection. I purchased several items from him for the Historical Society’s collection, including some promotional photographs of Joe Engel with executives of the Fleetwood Coffee Company. The collector later told me about some medium format negatives he had of players at Engel Stadium. Aproximently 1,000 of them were saved from the dumpster by an employee of the Chattanooga Free Press archives. In about the mid-2000s, the Chattanooga Times Free Press threw out tens of thousands of negatives from the Free Press. Employees were allowed to take negatives home if they wished. Most of the remaining negatives were salvaged by dumpster diving and were split between the old Regional History Museum and the Public Library. I handled some of the Regional History Museum’s collection that the History Center inherited and posted many images of the Lookouts and Engel Stadium on Flickr.

I’ve physically inspected a sampling of the negatives owned by the collector. Sadly, like many of the negatives in UTC’s possession from that period, there have been signs of chemical breakdown. Old negatives will start to bubble and smell like vinegar when they deteriorate. The samples I saw had a slight vinegary odor, known as vinegar syndrome. When scanned, some show the initial stages of breakdown. However, I’ve seen much worse; most images are intact and warrant immediate digital preservation. I’ve been nearly in tears when seeing negatives that have completely broken down, are brittle, and are entirely unsalvageable. I can only describe the worst negatives I’ve encountered as looking like a dark brown and sometimes-sticky topographic map of the Alps; it’s horrifying and heartbreaking.

The Lookout negatives were never meant to exist after publication. How they’ve been stored, and the chemicals used during the developing process have kept them reasonably undamaged for 60+ years.

The images date from the late-1940s, 1950s, and the early-1960s. They need to be saved. The collector has negotiated a $2,000 price for the lot. That’s about $2.00 a negative, which is reasonable for a collection of this size.

I’m looking for sponsors to help preserve, digitize, and ensure these negatives are archived for the future. Cold storage is required to impede their decomposition.

Below are digitized samples of images and a form if you are interested in contributing to the purchase and preservation of this meaningful legacy. I rate this preventative undertaking a 8 ½ on a scale of 1-10. I feel that digitizing now is critical.

Scanning these images in a high-resolution and making slight light and contrast adjustments will ensure they are accessible without further damage. I will be providing the needed equipment and labor to complete this task. All photos will be available on this website and provided in an openly accessible format for viewing.

If you are interested in helping with this project, please fill out the form below. I’ll be happy to provide more details about the undertaking. There will be a crowdfunding push this fall 2021 for the public.

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