Photographing Middletown USA
The publication of Middletown by Robert and Helen Lynd in 1929 put Muncie, Indiana on the map as the "typical" American community. Through their investigation, the Lynds sought to examine a cross section of American life in a representative community. Their selection of Muncie was the impetus for over 70 years of extensive study of this city and its people. In 1937, Margaret Bourke-White came to town to photograph "Middletown, USA" for Life Magazine. Local professional and amateur photographers have provided a rich heritage of photographic evidence of life in Muncie, the place that has been called "the most studied city in America."
Margaret Bourke-White photographing the Muncie City Council for Life Magazine, 1937.
This exhibit features images of life in "Middletown" -Muncie- throughout the 20th century, as depicted by Otto Sellers, W. A. Swift, Dick Greene, and other professional and amateur photographers. The Otto Sellers Collection provides visual documentation of Muncie prior to the Lynd's study from roughly 1900-1920. The Muncie that Robert and Helen Lynd first visited is documented in part by the W. A. Swift Collection. The Spurgeon-Greene collection rounds out this exhibit by documenting Muncie primarily from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Union Station, April 3, 1918.
Otto Sellers was a commercial and portrait photographer in Muncie in the early part of the 20th century. He was born about 1868 in Germany and emigrated to the U.S. as a young man. He moved to Muncie from New Albany and spent ten years working in the local steel mills before becoming a professional photographer. Sellers kept written logs for many of his photographs taken between 1908 and 1926, with the information arranged by name of buyer, subject, or a related heading.
W. A. Swift
Young Women in Swimsuits, Standing in River, July 28, 1926.
W. A. Swift was born in Metamora, Indiana, on August 17, 1877. Swift moved to Muncie in 1918 and was working for the Delaware Engraving Company as a photographer by 1923. The Swift collection documents both the ordinary and extraordinary events of daily life in Muncie, primarily in the 1920s. In these images, we have a visual history of Muncie during the time period when the Lynds first came to study "Middletown."
Delaware County Courthouse, circa 1950.
Richard A. (Dick) Greene was born in Richmond, Indiana, in 1903, but his family moved to Muncie while he was a child. In 1945, Greene started his "Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood" column for the Muncie Star. When he passed away in 1984, Greene left a legacy of over 10,000 columns and almost 3,000 photographs. The photographs, which were donated by Wiley Spurgeon, and the columns provide invaluable historical documentation of Dick Greene's neighborhood - Muncie, Indiana, from the 1930s through the 1970s.