DOUG LEEN (FORMER NATIONAL PARK RANGER): In 1971 I was a ranger in Grand Teton National Park. Once a year, everybody would show up in dirty clothes and we’d just clean up the park after the tourists leave, and I found an old poster in a barn. It piqued my curiosity. It was quite unique. The poster said “Meet the Ranger at Jenny Lake Museum,” which is where I worked, and I thought, well, it’s kind of cool so, I’ll just take it home. And every time I walked by, it kinda talked to me. The more I looked at this poster, the more I realized there was a story to be told.
NARRATION: The story of that poster would take ranger Doug Leen on a lifelong quest back through time. The Jenny Lake poster that he found is now part of a well-known collection of national park posters. But the prints were almost lost to history. They date back to the 1930s, and were created as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program to create jobs.
ARCHIVAL (WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION PROMOTIONAL FILM):
ANNOUNCER: The Great Depression left millions of able and willing Americans bewildered and jobless. In 1933 the federal government came to the help of local agencies which had fought a courageous but losing fight against the growing need for relief.
NARRATION: Even artists were put to work – more than 10,000 of them. . .
ARCHIVAL (WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION PROMOTIONAL FILM, 1937):
ANNOUNCER: Painters, too, contribute their bit to making the Works program a real and permanent accomplishment, one of the most fertile periods of our country’s art.
NARRATION: . . . many of them making posters.
Fourteen posters were designed to highlight the beauty of some of our most scenic and majestic parks, mostly in the west: Yosemite, Grand Teton, Glacier. Fewer than 2,000 posters were made of these 14 designs, and mostly forgotten for more than 50 years.
DOUG LEEN: About 1992, my supervisor in Grand Teton called me up and said, we’re looking for a poster idea. And I said, well, I not only have a good idea, I’ve got the poster, and I sent her a picture of it. She just said wow, this looks like one of these old government posters.
NARRATION: Leen made a call to a friend in Washington and found out his original poster was in fact a rare find. The National Park Service archive didn’t have a single original poster. All they had were old negatives and black-and-white photographs.
Leen, who now lives in rural Alaska, took those designs and started making reproductions and selling the posters.
DOUG LEEN: My first main thrust was to restore the historic prints – to reprint them so the public could enjoy them, and also to save these images. My second purpose or mission was to try to acquire these originals, buy them from willing sellers and then donate them to the National Park Service to rebuild this original set in its original form and put it back in the public domain.
NARRATION: Leen owned four original designs and donated them all. The Library of Congress has five. Two are with the National Parks Service. One known poster of Yosemite is in private hands, and two are still on the loose.
DOUG LEEN: Today, of the 14 prints that we know that are made, I’ve found 12. The two that are missing are Great Smoky Mountains and Wind Cave National Park, and again, never found one. I’ve looked in hundreds and hundreds of junk stores around the country and I’ve never seen one. We only have the negative. That’s all we have, but we do know the design.
NARRATION: The mysterious whereabouts of those original two posters mean Doug Leen can’t yet give up the search. In case anyone has a stash of old papers in their attic, or a dusty, locked up trunk somewhere, Leen has an old western style bounty he’d like you to know about.
DOUG LEEN: I still got two prints to find. I’ve got a $10,000 reward for them if somebody wants to come up with one. I will pay that and I will donate it back to you, the public. It’s evolved into a lifetime obsession almost, a passion. And sure enough took me 50 years to put this little puzzle back together. It’s a hobby run amok. It’s got a grip on me, I can’t let go.