A century and a quarter later, bricks began crumbling off a building on Pine Street in that city. The E.E. Austin Construction crew arrived on the scene in June 2002 to remove the bricks. They quickly discovered “faces looking back at them” and the name “Cody.”
Slowly, the workers removed one brick after another. They soon realized the entire side of the building had been overlaid with a once colorful poster of the Combination while the building was under construction. After that, the images had been simply bricked over.
The demolition team contacted the Fenton Historical Society for advice as to how to proceed. Volunteers began the tedious task of collecting the fragments of the poster. Many were barely clinging to the wall. Laura Schell of the State University of New York-Buffalo worked to restore the 10 feet high, 26 feet wide poster. She paid special attention to those parts still adhered to the wall.
Watching a video of the project,* I learned that Schell used Japanese tissue paper, some water-soluble glue, and a steamer. She painstakingly peeled the poster parts still stuck to the wood plank wall. “The bond between the poster and the tissue paper will be stronger than the bond between the poster and the wood behind it,” Schell explained. Not only could she retrieve the fragments, but the tissue paper now adhered to the pieces made them stronger.
Like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s own mammoth Wild West poster, craftsmen engraved wood blocks to print the Jamestown poster design. They created twenty-four separate, matched prints. Then, workers numbered them to install them in order at their final location.
Arranged like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the hundreds of poster parts had to remain in storage. Conservationists needed more funding to continue their work. The restored poster was unveiled on June 2, 2007, five years after its discovery.
And what of the billboard today? Advertising a performance of May Cody by the Combination in the town’s opera house, the restored poster hangs in Jamestown’s Reg Lenna Civic Center. Serendipity? You bet it is! This is the site of that original opera house where Buffalo Bill played in 1878.
*The 14 minute-video is well worth a look!