Re-Creating history with a new photograph
Local veterans, auxiliary, and Scouts invited to participate in re-creation of historical photograph
TINA L. SCOTT
As part of the 9/11 20-year anniversary commemoration and the Grand Opening of the new Northwoods Veterans Post on Saturday, September 11, area veterans, auxiliary members, Scouts, and their families are being asked to come and to help re-create a piece of history, in the form of taking a new photograph, that will resemble an old photograph, and make some history for future generations.
Did you follow that? Let me try that again.
“We will line up our local Veterans, auxiliary members, families, and Scouts in front of the new Northwoods Veterans Post at 601 Johnson Street, just as our ancestors did in 1913, to take a [professional] photograph,” organizers say.
The photograph will be taken immediately following the “We Remember 9/11” Ceremony, remembering the 20-year anniversary of that fateful day on September 11, 2001, when our nation was attacked on American soil,and the Grand Opening of the Northwoods Veterans Post. Those ceremonies will begin at 1:00 p.m. that day and should last about 30 minutes.
Organizers want to include absolutely as many veterans, auxiliary members, Scouts, and their family members as possible in the photograph.
Inspired by history
The inspiration for this photo is an historical photo taken in front of the old VFW Post more than 100 years ago.
On the wall of the new Northwoods Veterans Post, high on the wall overlooking the dining area, hangs a reproduction and enlargement of a 108-year-old panoramic photograph, painstakingly restored and reproduced on canvas and mounted on a solid backing.
The original photograph, taken in 1913, included more than 55 people, many of whom were members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) [a fraternal organization made up of those who served in the Union Army] and the Women’s Relief Corps (W.R.C.) [which originally served as the auxiliary of the G.A.R.], dressed in their finery and standing in front of the 1904 G.A.R building on Cleveland Street in Merrill, better known to most residents as the “old VFW Post 1638,” which was then a pretty new building.
Many, but not all, of the people in the photograph have been identified through historical research. “All of them with interesting lives. All of them helping to build our community, supporting their nation, and uplifting each other,” said Polly LaMontagne, retired US Air Force Master Sergeant and VFW member. “These actions are quite similar to what is still occurring today at the Northwoods Veterans Post.”
Restoring a picture of Merrill’s past
From the moment she saw a small newspaper clipping of that photo, Tracy Jopek, local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary Junior Vice President, had her heart set on getting that image enlarged and on the wall for people to see.
LaMontagne knew it couldn’t be done from a scrap of newspaper. Nevertheless, as Chairperson for the Interior Design Committee of the new Northwoods Veterans Post, she wanted to create a space where people were honored and uplifted as they continued serving their community, she said. “It was also a goal of the Northwoods Veterans Post organizations to create connections with community members, providing educational materials and events to share knowledge and understanding about veterans and their experiences.” This project was one way to help integrate all of that.
Many individuals contributed and volunteered to help restore and enlarge the historic photograph that now hangs in the new Northwoods Veterans Post. It truly was a collaborative effort with local historians at the Merrill Historical Society; the North Pines Genealogy Group; the T.B. Scott Library; Anna Kordick [who had a version of the photograph with many of the individuals identified]; professional photographer, Phil Ziesemer, and his wife, Mary; and Eric Geiss, who was a designer and creator with Premier: Precision Laser and Powder Coating Company at the time. All contributed their own volunteer hours and expertise to recreating, enlarging, digitally restoring, printing, and mounting the photograph and finding out as much as possible about the people in the photo.
“Unfortunately, the photo, more than a hundred years old, had sustained a bit of water damage on the right side, and as can be expected, was soiled and had some fly poo issues,” LaMontagne said. The volunteers were undaunted in their efforts. With time, patience, and their collective expertise, the results of their work now hangs on the wall of the new Northwoods Veterans Post.
Let’s recreate a moment in history
Once that was accomplished, Jopek had another monumental idea: to create a 2021 version of the photograph in front of the new Northwoods Veterans Post with current veterans, auxiliary, Scouts, and family members, using that panoramic photograph as inspiration to create a 2021 panoramic photograph.
The 2021 panoramic photograph will be printed large, on canvas, and mounted just like the historic reproduction. It will then be hung on the wall alongside the historic photo, where it will make history for future generations.
Perhaps, more than a century from now, Merrill residents and veterans will look up at that photograph and wonder about the people in the photo and their lives, much the same as we research about and imagine the lives of those people in the 1913 photo. [And hopefully, we’ll have a better record of who all the people are in the 2021 photograph for future generations to refer to.]
“Come and help us make history,” Jopek invites. “I really hope a lot of veterans, auxiliary members, and Scouts will come out and be in the new photo.
“I like how they look over us and how we are encouraged to move forward for a new generation,” Jopek says of the historic photo now hanging in the new Northwoods Veterans Post. “Never forget where we came from.”
She is hopeful our generation, in this new photograph, can look over future generations, and remind them of the imporance of remembering, as well.