'Mystery History' provides 19 years of discovery

Aug. 2, 2012 at 3:02 a.m.

The first "Mystery History" that ran in 1993 was identified as the dedication ceremony for the La Salle Monument at Indianola, circa 1930s.

The first "Mystery History" that ran in 1993 was identified as the dedication ceremony for the La Salle Monument at Indianola, circa 1930s.

Nineteen years ago Charles Spurlin had a great idea.

It was certainly not the first or last great idea he has had, but this one continues to impress itself on those in Victoria and surrounding counties.

In 1993, Spurlin was a history professor at Victoria College and chairman of its Social Sciences Department. He was also director of the local history collection at the Victoria College/University of Houston-Victoria Library. A major part of the records in that collection is photographs.

For more than 40 years now, the VC/UHV Library has collected historic photographs of the people and places in the Crossroads area. The collection now numbers more than 24,000 photos, with an average of 600 photos added each year since its inception. Behind the scenes, library staff and VC faculty have worked to organize and develop the collection through the years.

Many photographs remain unidentified, but Spurlin's great idea helped to whittle down that number considerably.

Spurlin recently recounted how his idea came to be: "There were a number of photographs in the holding that included no identifications of people in them," he said. "Consequently, I thought that if the Victoria Advocate would run a print once a week in the paper, residents in the community might be able to provide names. Besides, such an item would help spread the word of the library collection and perhaps generate public interest in contributing photos to the assemblage which, by the way, originated with Dr. Robert Shook."

He approached Vince Reedy, the Victoria Advocate's associate editor, on the possibility of running a photograph of an unidentified person or people from the collection in the Sunday editions. The Mystery History photo ran in the Advocate on Feb. 28, 1993, and stirred more interest from the public than Spurlin had anticipated.

Spurlin retired from full-time teaching in 1997 but remained active as director of local history until 2002. At that time Margaret Robinson of the Victoria County Genealogical Society took over the "Mystery History" column and later turned it over to Doris Obsta, also of the society and a library volunteer. Now Obsta has passed the baton to Sheron Barnes, a VC/UHV librarian.

For 19 years, community members in Victoria and surrounding counties have followed and contributed names and background information about the "Mystery History" photos.

The Victoria Regional History Center has on exhibit a wall of photos which have run in "Mystery History" and the identifications that were made by Advocate readers.



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