The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 17, 2012

Photographer’s work reuniting Joplin residents, memories

JOPLIN, Mo. — Kathi Cassady just happened to be at the Joplin Museum Complex on Tuesday when a window to her past would be opened.

Cassady saw Marcia Long, daughter of the late Joplin photographer Murwin Mosler, and ask what all of the commotion was about at the museum. Long explained that the museum was making available her father’s extensive collection of portrait negatives to the people whose images he had captured on film over a period of nearly 60 years.

The goal, she told Cassady, is to help people who lost everything in the May 22, 2011, tornado to at least recover something.

Though her home was untouched by the tornado, Cassady was aware that Mosler had photographed her for her senior portrait. He also had taken her wedding photos. Long invited Cassady to look for her negatives among the thousands of negatives that Mosler had meticulously preserved in 5-by-7 manila envelopes.

On each envelope, Mosler or his assistant, Mary Flood, had typed the name of the subject, their address and their telephone number. Often, the envelope featured a description of the photography inside.

With the help of Sheryl Colson, a volunteer who helped organize the collection for release, Cassady found her senior picture under her maiden name of Kathi Henry. It was taken on Jan. 23, 1973.

“Would you look at that hair?” she said. “It was so long. I was wearing a new Bobbie Brooks outfit for this picture.”

She found her husband’s senior picture and then she found her wedding photos, including some that she had never seen before. She and her husband, Tom, were married 37 years ago.

With tears in her eyes, she said, “My grandmother sewed the lace on my veil.”

Pausing to collect her thoughts, she said, “I don’t know what to say about this. I am so thrilled because it brings back so many memories. I love my wedding photos. They connect you with your loved ones. It’s like going back in time.”

Cassady said she could remember Mosler taking her wedding photos.

“I just remember he was so meticulous and creative with his pictures for that time,” she said. “He took his time. He was very personable with you. He would find the best possible pose.”

Cassady was not the only one to find the negatives and proofs of her wedding photos. Colson found her wedding photos from July 17, 1965. Her envelope included some photos that she had never seen before, including one that showed the back of her wedding dress.

She also found some photos that Mosler has taken of her and her sister, Sheila.

“My mother wanted a formal photo of us,” she said. “We posed in a rattan chair. For some reason, we never saw these pictures. When I found them, I was thrilled. They are just beautiful pictures of us when we were really skinny.

“Our dresses were homemade. After those pictures were taken, my sister and I, dressed up like we were in high heels, went to Bob Miller’s restaurant in downtown Joplin and ordered shrimp cocktails. It was a day to remember. It’s something to see those pictures now 45 years later,” she said.

Those weren’t the only photos that Colson found. She also found the 1962 wedding photos of Jane Hillhouse and William Pitt, the parents of actor Brad Pitt. Hillhouse grew up in Joplin and graduated from Joplin High School in 1958. Her senior picture is in the collection, too.

“I just squealed when I found those photos,” said Colson.

The negatives were stored in Mosler’s studio at the northwest corner of 25th and South Main streets. When the tornado struck, the house was torn apart.

“There was one wall left standing,” Long said. “This was where all of these negatives were. They were saved. Somebody wanted my father’s negatives saved so that the people who lost everything could still have something.”

A conversation the day after the tornado between Brad Belk, director of the museum, and Andy Ostmeyer, metro editor at the Globe, led to their immediate rescue and preservation. Ostmeyer enlisted his wife, Beth, and their three youngest children to move the 180 boxes that contained the envelopes to the museum.

Over a period of 14 months, the envelopes were placed in alphabetical order by dozens of volunteers and then listed on a computer program assembled by Brandon Farmer in the Internet technology department at Missouri Southern State University.

Early on, people told Belk that he was stupid to take on such a daunting challenge.

Said Belk: “Everybody has got a story here. It belongs to them. It’s their personal history.”

About Mosler’s legacy, Belk said, “That’s impossible to define. His work defines our community. He held onto it. His heirs held onto it because they saw the value of his work. Even today, and at this very moment, his work lives on.”

 

How to obtain negatives

A SEARCHABLE DATABASE can be accessed at joplinphotos.org. Look for the “photos” link and enter the last name of the person for whom you are searching.

If a possible match is found for a negative you would like to reclaim, contact the Joplin Museum Complex to begin the steps. You may contact the museum in person, via mail, email or by phone. Because of staff limitations, phone inquiries will only be accepted on Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Once your request has been processed, you will be notified that the negatives are ready for pickup. If you are retrieving the negatives in person, they can be retrieved on Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Because of staff limitations, no same-day service will be available.

 

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