Remembering Jim Cheeseman, Cecil Whig Photographer

Saturday I did a talk for the Cecilton Library on research with old photographs in Cecil County, which had me thinking about the work Jim Cheeseman did in this county for over 20-years.  A photo-journalist for the Cecil Whig, he donated his collection of over 10,000 photographs and an untold number of negatives to the Historical Society about ten years ago.  I’m reposting a piece I blogged about for the Historical Society when I got a call letting me know that he passed away on April 12, 2007.

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SAD NEWS – April 12, 2007

While I eagerly worked to create our first blog, my cell phone brought some sad news that dampened my enthusiasm for the task on this cool spring day. The Cecil Whig’s Katy Ciamaricone was on the line, saying she needed to talk with me about Jim Cheeseman who had passed away earlier in the day. Shortly after that conversation our regular office line rang and it was Don Herring, a retired editor from the Whig.

cheeseman1

Jim Cheeseman is on the job at the county fair in the 1970s

If you don’t know the “Cheese” served Cecil Countians as a photojournalist for over 20 years, capturing attention-grabbing images for our weekly and then daily newspaper as his camera documented the unfolding of history here at the top of the Chesapeake. He was there when the big disasters took place and he was there as the county celebrated holidays and everyday happenings.

He retired in 1983 and back in the mid-1990s I still recall another time the phone rang. This time the voice crackling over the line was Jim’s, joking and jovial as always. Would we be interested in adding his photographs spanning three decades to our library, he inquired. Oh how exciting that call was for I couldn’t wait to get over to his apartment to see the scope of the pictures and negatives. In a few weeks, joined by his former editor, Don Herring, we sat for many days pulling box after box of unorganized material together and adding his recollections to as many as possible.

Today we have over 10,000 of his images, which are such a valuable collection for studying our past. Jim left us with a permanent, unmatched visual record, with a unique depth and quality, focusing on everyday life in Cecil from 1963 to 1983.When his health was still good, he would often stop in to chat and joke with our volunteers and tell stories about his experiences. He always seemed to be in the middle of the action, whether it was chasing police cars and fire trucks, attending fire company banquets or church events, taking pictures of presidents, or visiting around Elkton after he retired.

That time and those memories seem a lot more distant as I write this late on a Friday afternoon as strong guests from an approaching nor’easter rattle our historic old bank building in downtown Elkton. But even now I vividly remember sitting there with Jim and Don over 10 years ago, pouring over those old images as “the Cheese” easily recalled time-tested stories about many of the pictures and related many tales about his escapades from the 1930s on. He always enjoyed an audience and he was entertaining for I still recall many of those stories.

I too remember his visits to the Society and seeing him around the community as he worked every job to its maximum, before and after retirement, often announcing “never fear the Cheese” is here or something like that. He had a great sense of humor, was always joking, and got along easily with people. That approach helped him for he was able to work his way into about any unfolding news event.

So long Jim. Though we’ll never hear that familiar phrase again, we will carefully look after the “Cheeseman Collection” (http://www.cchistory.org/photos/index_files/Page1129.htm) for we are pleased you selected us to be the custodians of such priceless materials. As the time you traveled every corner of Cecil, from Bald Friar to Warwick and everyplace in between, grows more distant, your record of the county grows immensely more valuable and your work will serve as a tangible reminder of the contribution you made.

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