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An Interesting Twist to Last Month’s Cover Photo

By Mike Rosso

Shortly after our March 2019 issue was mailed out, we were contacted by local photographer Dan Downing whose work graced the cover of our November 2018 issue. He had an interesting story to tell about the March cover photo, taken of Marshall Pass in the 1890s by famed photographer William Henry Jackson.

It turns out that he was instrumental in the acquisition of an original version of that photograph, which he donated to the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center in Salida.

The original four-foot-long photograph was found in a restaurant called Delaney’s Depot in Buena Vista, operated at the time by Bob and Eva Flowers. The photo caught the eye of a Denver collector who had offered to purchase it several times over the course of a few years.

Eventually the Flowers’ contacted Grant Heilman, a noted photographer from Buena Vista, to ask about the value of the photo. Heilman referred them to Downing who researched the historic photo. He did manage to find a copy in the Library of Congress but could not determine the value of the Flowers’ copy. They in turn gave him permission to bring the photo to an expert on Jackson in Santa Fe where Downing learned it was an albumen print made from four, eighteen inch by twenty-two inch glass plates, contact-printed side by side with the seams retouched. The print is enhanced by hand-painting the snow on the peaks, and several trains at various locations along the grade. It is possible that the tracks had not been completely laid at the time the photograph was made.

Recognizing the historic significance of the photo to the region, he asked the Flowers’ if they would like the photo to remain in Chaffee County. They agreed, and offered him the opportunity to purchase it with that goal in mind. Downing then approached several friends and raised the money to buy it, with the intent of finding a permanent home in Chaffee County.

At some point while the photograph was at Delaney’s Depot there was a fire in the restaurant. While the photo was unharmed for the most part, there was some smoke damage, especially to the original pressed fiber mat which surrounded the image. Eva, believing that she could repair the mat with a can of white spray paint, sprayed away with abandon. Needless to say the photograph ended up with a lot of white overspray. After purchasing the photograph, Downing brought it to paper conservators, Tom Edmundson and Nancy Heughs in Kansas City who had previously done work on photographs for him. They spent a year working on it, but did the remarkable job of removing the overspray. The cost of the restoration was actually more than the original purchase price, according to Downing.

During the process of procuring the photo, Downing had a conversation with Charlie Forster who, at the time, was president of the HRRMC Foundation Board. As they talked, it became clear that the hospital, with it’s Denver & Rio Grande Railroad history, was the perfect public location for the photograph to be exhibited. Today, it hangs at HRRMC as the first acquisition in what is a very fine permanent collection. The photo can be seen on the second floor of the hospital, near room 2519.

The photograph is a gift to the community from Dan and Betsey Downing, David and Joan Clark, Grant Heilman, Collegiate Peaks Bank, Jack and Jamie Leighton, John and Pat Marzolf, Tom and Mary Jo Sandell, and Shirley Webster, through the cooperation of Bob and Eva Flowers.