Indy Library Firefighter Photo Provides Life Changing Moment

February 21, 2014

Firefighter McGovern

IFD firefighter Edward J. McGovern, Jr. served from 1936 until his death at age 50 in 1956.

During her entire life, Cathleen McGovern Quigley had neither met nor ever seen a photo of her paternal grandfather. But thanks to The Indianapolis Public Library's digital collection of historic photos from the Indianapolis Firefighters Museum, the Whitestown, Indiana resident and National Sales Manager for Embassy Suites Downtown discovered the first visual record of her Indianapolis firefighter grandfather, a portrait photo from the 1930's, which has touched her entire family.

The photo of Edward J. McGovern, Jr. is one of over 3,000 early Indianapolis Fire Department objects, including almost 900 newly-added portraits, in the Library's digital collection of Museum items found at The collection also includes photos of African-American firefighters and tragic events in local fire history. Individually scanned from the Museum's large portrait frames that date to the early 20th century, the firefighter photos are accompanied by brief biographical information as a way to remember those who devoted their lives to public service.

Quigley's discovery prior to Christmas provided the perfect opportunity to surprise not only her siblings and cousins scattered throughout the country and as far as Japan, but her own father who was 16 years old at the time of the elder McGovern's death. Having already lost his mother, the young McGovern and many of his siblings were raised either in an orphanage or by other relatives who did not pass on any photo records of their father. 

"I could not wait to surprise him at Christmas, as I was too excited to give him some good news and cheer him up," said Quigley, who related her father's current emotional difficulty in dealing with his wife's failing health and the passing of a young grandson. "My dad is 75 years old and had not laid eyes on his father in almost 60 years . . . it was a very touching moment and a Christmas gift to all of us McGoverns. Thank you so much to the Library from the bottom of my heart. It has touched so many lives and many generations to come with its good work."

Cathleen Quigley

Cathleen McGovern Quigley (standing) views a photo of her grandfather with Indy Library digital specialist Elizabeth Franklin from the Library’s online collection.

The Indianapolis Public Library's digital collections feature other items of historic local interest, including Indianapolis Public Schools yearbooks, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce newsletters, the English Opera House programs, and artifacts from The Children's Museum. Other unique collections include the May Wright Sewall Papers, World War One posters, historic Indianapolis postcards, Irvington oral histories, and audio recordings from poet James Whitcomb Riley.

The Library and its digitization partner, IUPUI University Library, present these digital collections of materials found in the Nina Mason Pulliam Indianapolis Special Collections Room at Central Library and other community collections published with generous funding provided by The Library Fund, a fund of The Indianapolis Foundation.