Bob Wyer is one of the most prolific photographers in the history of the Catskills. His photographic career included shooting just about everything, such as passport photos, chauffer licenses, hunting licenses, high school yearbooks, formal portraits, special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, young babies, local stores, hotels and businesses, accidents, insurance claims, crime scenes, landscapes, parades and local news events. There was nothing that Bob couldn’t and wouldn’t photograph. Upon his retirement, Bob donated his extensive collection of over 150,000 photos to the Delaware County Historical Association. The collection is a virtual time capsule of the region from the late 1930s to the 1970s.
Robert Selden Wyer, better known as “Bob,” was born to Arthur C. Wyer and Louise Selden Wyer on August 15, 1908. He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, but only remained there a short time. In the winter of 1912, with Robert at the age of 4, the Wyer family moved from Plainfield to Delhi in Delaware County, New York.
Arthur Clinton Wyer, Robert’s father, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts on July 11, 1867. He graduated from the Nantucket High School and quickly learned the newspaper and printer’s trade at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror. Arthur then moved to become a printer and publisher at Providence, Rhode Island. Arthur married Louise Selden on September 27, 1899. Before coming to Delhi, Arthur worked at the New York Sun for 10 years and also worked as a critical reader for the NY Evening Post. Shortly after having moved to Delhi, New York Arthur purchased the Delaware Express from Frank Mayham, and officially took possession of the newspaper on December 2, 1912. The Delaware Express was a long serving newspaper having been founded in 1839 by Norwood Bowne (1813-1890). Arthur purchased The Walton Chronicle in 1914 and a year later merged it with the Delaware Express to make it a larger newspaper. In 1916 Arthur purchased the Delaware Gazette and moved its equipment to the office of his Delaware Express. From 1925 he took on a partner in Claude B. Crawford, who had been working as the shop foreman.
Arthur would hold the editor’s role for 27 years, retiring in 1939. Several years later, in 1942, the Delaware Express was sold to John B. and Charles H. Stow and William Van Wagner, publishers of the Delaware Republican at Delhi, NY. Arthur was active in local politics, with the Delaware Express being recognized as Delaware County’s official Republican newspaper. During his career he was also a frequent contributor to the New York Herald Tribune. He was active in the community, having been a member of the Kiwanis Club during its early years, served as president of the Commercial Club and acted as a leading advocate from bringing the state school to Delhi. During World War I, Arthur served on the district Selective Service board at Albany, a role that reviewed appeals from the decisions of local boards. Acquired in February 1919, Arthur was a partner with Arthur F. Curtis and Edwin Stevens in operating the Opera House in showing movies. The theater was then for a time owned by Arthur and his son, Charles. The theater was later sold in 1925 to W. C. Smalley of Cooperstown, New York, operator of the Smalley chain of area theaters.
Arthur passed away at the age of 82 on February 15, 1950 at his home after an illness of more than two years. Funeral services were held on February 17, 1950 and were officiated by Reverend William Shane of St. James Episcopal Church, and burial services were held at Nantucket, Massachusetts on February 20, 1950. Robert’s mother, Louise Selden Wyer, born December 19, 1876, died several years later on April 16, 1955 at the age of 78. Both are buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery at Nantucket, Massachusetts. Arthur and Louise were survived by two sons, Bob and his brother, Charles A. Wyer.
Charles A. Wyer, Bob’s brother, was born on January 6, 1901 at Providence, Rhode Island. Growing up, he worked for his father at the Delaware Express. He attended Brown University for two years then “joined his father in managing a movie theater and later worked for a theater chain. On May 2, 1926, Mr. Wyer joined the editorial department of the old New York Sun where, as a court reporter, he covered the trials of Brno Hauptmann for the Lindbergh kidnapping; Jimmy Hines, New York City political leader, and racketeers prosecuted by Thomas E. Dewey.
During his last six years on The Sun, Mr. Wyer was acting city editor on Saturdays and assistant city editor at other times. He also reviewed books, movies and plays.
When The Sun merged with the World-Telegram in January 1950, Mr. Wyer worked as copy editor, rewriteman and assistant city editor.
In June 1929 he married Miss Ruth Slater, a teacher. She started teaching in Plainfield in September 1929 at Plainfield High School. At the time of her retirement in 1962 she was head of the business department.
