In 2014, Janet Jewell received a beautiful Christmas card from a cousin. The card, expressing warm wishes for the season, contained three vintage newspaper clippings dated September 1923. The articles described a trip Janet’s grandfather, Ira Augustine Wells, took that year throughout much of Colorado.
Mr. Wells had been sent by the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad as a special photographer to accompany the well-known writer and lecturer Emma Tolman East. The two were to gather materials for the publication of a popular Rock Island travel pamphlet titled “Under the Turquoise Sky.”
These two special employees received from their boss, L.M. Allen, an ambitious three-week traveling itinerary. They ventured to Denver, which was then featured as “the gateway” to the local Denver Mountain Parks region and the more remote Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mr. Wells and Ms. East also wandered throughout the Pikes Peak country, including Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, and points of interest west of Ute Pass. The two also journeyed to Pueblo – the “natural gateway” to the San Isabel forest with lands extending to the Colorado and New Mexico borders.
Finally, they visited the more isolated Gunnison country, as well as Alamosa, Silverton, Ouray, Durango, Canon City, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction.
As Janet states, “When I read all of this enlightening information I was thrilled, because in 1973, when I was just 23 years old, Grandfather Wells had given me a stack of vintage photo negatives. I flashed back in time – Grandfather was 87 years old when he fished them out of a special box and proudly nested them in my hands.”
“He wanted me to have them, because I had recently moved to Colorado, ” she continued. “He thought I might enjoy them even though they were unmarked. I remember carefully putting them away and making a solemn promise to myself to someday uncover the collection’s essence – the story of the images resting in the natural murkiness of each photo-negative.”
“At that time, I never dreamed it would take me over forty years to take the investigative journey. The three neatly-folded Christmas clippings became my “Rosetta Stone” to unravel the mysteries behind the Wells collection. That quest for discovery led me to Estes Park, where my grandfather took many of his photos. I have managed to identify many historic spots where he took pictures, but others remain a mystery.”
It is Janet’s hope that current Coloradoans can render help in identifying some of the unknown images that remain a mystery. You don’t necessarily need to be a long-time Estes Park resident or avid Colorado traveler – the view may be familiar because it is a rock formation in your backyard, or an unidentified individual may be your own relative.
To that end, Janet Jewell will share already-identified and still-unidentified Estes Park and Colorado negatives from her grandfather’s 1923 collection on Saturday, October 12 at “Ten Letters” on 240 Moraine Avenue. The one-hour program is free, and begins promptly at 7:00 p.m. All are welcome, including remaining summer residents and first-time visitors. No reservations are required. Please call 586-4889 for additional information.