"Unidentified" Man is Former AS President Now Helping to Solve Library's History Mysteries
After reading in May’s alumni enewsletter
about the request for help identifying hundreds of images in the SDSU Library’s University Archives Photograph Collection, B. J. Nystrom (’66) was intrigued. He visited the special flickr page the library had set up and began clicking through the pictures to see if he might be able to recognize any of the people, places and events they depict.
B. J. Nystrom was labeled as an "unidentified employee" in this image from the SDSU Library's University Archives Photograph Collection.
“And about the sixth or eighth picture I saw was me!” says Nystrom, a former Associated Students president who had been listed in the photo as an unidentified employee.
"The picture is me as vice president in my office in Aztec Center,” he recalls. “It was probably taken by the Del Sud (Del Sudoeste yearbook) or the Daily Aztec because they had notes on them and they had cut marks, but they weren't used for whatever reason."
As he looked through more images, Nystrom identified several people whose names had been left off the pictures. "I was seeing professors I knew, staff people, administration people,” he says, “and it was really kind of a neat thing."
ALMOST ALWAYS SPOT ON
Nystrom contacted SDSU digital collection librarian Lisa Lamont who is managing a six-year digitizing project intended to both preserve the images and make them more widely available on line. She took him up on an offer to come into the library and examine more of the collection to see how many more pictures he could identify. So far there have been dozens.
By the appearance of the jersey he is wearing, B. J. Nystrom identified this man as a 1960s-era San Diego State rugby player.
“B.J. has been great,” says Lamont. "He's doing a really good job of identifying students and especially students who were involved in organizations somehow. He's almost always spot on."
Nystrom says some of the names of the people in the pictures come back to him right away. Others, he has to think about for a while. In many cases where he can’t identify individuals, he can still correct aspects of the images that have been mischaracterized.
"My favorite is a rugby player and he's identified as a football player,” says Nystrom. “He’s sitting in a uniform with stars across the shoulder and cutoff shorts and his foot is hurt and he's sitting on the bench right next to the rocks of Aztec Bowl smoking a cigarette. (I know) this is a rugby player from the sixties because I went back and researched it in the annual. This is the kind of uniform they wore in 1961 and 1962. He may have (also) been a football player, but this guy is on the rugby team.”
"THEIR NAMES ARE IMPORTANT"
Nystrom has already spent several days in the library poring over thousands of pictures. The retired County of San Diego employee says he’ll keep working on the identifications as long as librarians can use his help.
B. J. Nystrom uses a library computer to peruse the University Archives Photograph Collection in an effort to identify people, places and events in the images.
"I'm basically a research kind of guy,” he explains. “I really enjoy figuring out the puzzle. I like to know, I like to find out and I like to correct mistakes.”
But there’s more motivating his mission.
"I'm a - and this is going to sound hokey - a quasi-archaeologist or something,” Nystrom reflects. “Nobody's dead - or at least a lot of them aren't dead - that I'm digging up and trying to make sure that they're not relegated to being just, you know, ‘Four Unidentified People.’
“I've seen all these 1920 pictures with captions like, 'Five Unidentified Football Players.' I think that's sad. Their names are important and they deserve that recognition. For other people it may seem boring, but I find it very exciting that, in a way, I can help some of these people come back to life. They're real people and they existed and have names, so I figure I can do that for them.”
If you think you can help identify any of the SDSU mystery photos, check out the library’s flickr site