JOPLIN — A late photographer's collection of portrait negatives that spans 60 years is giving Joplin residents affected by the May 22, 2011, tornado a chance to recover pictures of their graduations, weddings and other important events.
The family of Murwin Mosler donated thousands of negatives to the Joplin Museum Complex, which on Tuesday allowed the public to begin searching the collection by hand or through a related computer database.
Mosler meticulously preserved the negatives in 5-by-7 manila envelopes, which were labeled with the name of the subject, their address and their telephone number. Often, the envelope featured a description of what's inside, The Joplin Globe reported.
Kathi Cassady on Tuesday found her senior graduation picture, her husband's senior picture and their wedding photos, including some that she had never seen. She and her husband, Tom, were married 37 years ago.
"I don't know what to say about this," she said. "I am so thrilled because it brings back so many memories. I love my wedding photos. They connect you with your loved ones. It's like going back in time."
Cassady said she remembered Mosler.
"I just remember he was so meticulous and creative with his pictures for that time," she said. "He took his time. He was very personable with you. He would find the best possible pose."
Sheryl Colson, a volunteer who helped organize the collection for release, found her wedding photos from July 17, 1965, and some Mosler had taken of her and her sister, Sheila.
"My mother wanted a formal photo of us," she said. "We posed in a rattan chair. For some reason, we never saw these pictures. When I found them, I was thrilled."
She also found the 1962 wedding photos of Jane Hillhouse and William Pitt, the parents of actor Brad Pitt. Hillhouse grew up in Joplin and graduated from Joplin High School in 1958. Her senior picture is in the collection, too.
The negatives were stored in Mosler's studio, which was torn apart when the tornado hit.
"There was one wall left standing," said his daughter, Marcia Long. "This was where all of these negatives were. They were saved. Somebody wanted my father's negatives saved so that the people who lost everything could still have something."
Brad Belk, director of the museum, and Andy Ostmeyer, an editor at The Joplin Globe, decided to save the collection. Ostmeyer enlisted his wife, Beth, and their three youngest children to move the 180 boxes of envelopes to the museum.
It took 14 months for dozens of volunteers to put the envelopes in alphabetical order. The envelopes were then listed on a computer program.
Belk said it was impossible to measure Mosler's legacy.
"His work defines our community," Belk said. "He held onto it. His heirs held onto it because they saw the value of his work. Even today, and at this very moment, his work lives on."