A member of the Plainfield Country Club since 1944, Mr. Wyer enjoyed golf, stamp collecting, music, theater and travel.” (“Charles A. Wyer, ex-newspaperman.” The Courier News. Bridgewater, New Jersey. September 20, 1973.) Charles A. Wyer died September 18, 1973 at 72 years of age.
Bob Wyer was educated at the Delaware Academy where he graduated in 1926. He then attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He worked at an advertising agency there before returning to his hometown of Delhi to work his father in the newspaper trade at the Delaware Express. Early in his career he was a reporter but would soon begin work as a photographer as well.
On September 3, 1933 Bob married Wilhelmina “Billie” R. Sebesta (born September 21, 1908), daughter of Theobald and Joanna “Jennie” (Rozboril) Sebesta. The small ceremony took place at his parent’s home in Delhi. The ceremony was officiated by Revered Gerald Barry, rector of the St. James’ Episcopal chapel in Lake Delaware.
Both of Wilhelmina’s parents were immigrants from Austria / Hungary. Theobald, born October 22, 1879, immigrated from Germany to the United States in August 1902 and became a naturalized citizen in 1907. In the 1910 US census showed that he was working as a tailor while the 1920 US Census showed his profession as insurance agent. He was described on his World War I draft registration card as being of medium height, medium build with gray eyes and light hair. Jennie immigrated to the United States in 1897 and became a naturalized citizen in 1907.
Wilhelmina graduated Binghamton High School, cum laude, and then attended the State College for Teachers at Albany, New York. She was a member of the Psi Gamma sorority. In 1933, at the time of the wedding, Wilhelmina worked as a dramatics teacher at the Delaware Academy. She also taught English and served as the librarian at the Delaware Academy. She would later also teach high school history at the Grand Gorge Central School.
Around the time that Bob entered the newspaper trade, photojournalism was entering what is considered the “golden age of photojournalism,” a period generally considered to be the 1930s to the 1970s. The introduction of the 35mm Leica camera, small and light, allowed photojournalists greater flexibility in taking pictures, allowing them to move with the action. Publications such as Life magazine, one of America’s most popular magazines, used lengthy photo-essays full of high-quality photographs. Pictures, not words, became the center point for a story. Newspapers were also including an ever-increasing number of photographs in their publications. Journalism entered an era of “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a term coined by Arthur Brisbane (1854-1936), a well-known newspaper editor. Local publications, such as those where Bob worked, would soon follow the lead of the national publications by increasing their usage of photographs.
Bob worked as the Delhi representative for the Oneonta Daily Star. He also worked as the Delhi correspondent for the Walton Reporter. Bob learned photography as part of his job for the newspaper industry in the 1930s, beginning to capture the details of Delaware County life. He would eventually open his own studio at 10 Court Street in Delhi, later moving to 113 Main Street, site of a former lumber company. As his skills and reputation grew, there seemed to be nothing that Bob couldn’t photograph. Subjects included passport photos, chauffer licenses, hunting licenses, high school yearbooks, formal portraits, special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, young babies, local stores, hotels and businesses, accidents, insurance claims, crime scenes, landscapes, parades and local news events.
By the late 1940s Wyer, in addition to his local studio and field work, had established a postcard business in Delhi. For the next three decades Bob and his wife Billie traveled the country to photograph college campuses. It was estimated that they visited 350 colleges, in 43 different states, sometimes traveling 20,000 to 30,000 miles in a year. Their longest single trip lasted for three months and covered 18,000 miles. The 350 colleges photographed accounted for approximately 15 to 20% of the market. Bob once amusingly noted that before starting out in the photography field he had never been more than 300 miles from home. He had since traveled to every state except Hawaii and Alaska.
Greetings from Greenville, N.Y.
Bob Wyer was one of the largest distributors of ektachrome postcards in New York State. Around the world, Bob and Billie conservatively estimated that over 56 million of their postcards were in circulation, “all stamped with the Bob Wyer studio name and Delhi N.Y. on the back.” (“56 Million Wyer Pix Are Circulating Globe.” Delaware Republican Express. January 17, 1974.) A local newspaper article highlighted one of the Wyer’s national working tours, this one in 1959:
“Mr. and Mrs. Bob Wyer . . . had been engaged to make color photographs of Oregon State college, Corvallis, Ore.; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; College of Idaho at Caldwell; Texas Tech, Lubbock, Texas; Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich.; Kent university, Kent, Ohio; Georgetown university, Washington, D.C., and Drake University, Des Moines, Idaho. The Wyers began at Georgetown and worked their way through colleges all the way to the Pacific Ocean.” (“Bob Wyer Makes Big Time Photos.” Catskill Mountain News. September 11, 1959.)
