° empty

Treasures found, shared on Fridays

Do you ever wonder about those people who suddenly discover in their attic a long-lost painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that is worth millions of dollars?

Who are they and how did they not know there was a gold mine sitting just above their heads?

Surely there is such a find waiting to be unearthed in some old Natchez attic.

Or maybe one is lurking in a dusty, cobweb-filled file cabinet of The Natchez Democrat newsroom.

That was my thought a few months ago when I reached to pry open a rusty file drawer to see what was inside.

Reporters walk by the bank of cabinets in the newsroom everyday, but it has been at least 15 or 20 years since anyone has stopped to use them. Computers, e-mail and the Internet have made them obsolete.

Imagine my surprise when I did find what amounts to a long-lost treasure. I didn’t find a Da Vinci painting or a even a sketch from one the Renaissance painter’s sketchbooks.

What I did find is something akin to a time capsule, like the boxes schools, churches and civic organizations fill with memorabilia and bury in the ground with instructions to open in 25, 50 or 100 years.

Years after the last document was filed away in the cabinets, I opened one of the drawers to find folders filled with black and white photos from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s.

Before the days of digital cameras and electronic printing, the staff photographers at The Democrat printed photos in the darkroom for publishing. The photos were then converted to a halftone pattern to be printed on the newspaper’s printing press.

Photos included cheerleaders, marching bands, kindergarten classes and civic organizations, business ribbon cuttings, city board meetings and social events. There are photos of local celebrities — many who have since died, others who continue to make headlines. There are sports photos filled with game action from the gridiron, basketball court and baseball diamond. All locked and forgotten in dark filing cabinets only steps away from the daily newspaper’s digital process.

No one knows why the photos were filed. It could have been for future use or for posterity. Whatever the reason, the photos sat filed away, some for nearly 30 years, until now.

Thanks to a new feature on our website called Looking Back Friday, these photos will find a new life on the web.

Each Friday on natchezdemocrat.com, a new set of photos from the recent past will be added to our Looking Back gallery.

Two weeks ago, we started posting this gallery online and we already have featured businesses that have since disappeared and are fondly remembered like the Pompous Palate and the Petite Boutique. Beloved Natchezian the late Dr. David Steckler and artist Lavern Hamberlin also have made an appearance. So too have the 1992 Trinity Episcopal Day School kindergarten class and the 1993 Emerald Tide dance team.

You might see someone you know. If you were here in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, you might even see yourself. You might even see someone you know whom we don’t since some of the photographs are not dated and are void of identifications.

If not, you will still see a slice of Natchez history as it was recorded in pages of The Natchez Democrat.

It may not be a lost masterpiece, but this time capsule is a treasure for this newspaper and this community.


Ben Hillyer is design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.