Penfield display seeks clues to mysterious pictures

checking displayA conductor prepares to strike up a band. Students and dogs enjoy a sunny day outside Hewitt Union. Three people pose in front of a hockey goal. 

The Special Collections Office of SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library wants to know more about these and other images that comprise a mystery photo display in the library.

In all, 36 photos from various eras hang in a glass case near the library administration office and reference desk on Penfield’s first floor. Some show rows of well-dressed people posing for the camera, but who the individuals are as well as what they represent—a class, organization or faculty department—remain a mystery.

This is the second such display, said organizer Nancy Johnson of Special Collections. Last March into summer, 18 photos were showcased, with nine identified. “We were very happy with that,” she said.

The need for identification dovetails with an effort by Special Collections to digitize photos in their possession to make them more accessible.

“We started with the identified photos, and now we’re getting into the unidentified ones,” Johnson explained. “The more we identify, the better we can make them available to a researcher or patron who comes.”

With the help of Bill Baldwin of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, who has been scanning photos, the collection is up to around 4,000 digital pictures—and growing. But the images that come to Special Collections with no identifying material pose a puzzle.

In the first month of the new display, only a few of the 36 have been identified, so the library wants more eyes to help with the process.

“The focus of the current display is college history,” Johnson said. “It’s mostly people, but not all people. Several photos are from publications, so I’m hoping faculty, staff and community members may recognize them.”

The results of having digitized and identified photos can be seen on the first-ever virtual exhibit, launched in early March, offering images and information on Camp Shady Shore, a lakeside tent colony that sprung up during summer studies in the early 20th century. Virtual exhibits can be reached from the Digitized Collections page,

As for the current crop of mystery images, Johnson expects to have them on display for a few more months. She would like to put up a new group of photos in time for the college’s Reunion ‘06 in June, perhaps targeting images from around the years of anniversary classes coming to campus.

Anyone identifying the mystery photos or seeking more information can contact Special Collections at

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PHOTO CAPTION: Mystery images—Marion Green (right), a clerk at SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library, and Maryland Hatch, a junior TESOL major and library loan worker, look at some of the unidentified pictures in the mystery photos display at Penfield. The library’s Special Collections Office hopes members of the campus and community can stop by the display, on Penfield’s first floor, to help identify some of the people in the three dozen images.

(Posted: Mar 22, 2006)