More than 100 images from the Chicago Sun-Times photo archive went on display at the Chicago History Museum this summer after the collection had been lost for several years. Titled “Millions of Moments: The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Collection,” the exhibition features negatives that span 75 years and capture many iconic moments in Chicago history including Elvis Presley performing at the Chicago Stadium in 1972 and the inauguration of Mayor Harold Washington in 1983.
“The goal of the exhibit is to showcase one of the most significant acquisitions the museum has ever made,” said the museum’s vice president for interpretation and education John Russick. “It is an investment in the museum’s ability to interpret Chicago history in a really visually profound way.”
It was Russick who discovered the lost photo collection in December 2017 when he opened a storage locker in Dixon, Ill. after receiving a tip that an archive of Chicago Sun-Times photos was located there. Sure enough, he found roughly 5 million negative frames there.
According to the Sun-Times, the newspaper had sold the archive to Arkansas sports memorabilia collector John Rogers in 2009. The newspaper had retained the copyrights and Rogers was going to digitize every image. However, he only scanned a portion of them before he was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison in 2017 for a scam involving fake sports memorabilia. After that, it isn’t clear how the archive ended up in Dixon.
Recognizing the significance of the trove, the museum acted quickly to acquire it, and in June 2018, the museum secured the storage locker filled with negatives for $125,000. That fall, about 15 boxes containing a part of the archive arrived at the museum and the remainder in March 2019.
A small staff at the museum are still working to organize, digitize and create digital records of the Sun-Times images. In addition to the museum exhibit, 45,000 images were made available for the public to view on the museum’s website, and the Sun-Times said a few thousand more will be added online each month as more negatives are scanned. However, the exhibition will remain as is. Russick explained that those images were selected specifically for the gallery because they were thought provoking. Richard Cahan, a former Sun-Times photo editor, also helped organize the collection. In addition to the lost photo archives, several recent images were also featured, such as an image of the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series for first time since 1908.
“When you see the work of a photography staff that was probably eight to 10 times the size of the regional team we have now, it reminds you of the importance of local journalism throughout the course of history,” Chris Fusco, Sun-Times executive editor, told E&P. “Hopefully, it will inspire people to understand its importance now.”