Volunteer Spotlight: Ray Wery

Volunteer Spotlight: Ray Wery

The MCHS Digitization Program

Marathon County Historical Society has been scanning documents and photographs for almost twenty years. Throughout the last 20 years, the scanning of our photograph collection has largely been done by a group of dedicated volunteers, who dedicate their time, considerable expertise, and enthusiasm for the work of preserving historical photography from our community. Thanks to them, our record database has over 19,000 individual photo records consisting of digital files created from panoramas, glass negatives, postcards, tin-types, and a variety of other formats.

Ray Wery

Ray Wery joined the digitization project at the end of 2015. Ray retired from a career in medical radiology in 2014, and in his retirement he pursued his passions for the outdoors and photography. You can see some of his work on his website, https://raywery.myportfolio.com.

Ray passed away unexpectedly last month. Friday mornings here have been much quieter without the sound of Ray at the scanner, and his enthusiasm and friendship will be profoundly missed. But his time volunteering here has left a legacy of hundreds of unique and historic images he has helped digitize and preserve.

During his time with us, Ray took a keen interest in the more challenging types of photographs in our collection: tintypes, glass plate negatives, scrapbooks, and other unusual formats. In mid-2016, Ray found a box of rolled panoramic photographs and decided to make them his next project.

Panoramic photographs can be very difficult to scan. They are too long to fit within the confines of a scanner bed, and often need several captures to cover the entire length. And after decades of being stored in tight rolls, they are almost always too fragile to unroll far enough to see the image without damaging the materials—let alone to stay flat long enough to be scanned.

Ray researched and constructed a humidification chamber to relax the fibers of the rolled photographs, and the process to dry the photo paper so that it remained flat. This was followed by the process of making several high-resolution scans to be stitched together to make the final image of the panorama.

By my count, Ray would end up digitizing 135 individual panoramic photographs for us. These panoramas often reveal remarkable scenes of groups of people coming together for conventions, club meetings, company picnics, reunions, fairs, and other social gatherings.

I once asked Ray if there were any of these panoramas that stuck out in his mind as his favorite. He pulled up "2015-93," one of the first panoramas he scanned, showing a baseball game between Wausau and Aurora in 1912.

The Panorama

It was the season opener, May 13, 1912. The Wausau Daily Herald reported that the game was marred by “damp, cold weather, with a snow storm in the fornoon.” Yet the weather improved enough that they announced the game would go ahead as planned.

After a band concert on 3rd Street the crowd made its way to Yawkey Park (Atheletic Park today) to watch the Lumberjacks shut out their rivals from Taylor County, 4 to 0.

The outfield featured advertisements for paints and smoking tobacco, and although the weather obscured the view beyond the fence, you can see the lumber yards that still constituted many of the buildings north of downtown in 1912.

The crowd that braved the weather to watch the game came on foot, by horse and buggy, as well as the new automobiles that were becoming popular in Wausau in the 1910s.

There was not an exact count of the spectators for the game, although the Wausau Daily Herald called it “a fair sized crowd—much larger than could reasonably be expected under the conditions.” The fans overflowed from the available seating and bleachers, and many sat on the cold ground or stood on the sidelines to watch the game. Note the boys in the background jumping the fence to see the game.

If you or someone you know are interested in volunteer opportunities at MCHS, such as working with historic images, please feel free to contact us!