Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Marsh Gooding probably didn’t realize he’d struck photographic gold when he first laid eyes on the humble cardboard box with the Gatorade logo on it in his mother’s basement. Visiting his mother, Debbie, from his new home in Vermont, Gooding had felt the urge to organize some of the possessions of his father, Tyler, who died in 2004.
Someone had written “The Judge’s cameras” with a felt-tip pen on two sides of the Gatorade box, and Gooding was curious enough to explore further. The judge was his great-grandfather, A.M. Gooding Jr., who was born in 1891, served as the district judge in Steamboat in the 1920s and 1930s, and lived until 1966.
“I was poking around in my mom’s basement when I found the box,” Gooding said. “I pulled out one of these leather carrying cases and took the lid off and found the glass negatives. I thought I might have just ruined them all.”
Gooding, 24, a native of Steamboat Springs, hadn’t harmed anything. Instead, he had rediscovered an important piece of the historic record his great-grandfather made in the 1920s.
Gooding asked Steamboat commercial photographer and documentarian Ken Proper for help. Proper, with Harriet Freiberger, produced the book “Then and Now, a History of Steamboat Springs, Colorado” in November 2009. He meticulously re-photographed Steamboat landmarks for the book to approximate as closely as he could the angle of view in historic photographs of the area.
Passionate about traditional black-and-white photography throughout his career, Proper said his eyes widened when he realized what Gooding had brought to light.
He described the significance of the images and the history of photographic processes to about 30 people Friday during the first Brown Bag Luncheon of the summer at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
Gooding has presented the digital scans to the museum, which is featuring an exhibit of historic black-and-white images of Northwest Colorado.
Proper told his audience that Gooding documented winter landscapes, scenes of rustic campsites, fishing trips and Steamboat landmarks at the same time Ansel Adams was honing his craft.
“There are remarkable similarities between Ansel Adams and A.M. Gooding,” Proper said.
Lynn Abbott, seated in the audience, recalled Gooding and his wife, Gertrude, her grandparents, as the people who raised her while her own parents were busy working. Her grandparents included her in many fishing and camping trips.
“He always had his fishing reel and his camera with him,” she recalled. “He could be stern. We never called him ‘grandpa,’ but ‘judge.’ He was also very loving and kind to us.”
The Gooding family has a fine collection of photographic prints that are separate from Marsh’s recent discovery. But avid photographers will tell you nothing compares to having the original negatives with all of the original information they recorded in the emulsion.
The images on Judge Gooding’s glass negatives include an outdoor still life of his skis and poles on Howelsen Hill’s Mile Run. Another stunning image was made from high on Woodchuck Hill (where the Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus is) looking toward Howelsen Hill, with the long-gone Cabin Hotel in the middle ground.
“These negatives were made 90 years ago, and they are still just fine,” Proper said. “That’s the beauty of archival photography.”