A year later, in 1960, Bob and Billie Wyer were again on the road:
“Gary MacFarlane, former Delhi boy, now of Sarasota, Florida, is one of a group of students in a color photograph made by Bob Wyer, local photographer at the University of Miami last month. The photograph is to be used on a postcard for the University bookstore.
Mr. Wyer, who had been engaged to make a number of campus scenes for the college, was not aware that Gary was a student at the University; he set up his camera and arranged his student models, and was quite surprised to find that his path had crossed that of a fellow Delhian 1500 miles from home.
Mr. and Mrs. Wyer have returned here after a six weeks trip during which the Delhi lensman made color photographs of University of Florida at Gainesville; Jacksonville University; St. Petersburg Junior College; Pensacola Junior College, as well as University of Miami in Florida; Tulane University in New Orleans; Lamar State College in Beaumont, Texas; Rice Institute in Houston, Texas; and San Antonio College in San Antonio, Texas.”
(“Bob Wyer Sells Photograph to Buick Magazine.” The Delaware Republican Express. Delhi, NY. April 21, 1960.)
Another trip was highlighted in the local newspaper in 1966:
“Billie and Bob Wyer left Monday for a six week trip to Florida and the west coast.
The Wyers have been engaged to make photographs at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida; Atlantic University, Boca Raton; University of Miami, Coral Gables; St. Petersburg Junior College; Chipola Junior College, Marianna, Florida; Gulf Coast Junior College, Panama City; Northeast Louisiana College, Monroe, Louisiana.
Also: Georgia Tech in Atlanta; Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; San Fernando Valley College, and Occidental College, both in Los Angeles.
The Wyers hope to get a vacation in Mexico before returning to Delhi early in April. On April 18-22 they will exhibit their work at the NACS convention at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Following this they are booked up for another six week trip in the Midwest, Washington, D.C., and a number of places in New York State and Pennsylvania.
If the Wyers take on move bookings in Chicago, another trip across the northern part of the country to Oregon is a possibility for this summer.”
(“Wyers on Tour.” The Delaware Republican-Express. Delhi, NY. February 24, 1966.)
During his travels Bob had the opportunity to photograph the buildings of some of the most accomplished architects in the country. This included the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Edward Durell Stone.
Although Bob got the name recognition for his photographic work, Billie provided much business acumen in making the overall operation successful. One newspaper article stated succinctly that “The blending of talents – his poetry with a camera and her executive ability – made a successful business.” (“Wyer’s philosophy lives on in Delhi.” Press and Sun Bulletin. Binghamton, New York. December 30, 1981.) She accompanied him on the lengthy cross-country travels, administered the collection of what would become 150,000 negatives and worked in the studio to help pose subjects. Bob and Billie worked side by side for over 40 years to great success.
Bob was a member of the National Photographers Association as well as a founding member of the former Delaware-Otsego Photographers Society. He was elected president of the Catskill Section of the Professional Photographers Society of New York. He was awarded a Master of Photography degree by the Professional Photographers of America, a degree that represented the topmost level of professional achievement. The degree was awarded “to those photographers whose superior competence and technique has been recognized in exhibit competition. It is earned by years of work and demonstration of outstanding ability. The degree entitles the holder to add the initials “M. Photog.” After his name, and to wear a medallion and gold ribbon symbolic of the honor.”
Bob won a large number of awards for his photographic work, and had his work displayed at various expositions from New York City to Washington D.C. to Chicago and beyond. A few examples of this recognition include:
Sunset Rock at Oquaga Lake
Perhaps one of Bob’s most famous, and chilling, photos focused on one of the most infamous murders in county history. In April 1943 Leroy Luscomb, age 32, killed his wife Ella May Luscomb in a fit of rage after she had left him for his drinking and carousing. The murder took place at the home of Ella May’s parents, Reuben and Ida Eck. The distressing photo, featured in the Daily News, depicted a despondent Leroy, sitting in a rocking chair, handcuffed, with his hand on his head, wearing a blood-soaked shirt, while his wife lay dead on a bed in the background. Leroy had carried his wife’s body from the kitchen where he had killed her.
