A window to a forgotten Selma

Published 7:29 pm Friday, July 3, 2009

Although Billy Rosenberg became a Selmian only after he married Elsie Eagle, no man has left a more interesting and varied legacy to this town and Black Belt area he grew to love.

A founder and longtime trustee of the Old Depot Museum, he gave his time, talent and innovative ideas to ensure the success of this early venture into tourism. If proof is needed, walk through its two floors of exhibits and note on each wall the photographs with “Rosenberg” in their corner.

After Billy’s death, his daughter and son, Royce Wells and Ronnie Rosenberg, brought to the Old Depot his aging metal trunk and placed it against a wall of the Archives Room, already filled with any number of things relating to the city’s past. And there it remained until David Hurlbut came to the museum to fill a vacant part-time position.

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A true historian who refuses to leave unknown any vestige of “the way things used to be,” Hurlbut cleared his way to the still unopened trunk, lifted the lid and found historic treasure. By actual count, there were more than 2,000 aging negatives filling it to the brim. Of course, some were in less-than-perfect condition, others might well have been processed recently, and as we held each to the light we realized we were truly looking at the history of our town and many of its people.

Hours turned into days for Hurlbut, who never paused until he had categorized each and placed them in separate envelopes according to subject and approximate date. Then, members of a quickly appointed committee rotated sitting at his homemade light table, trying to identify each negative as to who, what, when and where.

“Take a look at that!” “Oh, do you remember?” “Hey, that looks like . . .”

The enthusiastic response from museum board members led to suggestions for use of the negatives with mutual agreement that “people need to see these.” Then planning began. It culminates on July 16 at the Harmony Club where the doors will be open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. for “An Evening to Remember.”

The negatives have been culled with a number of them selected for printing and display on the Harmony Club walls. Others will be available for rotated viewing on a large screen as well as on a smaller computer screen. And any one that strikes your fancy may be ordered by selected size for printing.

The Old Depot Museum is also offering a Silent Auction during this special evening. Details will be available when you enter the Harmony Club on July 16. Admission is $10. That includes beverages, snacks and a grill specialty by Chef Robert Gordon.

A scant few prints of the negatives are shown on this page. As that special evening progresses it is the hope of the Old Depot Museum that many of those present will recognize old places, old events and find familiar faces of long ago.