Stories and Connections: The Lansing State Journal and Norris Ingells collections at the Archives of Michigan
Feb. 25, 2016
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages, conserves and protects the state’s natural and cultural resources.
While DNR divisions like wildlife and fisheries are concerned with species and habitats, the Michigan Historical Center works with the state's most important cultural resource – history.
In 2015, the historical center was instrumental in saving two important collections that are connected to each other and also have a strong connection to the work of the DNR.
The Lansing State Journal Collection and the Norris Ingells Collection, both of which are now housed within the center’s Archives of Michigan, include decades of images documenting Michigan’s natural resources and the people who interact with them.
The Lansing State Journal Collection
In 2015, the Lansing State Journal – Michigan’s primary capital city newspaper – was planning a move out of the building it had occupied since 1951.
During 2014, The Detroit News had moved from its building and transferred its historical materials to the Archives of Michigan. When the transfer was complete, the News printed a story about it and Lansing State Journal staff read it. Finding themselves in a similar situation, they gave the Archives of Michigan a call.
State archivist Mark Harvey assigned processing archivists Bob Garrett and later Helen Taylor to work on-site at the Lansing State Journal building to prepare the records for transfer. A formidable task awaited them.
In the basement at the newspaper and within a couple of storage areas sat approximately 1,000 cubic feet of historical materials, the equivalent of about 1,000 banker boxes.
Over 2,500 reels of microfilm contained copies of original Lansing newspapers, dating from 1855 to the present. Photographic prints and negatives – dating from the 1940s to circa 2000 – illustrate depictions of people and places from the past in Lansing and greater Michigan. Clipping files provide alphabetical subject groupings of newspaper articles.
Transferring the records began in June 2015 and took three months.
While those numerical measures of the collection may seem impressive, history isn’t about dates and facts – it’s about stories and our connections to them.
For example, while scanning the Lansing State Journal portrait files, Garrett saw a photograph of Sylvia Taylor – a longtime DNR employee and mother to Helen Taylor, Garrett’s partner processing the transfer of the collection.
The image, captured by State Journal photographer Ginger Sharp, shows Taylor with a habitat map and copies of the management plan for Michigan’s endangered Kirtland’s warbler. The species has recovered dramatically over the past couple decades.
Other photos in the Lansing State Journal Collection include numerous images of wildlife and outdoor recreation, scenes from Michigan state parks, and DNR employees and activities captured by State Journal photographers.
In one shot from 1989, DNR veterinarian Stephen Schmitt holds a black bear cub that weighed 6.1 pounds, according to the caption. Another bear image from that same year, also snapped by Rod Sanford, shows DNR researchers Elaine Carlson and Larry Visser weighing a 39-pound black bear on a portable scale. Both of the photos were from a project undertaken on Drummond Island in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
There are many other images in the collection showcasing Michigan’s wildlife, state parks and other features, including an image (shot by Ron Leifeld) of a man and a boy fishing from a small boat at Sleepy Hollow State Park in Clinton County. Another picture taken by Robert Killips shows two deer in Alger County.
The Lansing State Journal Collection is a treasure trove of imagery saved in state’s archive.
The Norris Ingells Collection
The Norris Ingells Collection arrived in the Archives of Michigan shortly before the Lansing Journal Collection and it beautifully complements the latter. Ingells, who died in 2005, worked as a photojournalist for the State Journal from 1964 to 1995 and was one of the paper’s prominent wildlife photographers.
“Ingells and his cameras were a familiar sight around mid-Michigan for more than 40 years as he crisscrossed the region in search of news, sports and feature photos for the Lansing State Journal and shot thousands of nature photos as well,” states a State Journal article from May 26, 2015, on Ingells and the collection.
Upon retirement, Ingells continued to write nature and travel columns and to take more photos, all of which he kept.
Recently, Ingells’ widow moved out of state and handed the photos to her daughter, Melissa Benmark, who had planned to sort through the photos – but that soon seemed to be a Herculean endeavor.
"He kept everything, but he wasn't real huge into organizing things," she recalled.
Fortunately, Benmark had a helpful personal connection. She knew Mike Clark, a Radio Talking Book volunteer at WKAR, the East Lansing public television station where Benmark had long worked as a host of the “Morning Edition” program.
Clark is the husband of Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan Historical Center. Soon, over 30,000 of Ingells’ images found a new home in the Archives of Michigan, where they can be organized, described and preserved for future generations.
As with the Lansing State Journal Collection, those researching these images can find personal connections. DNR employees, for example, may relate to Ingells’ love of nature that is unquestionably apparent in his photography.
Two of Ingells’ images – one from the Lansing State Journal Collection and one from Ingells' own files – prove the point.
In a photo of an ice fisherman from 1982, we can imagine how cold the man feels, and yet, you see him crouching down, seemingly unfazed while intent on his task. In another shot, a duck is shown with a large piece of ice frozen to its tail. Ingells gives us a close-up on the animal, making the viewer sympathize with its plight.
Many tales to discover
A newspaper such as the Lansing State Journal covers many types of stories, representing many aspects of life.
Needless to say, it is not just DNR employees who will find themselves and their interests reflected in the Lansing State Journal and the Norris Ingells collections.
Ultimately, history belongs to us all, and this is why the DNR preserves it at the Michigan Historical Center.
The Lansing State Journal Collection has been cataloged. Check out a link to the collection’s catalog record.
The Lansing State Journal and Norris Ingells collections are available for on-site use at the Archives of Michigan, 702 W. Kalamazoo St., in downtown Lansing. Phone: 517-373-1415. Reading room hours are 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
For more information, visit the archives Web page.
Catch upcoming stories by subscribing to free, weekly “Showcasing the DNR” articles. Previous articles are available at www.michigan.gov/dnrstories.