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Rushing to save CSU's history

December 18, 2009
By Melinda Swenson

CSU's ties to its history might be in peril -- if not for the tireless work of volunteer Gordon "Hap" Hazard and CSU Library staff. They are in the process of scanning negatives on glass plates and film that are extremely fragile and in danger of becoming irretrievable. Hazard is playing a key role in identifying and annotating the images that the university has in storage.

Gordon "Hap" Hazard in the back room of Special Archives and Collections at Colorado State University's Morgan Library.

CSU’s Back Colonies 

“I really like my new office!” says Colorado State University retiree Gordon “Hap” Hazard of the workspace he has on the second floor of Morgan Library in Special Archives and Collections. “It’s heated!”

When Hazard returned to volunteer for CSU Libraries (after retiring from Conference Services in 2004), he started out working in what the library staff charitably refers to as the “Back Colonies,” a rather nondescript building tucked in among other warehouses on the southeast corner of CSU’s main campus.

Hazard had to wear a parka and scarf while he was working in the Back Colonies, a repository for hundreds of thousands of photographic images, film, and glass plate negatives that document CSU's history. The building is kept cool year-round to slow down the deterioration of the prints and film.  

A battle against time and light

Hazard has taken on the daunting task of creating computerized spreadsheets and annotations for the images which, if stacked one upon the other, would create a virtual mountain of snapshots, negatives, and plates.

Colorado State University's football captain in 1922. The name written on the photograph is 'Hormet.'

"It's a race against time," Hazard says. “The glass plates are from the plate cameras used in the early 1900s—the ones that had a dark cloth at the back that covered the photographer’s head.”

CSU’s collection of glass plates had been stored haphazardly in metal file drawers. Some of the plates were broken in two or three pieces. Library staff members have been working to scan the broken and intact plates. 

“Actually, the results are amazing!” says Hazard. “The scanner picks up things in the background in these old images that you can’t see at all on the plates.”

Fragile and flammable

“There’s also an abundance of negatives on silver nitrate film—many of them are 50-60 years old and are very fragile and flammable,” Hazard says. “This is the film some of us remember our parents using in those little Brownie cameras. There is nothing you can do to stop its deterioration—you can only use storage techniques that will slow it down a little.”

Some of the images, says Hazard, have never been dated and many are unlabeled pictures of CSU’s Who’s Who -- for whom the question remains -- “Who’s who?”

“Here’s an image of the 1980 football team,” Hazard says. “The players aren’t named, so I got my hands on the Athletic Department’s press guide for that year. It contained a list of the players and their jersey numbers. Now I’m able to name them, one by one, based on their jersey numbers in the photo.” 

Historical detective

Hazard in his office in Special Archives and Collections holding the 1944-1945 Silver Spruce yearbook.

“My primary source of research and verification is the CSU Silver Spruce yearbooks,” says Hazard, pointing to a table in his office which is loaded with boxes containing every single yearbook that was ever published at CSU. The first, dated 1890, is pale green and slender – about the size of a diary.

“The yearbooks are something I can really hang my hat on and be comfortable with – knowing that I’ve identified an image correctly,” Hazard says. “And they’re loads of fun. In the 1940s, class standouts were called ‘pacemakers.’”

The images of these students are very Hollywood-esque, with the women, in particular, tilting their heads and focusing their eyes away from the camera in dreamy-eyed fashion. 

Yearbook devotee

Hazard, who graduated from CSU with a B.S. in marketing in 1977, is an enthusiastic fan of CSU history, and he knows his yearbooks inside and out. “I have my own, private collection of the Silver Spruce that I’ve found over the years at garage sales and flea markets.” In these books, Hazard says, you can see the evolution of CSU and of the world.

“Some of the images make you gasp. For example, I came across a photo of a group of students dissecting a horse in a rudimentary laboratory. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.

“In the 1923 yearbook, you see ‘before-Title-IX’ pictures of Ammons, the women’s building which housed a women’s gymnasium, dance floor, swimming pool and basketball courts.

This image in CSU Libraries' collection is labeled simply, '1941 CSU College Days queen.' The man and the woman in the photograph have never been identified.

“When you get to the World War II years, the yearbooks become very lean on men, because they’d gone to war. And during the 70s, you can see the anti-establishment sentiment that American youth were feeling,” Hazard says.

He opens a 1977 Silver Spruce and points to a picture of the spring commencement ceremony at Hughes Stadium. “Look at this photo caption,” he says. "It reads:  ‘…and another batch leaves the factory!’” 

Help identify the sweethearts 

Want to play historical detective? Help CSU Libraries and Hazard identify the romantic couple in this photograph from 1941. The caption reads, “1941 College Days Queen,” but neither the man nor the woman has ever been identified.

If you have information about this photo please e-mail Hazard at

Check out the University Historic Photographic Collection Blog for other photographs the Library needs help identifying. They appreciate any assistance you can give.

The feature photo on Today @ Colorado State's Working@CSU page pictures CSU president Charles A. Lory at his desk in 1919.

Contact: Melinda Swenson
Phone: (970 491-2463