Mysterious New Acquisition of Sousa Band Train Crash Photos

A photograph of the Sousa Band grouped in front of a derailed train car, with the backside of the photo reproduced underneath. The text there says, "Bill Heney, one knee up almost in front of Winifred Banbrick, female harpist."There are always unique mysteries associated with the work of archives. Sometimes donated collections come to the Center with unusual physical arrangements that no one can quite figure out, photographs without identifying information, and undated documents. Part of archivists’ processing of each body of records involves trying to fill in the missing descriptive information to make these historical documents accessible to researchers.  Of course the Center’s researchers sometimes also help us solve some of these archival mysteries too!

Last week we encountered a much more unusual mystery with one of our latest acquisitions. We received a small collection of photographs documenting the Sousa Band’s 1929 train crash.  The photographs came to us from an unidentified donor who did not provide us with any contact information for them.

The photographs were attached on individual scrapbook pages, and we first examined them to see if they included any information that could help us identify the photographer who took these images.  We had hoped this would help us determine the identify of our mysterious donor. Unfortunately, we found no hints. While some of the photographs included helpful captions, none indicated who was the photographer that took these pictures.

Despite lacking information about the possible photographer or our current donor, these photographs are still an interesting addition to our large body of records that document the travels of the Sousa Band.  Similar photographs of the same railroad accident appear in multiple collections, showing a variety of angles and individual members of the band. The photographs we received seem to focus on Bill Heney who was identified in two captions, including the large group photo featured above. In this photo, Heney poses in front of Winifred Bambrick, who is wearing a hat.

While we have been unsuccessful identifying the donor of these images, these photographs will become part of our Musical Americana Collection, which also includes early sound recordings and other photographs of the Sousa Band. They have already been processed, so feel free to request these materials if you would like to take a closer look at these photographs of the Sousa Band’s 1929 train crash in the Colorado high planes!

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