Chased across time: Generations saving Houston's history

How one man struggled to save Houston's memories even as water consumed his home.

While the flooding from Hurricane Harvey was truly historic, it also threatened to wash away Houston's own history.

Neighbors have always stepped up to help neighbors in Houston. Story Sloane has the pictures to prove it: part of an extraordinary archive his father rescued from a smelter a generation ago.

“They could burn the negatives and then reclaim that silver from this collection of 30,000 negatives,” Sloane said.  “He was only able to save 10 percent. They burned up over 27,000 negatives.”

But his dad saved 3,000 from the fire – snapshots of life in Houston in the 1920s and 30s.

The high-resolution photos show the oil boom, new businesses, Hobby Airport and the train station that would become a ballpark.

What makes the archives precious is that much of what was captured by those photographers almost a century ago has vanished; we can’t go back in time and take the picture again.

Sloane’s own story goes back generations. Photos show Story Sloane Senior in Port Arthur, Texas, in a flood in 1914. His son would go on to document Houston floods in the 1940s and 50s. And his son, Story III, would safeguard the legacy of floods and photographs – the water chasing them across time.

“They can’t be replaced,” Sloane said. “If they were lost, it would be history going blind.”



The floods in 1929 and 1935 spurred the creation of both the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to protect the core of the city. Ironically releases from those same reservoirs some 82 years later threatened the photographs.

Story’s house sat under four feet of water with Houston’s history stored inside for safekeeping.

The old celluloid acetate negatives were already beginning to decompose into goo before the rains, and the digitized copies were on hard drives inside his home below the reservoirs.

“It was imperative that we get them out of there as fast as possible,” Sloane said.

He trudged through the water to save three boatloads of Houston history, carrying the images of Houstonians long since gone -- all the while thinking of only one.

“The key individual I felt was looking over my shoulder was my father,” he said.  “I felt his presence. And that was powerful in itself.”

His father rescued the negatives from flames. A generation later the son saved them from the floods.

Twenty containers and four back-up drives of Houston history are now slowly drying out, like the city itself.           

“All of this would have been lost for the community of Houston,” Sloane said.  “Not only the people who are going through all of this today but the people in the future. Because we’re now part of history. This whole event is part of history.”

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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