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Saving Larry Foster

Carole Lombard, 1942

For more than 30 years, I have been working with the image collections here at IHS. It is almost always fun to sit and look at all the wonderful photographs. Right now, we have a grant to digitize 200,000 images. It's a bit of a daunting task to get done in three years, but it's also been so much fun.

The Larry Foster collection has been on my mind for a long time, because it's 25,000 acetate negatives. Acetates are those lovely film negatives that have layers that deteriorate at different rates so that they wrinkle. What a nightmare to open an envelope to what is supposed to be just the image I need and find one of those messes! This grant has given me the opportunity to digitize all of the collection before it wrinkles into oblivion. The good news is that very few are wrinkled, even though each box smells strongly of vinegar – a warning sign of deterioration. Even better though, is that these photographs are of events around Indianapolis from the late 1930s to 1960.

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Wendell Willkie, 1940

Larry Foster must have been an easy photographer to work with, because his subjects all seem relaxed and happy to give him their best sides. Imagine sitting down and browsing through to see Wendell Willkie running for president in 1940, penny-pitching competitions on the World War Memorial Mall, bond sales drives and parades as well as numerous conventions. Add to this visiting celebrities including Tommy Dorsey, Abbott and Costello, and the beautiful Carole Lombard who broke bond sales records just days before her tragic death. There are haunting images of soldiers training at Fort Benjamin Harrison as well as parades through downtown of sailors and soldiers. There are also parades of Civil War veterans still able to march in 1942!

You don't have to imagine this for long, because the first of these photographs will be available in our Digital Images Collection within a week. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.