Tuesday, August 16, 2011

John Papp Photograph Collection

John Papp. Photograph from Larry Hart Collection.
John Papp was, as described by a 1978 GE Works News article, “a photographer by trade but a history buff by desire and avocation.” Papp shot many photographs of the Schenectady area, and was an avid collector of historic photographs.

John Papp was born in Bronx, New York, to John and Anna (Juracka) Papp, and was raised in the New York City area and in Tannersville, New York. He joined the U.S. Army in 1949 and served through 1952. That year he married Eileen Specht; the couple would go on to have three children. Papp was hired by the General Electric Company that year. While at GE, Papp worked as a photographer for GE Works News and as a photographic technician at GE’s Center for Research and Development in Niskayuna. Papp worked for General Electric from 1952 until his retirement in 1988.

In a 1989 Schenectady Magazine interview, Papp shared that he first became interested in history when someone asked him to copy historic photographs while he was working for the Advertising and Sales Promotion photo lab at General Electric. He dedicated time and effort to preserving historic photographs of the area. In one instance, Papp relates a story that a friend, Ed Cooley, found a box of glass-plate negatives at the Scotia town dump. Papp, Cooley, and Lou DeCerbo returned to the dump on their lunch hour to try to retrieve any remaining negatives. Papp also collected historic postcards depicting Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany, New York City, and other parts of New York State.

Parade on State Street, ca. 1900. This is one of the many
historic photographs collected by John Papp.
Photograph from John Papp Photograph Collection.
Papp served as Rotterdam Town Historian beginning in 1972, and served on the board of trustees of the Schenectady County Historical Society. He also served on a number of committees related to historic celebrations in the area, including the Rotterdam bicentennial and sesquicentennial, and Schenectady County bicentennial.

Papp is the author of 27 booklets related to local history, transportation and other topics. Many of his booklets were self-published, and range in length from 16 to 66 pages. Titles include: Old Schenectady (n.d.); Schenectady Then and Now: Photos as Early as the Civil War (1966); Trolleys: The Forgotten Transportation, From Horse-Power to Electric-Power (1968); Schenectady’s Changing Scene: an Illustrated Tour Through the Streets of Schenectady’s Past and Present (1969); Those Golden Years: The Circus (1971); The Old Car Book (1972); Ships of the Seven Seas: The Interoceanic Ship Railway (1973); Erie Canal Days: Albany to Buffalo (1975); My Father Used to Tell Me About ... (1977); The Horseless Carriage: Over 100 Photographs of Classic Automobiles (1979); Smoke n’ Rails (1979); Titanic (1981). Papp also published a number of booklet reprints, including Albany Bi-Centennial 1686-1886 (1970), Fire! Fire! Firemen: A Tribute to the Nation’s Firefighters (1972; originally published in 1939), and Traveller’s Pocket Directory & Stranger’s Guide, Exhibiting Distances on the Erie Canal & Stage Routes in the State of New York, A Facsimile of the 1831 Edition (1978).

In addition to Papp’s work as a photographer and historian, he was also a musician. He played with the 10th Division Army Band in Manhattan, Kansas, during his Army service. Papp also played as a drummer in his Johnny Papp Quartet, which played weddings and other events in Schenectady, as well as in the Lenny Ricardi Big Band. He was a drummer in the Capital District Marching Band from 1980 to 2004.

In addition to historic photographs, the John Papp Photograph
Collection also includes manyphotographs taken by Papp,
including this photograph of the Cobblestone Church in
 Rotterdam, taken in 1975. 
He was a board member of the Musicians Union, and was a member of the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley, Titanic Historic Preservation Society, Professional Photographers Society, the Rotterdam Elks 2157 Lodge, and was a committee member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 357.

John Papp died on May 17, 2005, at the age of 72. He is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna.

The John Papp Photograph Collection is comprised of photographic prints, negatives, and slides taken and collected by John Papp. The photograph collection documents the city of Schenectady, as well as more general topics about which Papp had a special interest, including the Erie Canal, automobiles, and ships. The bulk of the collection consists of photographic prints, but also includes some slides and a few glass plate negatives. The collection also contains a small amount of research material created and compiled by John Papp pertaining to the Erie Canal and local history. A finding aid for the collection can be found here.

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