Take a tour of Chicago yesteryear through a long-lost Sun-Times photo collection

Imagine a massive photo album of the family Chicago, hauled out of obscurity and now opened. Thanks to our partnership with the Chicago History Museum, exactly that is happening — and we’re grateful.

SHARE Take a tour of Chicago yesteryear through a long-lost Sun-Times photo collection
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Sun-Times photographer M. Leon Lopez took this 1974 photograph of Mary Wallace, the first woman to drive a CTA bus.

Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History Museum

The photo shows Mary Wallace behind the wheel of an old-style CTA bus, the one folks once called the “Green Limousine” because of its color, with its soft seats and big fishbowl front window.

It’s June 1974 and Wallace is about to make history as the first woman to drive a CTA bus.

Almost 50 years later, Wallace is a part of Chicago history again. This photograph, capturing a small milestone in women’s rights, is among roughly 5 million historic Sun-Times images rescued from near-oblivion and now being restored, digitized and placed online by the Chicago History Museum.

The images are the focus of a new Chicago History Museum exhibit called “Millions of Moments: The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Collection” that opened this month.

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It’s a proud moment for us. Sun-Times photos from the 1940s through the early 2000s — shot by some of the best news photographers in the business, including Pulitzer Prize winner John H. White and future celebrated White House photographer Pete Souza — again will be seen again by the public.

“The images — whether from news, sports or entertainment stories — show not only the growth of our city and region but also the evolution of news photography and its continued importance to news consumers,” Sun-Times Executive Editor Chris Fusco said, describing how the long-lost photo negatives were discovered in 2017 in a storage locker in downstate Dixon.

Imagine a massive photo album of the family Chicago, hauled out of obscurity and now opened. Parades, protests, fires, visiting dignitaries, crime scenes, political conventions, ballgames, music festivals and images of everyday life in the city.

To visit even the small portion of the collection that already has been put up online by the museum is to take a trip through Chicago’s yesteryear.

There’s a member of the Young Lords painting an image of Che Guevara on the wall of a child care and community center at Halsted and Armitage in 1969.

There’s Mayor Richard J. Daley celebrating the opening of a new bike lane at Clark and Walton streets in 1974. “Himself” looks a little nervous riding a tandem bike with Keith Kingbay, activities chairman of the League of American Wheelmen.

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Chicago Sun-Times Collection, Chicago History Museum

There’s Carl Sandburg gazing out at the city that was at the heart of so much of his poetry, as his tour boat cruises along the Chicago River Branch in 1957.

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Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History Museum

And we’ve all had days like the commuter in the photo below. The wind has flipped his umbrella inside out as he crosses the Madison Street bridge over the Chicago River in 1970.

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Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History Museum

M. Leon Lopez of the Sun-Times took — or, in the argot of photojournalists, “made” — the photo of Wallace, the pioneering CTA bus driver. She is smiling brighter than a set of high-beams, a motorman’s hat sitting at a perfect tilt atop her Afro.

“It’s a reminder of the good times — and the bad times, and the monster times, you know,” Wallace, who retired from the CTA 13 years ago, told us when we showed her the photo last week. “I just feel good about what I was able to do for the women of Chicago.”

Wallace raises a good point. Many of the photos in the Sun-Times document tough moments and times in Chicago, inevitably given the nature of newspaper work. And there’s a message in that for our city today as we stare down a pandemic, economic hard times and civil unrest.

We’ll survive these monster times as well. And make history doing it.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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