Friday, May 06, 2016

Ball State University Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 with the Roger Pelham Indianapolis 500 Collection

Art Pollard seated in race car
Attention, race fans!  The Ball State University Libraries' Archives and Special Collections is celebrating the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500!  A new exhibit dedicated to the race will be featured from May 16 to June 30, 2016.  The Ball State University Libraries is also introducing a new digital collection in the Digital Media Repository: the Roger Pelham Indianapolis 500 Collection. The new collection provides access to photographs, programs, ticket stubs, oral histories, and videos from Muncie resident and photographer Roger Pelham.

Roger Pelham
Pelham was born in Shelbyville, Indiana on December 20, 1908, and moved to Muncie when he was a child.  His father owned and operated a pharmacy near the south side of Muncie.  Pelham’s father hoped that his son would become a pharmacist and operate his own drug store; Pelham, however, had little desire to study pharmaceuticals.  After graduating from Muncie Central High School, Pelham began taking classes at Ball State Teachers College.  He dropped out after one semester and soon began working at Warner Gear.

On June 6, 1936, Pelham opened a Photostat shop where he made professional copies of documents for local businesses.  After receiving a phone call from a friend who was interested in buying a camera, Pelham added camera sales to his business.  His camera sales grew exponentially, and Pelham soon developed his own interest in photography.

Jimmy Clark in Victory Lane
In 1950, Pelham convinced the Indianapolis Star that he could take better pictures with his Leica camera than other photographers at the Indianapolis 500.  During the races, Pelham would position himself at one of the turns in order to take action sequence shots of the cars, especially during turns and wrecks.  From 1950 to 1971, Pelham and his crew photographed the race cars, drivers, and spectators.  He also collected ticket stubs, parking passes, and programs from the events, which are also featured in the digital collection.

In addition to his Indianapolis 500 photography, Pelham was interested in airplanes and frequently photographed local aviation events.  Some of these include the Johnson Field dedication ceremony (which featured a speech delivered by Vice President Richard Nixon), and the Endurance Flight (in which two local pilots set a record for 22 consecutive days in flight).  He also photographed Eleanor Roosevelt’s meeting with the Endurance Flight Pilots.

In his later years, Pelham retired from camera sales; however, he never lost his love of photography and enjoyed sharing stories of his days as a photographer.  He participated in an oral history with the Ball State Archives and Special Collection in 1994 and 1999, and also created an autobiographical video in which he describes events from his life and career. 

In addition to Pelham’s Indianapolis 500 collection, the Digital Media Repository also hosts the Ralph J. Satterlee Indianapolis 500 Photographs.