Geoff Hunt spends so many of his waking hours “roaming” the downtown Waco of decades past that when he leaves his office at The Texas Collection at Baylor University most nights, he said he is startled by the “future shock” of present-day streets and shops.
Hunt, the audio and visual curator for the archives, has spent many hours looking at ancient celluloid and fragile glass negatives in preparation for his contribution to the “Waco Tornado: 60th Anniversary Lecture Series,” which continues Sunday.
During the free presentation, Hunt will highlight the work of several amateur photographers who aided professional shooters in documenting the aftermath of the Waco tornado.
Many images have never been shared with the public, Hunt said.
For students of the Waco tornado — the F5 storm that tore through downtown May 11, 1953, and killed more than 100 people — some photos have almost iconic stature — mountains of crumbled bricks, cars crushed almost to street level and great gapping holes in the skyline where thriving businesses once stood.
“For someone like Fred Gildersleeve, who spent his entire career photographing the city’s growth, it must have been especially painful to lose friends and neighbors in the storm and shoot the destruction of the city,” Hunt said.
Gildersleeve, who had chronicled Waco’s prosperity since his arrival to the area in 1905, was approaching the end of his productive years, Hunt said.
“Documenting the tornado damage was, in many ways, his swan song before his death in 1958,” Hunt said.
But for all the professionals who took pictures in those dark days following the tornado, such as Jimmie Willis (1913-98) or Windy Drum (1907-88), there were dedicated but lesser-known residents who added to the visual record of the times.
One was Fred Marlar, who in 1951 shot a series of aerials “that are an invaluable record of what the central business district looked like before the tornado,” Hunt said. The Texas Collection has more than 6,000 Marlar negatives, many of which have yet to be cataloged.
A few years ago, the family of Hiram Blaine Sherrill (1892-1980) gave his negatives of the storm to the Texas Collection. The Tennessee native documented much of the damage in East Waco, especially the schools there.
Hunt said he would welcome donations of more East Waco images of the tornado’s effects, especially on community hubs such as Paul Quinn campus, which was a thriving educational institution in the area in 1953.
“It’s not that we (the Texas Collection) are ignoring what happened in East Waco,” Hunt said. “It’s that we simply lack such images.”
The Texas Collection has a blog with photos and links called “Documenting the ‘Monster From the Skies’: Photographs Telling the Story of the 1953 Waco Tornado” (http://blogs.baylor.edu/texascollection).
It also has a set of nearly five dozen Flickr images (www.flickr.com/people/texascollectionbaylor/) that showcase the work of the above-named photographers, as well as Randall W. Todd, D.R. Dietrich and the Army Air Force Photography Division.
Dietrich shot aerials after the storm, giving researchers a glimpse of the aftermath, Hunt said.
Another photographer was Dr. Hannibal “Joe” Jaworski. He was a resident of the Roosevelt Hotel and kept a medical practice on the third floor of the Amicable Life Insurance Co. building at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue.
After the tornado, the former colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps helped to care for the injured who were brought to Hillcrest Hospital.
A lecture series about the Waco tornado of May 11, 1953, continues in the Hillcrest Conference Room of the Dr Pepper Museum, 300 S. Fifth St. It is hosted by the Waco History Project and the Dr Pepper Museum. The free, public sessions start at 2 p.m. on the following dates:
Waco’s Tornado Photographers: Geoff Hunt, curator of audio and visual artifacts for the Texas Collection at Baylor University, will discuss photographers and present samples of their work.
The Waco Tornado in Postcards and Pictures: Historians David Lintz and Wilton Lanning will present a program on the scenes of devastation from the Waco tornado that were turned into postcards or offered to the public as souvenir booklets.
After the Tornado — Disaster Relief: Milly Walker, historian at the First Presbyterian Church of Waco, will discuss the relocation efforts that took place at the church.