By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Amy Parker of Bremen has always been intrigued with the past. Oscar Swann, her great-grandfather, told her lots of stories about the history of their family. As a young’un, Amy would sit quietly at his knee for hours on end.
She collected photographs over the years that have amassed into what is probably one of the best researched collections (outside the Cullman County Museum) in the area. She also has access to files of photos from other family collections.
Not only does she have photos, she knows the story behind most of them. Two of her own family photographs show a group of men who came to help her great-great-great-uncle and aunt (Frank and Pearlie Calvert) plant their spring crops the year that her relative was laid up recuperating from back surgery. The second photograph shows them returning in the fall to harvest the crops. “People don’t do things like that anymore,” Parker commented as she flipped through the archives of her heritage.
In another large portfolio she has a collection of very old 8x10 photos taken from around the city and county. “I found these in a box and the man who had them told me to take them and preserve them,” she said.
There are photos in the various collections showing wagons pulled by oxen, saloons, the first furniture manufacturer in Alabama and its employees, a gathering of people at a two-story house which includes a little boy with a young fawn, covered bridges, old schools, and many more scenes that capture everyday life back in the 1800-1900s.
They remind us of how much things have changed, including cars, local properties, structures, and the way in which people dress.
Parker carefully labeled the pictures whenever possible. They are protected in archival materials to help prevent further erosion to the fragile paper on which they are printed. Taking these measures is an important step in preserving this historical information for future generations.
Parker is a stickler for names and dates. She recommends that people preserve the following types of historical memorabilia: Birth/death/marriage certificates, deeds, land grants, photos, old letters, diplomas, church records, ledgers from businesses, ticket stubs for travel and entertainment, passports, newspaper clippings of historical importance, also clippings of sales showing what people paid for products like milk, bread, gas, oil, produce or livestock.
Of particular interest to history buffs are the various modes of transportation over the years: Wagons, trains and depots, buses, antique and vintage automobiles. Other significant objects include furniture, especially couches, early televisions and radios. Photos taken in kitchens that would show appliances and décor, any groups of people, graduating classes, ball teams, family gatherings, police officers, city officials, any older structures, events like tornadoes, parades, snowfalls and floods. Also, weddings and other social gatherings, church socials, political rallies, people at work, and other interesting events of everyday life. Even once commonplace things like hanging laundry on a clothes line will be a source of curiosity in the future.
Most importantly, document every fact that goes along with your memorabilia. Names, dates, snippets of information and any facts that will support what the photograph depicts. Without this vital information, much of the historical importance of photographs will be lost in the future. Preservation experts recommend labeling photos with archival tags because most inks will eventually bleed through the photograph. Pens and pencil marks can leave an impression on the reverse side of a photograph. Never use tape or glue unless it is marked as “photo-safe” or “archival quality” as the chemicals in most adhesives can yellow, turn brittle or damage photos and documents over time.
Due to Amy Parker's love of historical memorabilia, she was instrumental in forming the Southwest Cullman County Historical Society. On June 14, 2010, a group of people who were also interested in preserving the heritage of their community met for the first time. Most of them are descendents of some of the oldest families in the county. Officers and charter members include Amy Parker, president; Joan Calvert, secretary. Charter members are Hilda Garrett, Glenn Calvert, Myra Pitts, Jana Calvert, Phyllis Speegle, Penny Thompson, Wanda Graves, Kevin Sandlin and Bonnie Sandlin. Honorary members are Dot and Dr. Garlan Gudger Sr.
The group had the honor of having Chester Freemen as a speaker this last year. In 2013, they hope to have more speakers and events.
“If we don't preserve our knowledge of the past, then our future will lose our most valuable treasures,” said Parker.
The group meets at the Brushy Pond Community Center on the third Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. “We are always open for new members,” said Parker. “Anyone wishing to attend meetings or to join can contact Joan Calvert at 256-747-3144.