The man behind the Auburn Journal camera
For the past two years, “Remember This?” has brought you a broad swath of nostalgia-filled photos from the Auburn Journals’ archives.
The photos are there because somewhere down the line, a decision was made to categorize and store thousands of pictures shot by the Journal — mostly from the 1970s and many of them unpublished.
The past two years have been a journey of discovery, as photos were found with little information other than a date on the back to cross-reference with information the Journal has in bound copies of past editions. Sometimes there was no information on the back, resulting in a deeper search for information.
Most times, the date would be scrawled in pencil on the back of the photos with a minimal tagline.
Which brings us to this week’s “Remember This?” subject and photo — the man behind that pencilled scrawl and most of the pictures published in this space.
His name was Merv Doolittle and over 37 years, he would devote much of his heart and soul to portraying the mundane and the marvelous in pictures published in the Auburn Journal.
Since September 2016, “Remember This?” readers have been seeing the triumphs and tragedies of an Auburn that will never return. For Doolittle — a dedicated press photographer who started working for the Journal right after being discharged from the U.S. Army after seeing service overseas during World War II — that meant being rowsted from deep sleep in the dark of night to photograph the grinding wrecks on Highway 40 and then Interstate 80. It meant capturing the joy of innumerable local events. And it meant not only capturing those events and many others on film. It meant the hours slaving in the dim red light of a darkroom a midst toxic chemicals to bring those images to Journal readers.
Doolittle grew up in Grass Valley and graduated in 1936 from Nevada City High School, as it was known at the time. He would also graduate from Placer College in 1939 and enlist in the U.S. Army in the spring of 1942, serving overseas in England and learning his trade as part of the military photography wing.
Doolittle would find love in England and marry a Manchester lass. She would join Doolittle in 1946 to begin their lives together in Auburn. Margaret Doolittle would volunteer at the Placer County library and then eventually work there, retiring after 25 years in 1979.
Retired in 1983
Doolittle’s days with the Auburn Journal would end with retirement in July 1983. A photo in the Journal’s archival file shows Doolittle being presented with a framed proclamation from then-Mayor Bud Pisarek for his 37 years service with the Journal.
For years after, Doolittle would retain his press photographer license plates — old-school black and gold with diamond shapes containing the double “P” to signal to emergency responders that a credentialed member of the media was on the job among them.
A search for this week’s “Remember This?” could find no obituary and no information on when he died. That could still turn up.
In the meantime, “Remember This?” is proud to share a little about the Journal’s man behind the camera.
And perhaps his photos are enough, speaking through the thickening veil of time more than any written testament ever could.
“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.