For decades, Special Collections and Archives at Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library has been developing and preserving research collections that tell the story of the cultural histories of the Great Plains with a concentration on central and western Kansas communities.
A recent donation from FHSU alum Tim Johnson completes the Tim Johnson postcard collection, which contains thousands of photographic and “real photo” postcards. The cards were created by renowned national photographers, such as Hal Reid, traveling lensmen, and local photographers who captured unique moments of ordinary Americans in turn-of-the-century Kansas communities through the Great Depression.
Deborah Ludwig, Dean of Forsyth Library, elaborated: “These remarkable historical postcards provide a window through which we can better know and understand the people, places, and events that came before us and the many ways in which our state and our communities have grown and changed over the previous century.”
This collection captures moments frozen in time, telling the story of main streets, store interiors, horse-drawn wagons, industries, and neighborhoods that evolved and devolved throughout a span of several decades. It includes several rare postcards, such as “Hamburger Gene”, one of Johnson’s prized pieces and only one of six cards known to exist.
Brian Gribben, coordinator of Government Documents and Special Collections, explained, “we have to remember that popular photography was still in its infancy, so these real photo postcards provide rare glimpses into what everyday life was like in these communities. Viewing pieces of our collective past in such an unfiltered form is invaluable as it creates opportunities that textual sources cannot.”
Johnson’s interest in collecting unique Kansas memorabilia goes back to childhood. Born in Falun, Kansas, Johnson discovered early 1900s hometown memorabilia in the basement of his father’s bank which sparked a fascination in Kansas history. Over a 40-year period, Johnson’s collection expanded to include postage, postcards, photographs, maps and letters from all across Kansas.
Johnson wanted a place where his collections could be preserved and shared with others. Nestled among many of the Main Street America communities represented in the postcards and having a strong mission for preserving the history of the Great Plains, Forsyth Library is now the home for many of Tim Johnson’s collections.
“It’s like sending the last of my kids off to college. But I know they’ll be well taken care of, I can still come and visit, and they’ll benefit everyone,” shared Johnson, a 1982 FHSU graduate and a long-time benefactor of the library.
Forsyth Library is processing the collection to ensure the postcards are discoverable and taking thorough preservation and conservation steps to make these historical artifacts available to researchers in the future. Johnson’s unique collections enrich Forsyth Library’s concentration of unique materials about Great Plains Research and will be incorporated into course instruction, the library’s Digital Collections, and future exhibits that support the educational and research mission of Fort Hays State University and the broader community.
“Tim Johnson has been a true friend to researchers and students at Fort Hays State University and throughout the entire state of Kansas through his series of donations to Forsyth Library’s Special Collections. Tim’s passion for history and his trust in our library to preserve this impressive collection for the enjoyment of future generations is deeply appreciated,” Ludwig commented.
In addition to preserving the history of the Great Plains, FHSU’s Special Collections also has collections concentrating around classic children’s literature, ethnic studies of the settlers of Central and Western Kansas, military history, rare books, and university history. Many of these notable collections began with donations by passionate individuals and collectors who wanted their treasures preserved and shared with FHSU, researchers, and the wider community.
Learn more about the Tim Johnson Collections and many others, as well as how you can support Special Collections at https://fhsu.edu/library/specialcollections/index.