Bob, who had photographed the crime scene, was called as a witness during the trial. Leroy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. New York Governor Thomas Dewey would commute his sentence to life imprisonment and, in 1960, New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller again commuted the sentence to time served, 16 years, and lifetime parole. Leroy died in 1992 at age 81 at his home in Walton, New York.
The grisly photo was recently republished on December 29, 2019 by the New York Daily News along with an article about the murder. The article was titled “Justice Story: The tragic tale behind the haunting photo of a slain wife and her sorry husband.”
In 2015, 36 years after Bob Wyer retired, the Delaware County Historical Association published a retrospective book titled Picturing the Catskills: The Photography of Bob Wyer, 1938 - 1978. The book features over 150 pages of black and white photos of Catskills life. Chapters are organized by themes such as agriculture; amusements; community activities; crime, accidents and disasters; people and places; and work. The book is available for purchase through the Delaware County Historical Association.
In 2019 a documentary film titled Bob Wyer: Catskills Photographer was released. The 70-minute film highlights one of the greatest local photographers in regional history. The movie was produced and directed by Samantha Misa, and supported by Arthur Pierson as director of photography, Brittany Elliot with original music and Lily Ogozalek as narrator. The film was exhibited at various libraries and historical societies throughout the region. The DVD is available for purchase through the Delaware County Historical Association.
Upon retiring in 1979 the Wyers closed their Main Street studio and sold their equipment. The Wyer studio was leased to Ron Borowski, with the operating name changing to Town and Country Photography. Bob and Billie Wyer donated their photo collection of over 150,000 negatives to the Delaware County Historical Association. The collection remains safely archived there to this day. The gift was made on condition that no portrait negative of a living person be used without his or her prior written consent. The Wyers continued to operate the postcard side of the business for 2 more years, eventually selling it to Alan J. Nyiri, a well-known author and photographer whose career continues today.
Bob and Billie Wyer had two sons, Robert S. Wyer, Jr. and Peter Charles Wyer. Robert Wyer, Jr. (b. April 18, 1935) is a prominent psychology professor and author of several books. He received a degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1957, a master of science from New York University and a doctor of philosophy from the University of Colorado in 1962. He held academic appointments to the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle and later at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “where he spent the next several decades of his research career . . . he established himself as one of the most phenomenally prolific scholars in the history of social psychology. His rate of publication in the top journal of the field, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is without peer . . . To his dozens of graduate students, postdoctoral advisees, and faculty colleagues, Wyer is best known as an indefatigable source of feedback, advice, support, and encouragement.” Although he officially retired in 1995, he “continues to be more active than most scholars who are half his age.”
Peter Wyer received his MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania Medical College in 1974. He practices as an emergency medicine specialist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Billie Wyer died on December 21, 1981 at the age of 73 at Lourdes Hospice in Binghamton. She had been ill for two years with cancer. She was described as “a vigorous, sometime peppery small woman” with a “manner [that] was often brisk but she was also kind. Her cooking, by instinct rather than by book, was an experience” that many remembered. A memorial service was held on December 23 at the Hall and Peet Funeral Home in Delhi.
Bob died in 1982 at the age of 73 at his home in Delhi, New York. The funeral was held at the Hall and Peet Funeral Home in Delhi and Reverend Lyman Achenbach, minister emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oneonta, officiated the funeral services. He was survived by his two sons, Robert S. Wyer Jr., then living at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and Dr. Peter C. Wyer of New York City, and two granddaughters.
Greetings from Claryville, N.Y.
Horseshoe Bend, Rip Van Winkle Trail, Catskill Mountains, N.Y.The famed Horseshoe Bend is located along Route 23A in the northern Catskills as it takes travelers from Palenville to Haines Falls. At the horseshoe bend, the road passes beautiful Bastion Falls, which also serves as the beginning of the Kaaterskill Falls trail. Route 23A has been known as the Rip Van Winkle Trail.<br/>
Horseshoe Bend, Rip Van Winkle Trail, Catskill Mts., N.Y.