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Cyclone negatives a historic find

Paul Mayer displays one of the glass negatives from 1899 that depict scenes of destruction in the aftermath of the New Richmond cyclone. The negatives were purchased from an individual from Seattle, Wash.

Mary Sather thought she'd seen every piece of historical memorabilia related to the 1899 cyclone that literally destroyed the community of New Richmond.

Afterall, she helped write the book "They Built Their City Twice," which chronicled the tragic storm and the city's rebuilding process since. And as curator of the New Richmond Heritage Center, she'd also handled numerous donated items over the years related to the cyclone.

But then local history buff Paul Mayer uncovered a couple items recently that didn't look familiar. He donated the items to the Heritage Center so they could be added to the organization's permanent collection.

The most impressive find were eight glass negatives depicting scenes of destruction two days after the June 12, 1899 cyclone ripped through the community.

He found the items on an Ebay auction and asked the seller if he could email pictures of the negatives.

"I realized these were photographs I have never seen before," Mayer said.

He showed the pictures to Sather, who confirmed that she'd never before seen the images.

The glass negatives came from a collection of images taken by a photographer of that era. The glass slides were in separate envelopes and each was dated June 14, 1899.

"It's part of our history that we've never seen," Mayer said. "It was exciting."

Mayer, who regularly uncovers and bids on New Richmond memorabilia on various auction websites, immediately put in a bid that would assure him of his purchase.

Now that the negatives have arrived, Mayer said the Heritage Center will do a little detective work to try and figure out some information about the images.

"We're going to get prints made and try to figure out where in town these actually were taken," Mayer said.

While still basking in the huge historic find, Mayer uncovered several additional items he had to buy.

Mayer purchased an actual property deed from 1875, which was 24 years before the cyclone. Historic items that pre-date the cyclone are rare finds, he noted.

The deed is signed by seven individuals, and many of the names would likely be among the early pioneers of this community.

"We can now trace the histories of several families that we may not have had any record of before today," he said. "These are the people who helped settle New Richmond."

Mayer also purchased a picture of a man with two dogs, taken in New Richmond in 1897 at that time.

Other recent buys included a "tintype" photo and two porcelain collectible items.

He said he's not surprised that new stuff continues to go on sale throughout the nation, but he's surprised that more items don't come from local families who are cleaning out their attics or garages.

"I'm sure there's tons of stuff in this community sitting in basements," he said.

Mayer said he'd be thrilled to talk with anyone who would be willing to help the Heritage Center "fill in the gaps of our history" by donating memorabilia, photographs or any items. He's also willing to buy items if people want to sell.

"I'm more than happy to negotiate with anyone who has New Richmond stuff," he said.

Mayer said he focuses his attention on items from prior to 1940 and unique pieces.

"I concentrate on stuff that we're never going to see again," he said, "and can't be replaced. It's just like treasure hunting. For me, it's the thrill of the find."

Mayer can be contacted at 715-246-4332 or via email at pmayer@pcmglobalsol