A Return to the Archives

Courtesy of ideas.ted.com

I’m calling what happened a two for one. This week, I was able to resume visiting local archives. Oh, what a feeling!

I scheduled a visit with the first archive to review their holdings on a pioneer of my town who I’m writing a journal article about. After spending three hours reviewing the documents I was stymied by one that was a bibliography missing the previous page. I took a note to find the information elsewhere.

Since it’s been a long time since I visited the museum part of the archive I decided to take a look around. One of the docents saw me pondering an exhibit and we got to talking. I mentioned how I was confused by the display as I’d never seen a setup like it was (a barbershop in the same room with a post office in the back and a general store adjacent to the barbershop). He said he thought it was off, too, and said he assumed it was due to space limitations.

One thing led to another and the topic turned to a Super Fund site located in my city. He was knowledgeable as to what had occurred as he had been employed there for 10 years as a chemist. Honestly, I don’t recall many details as I was living in another part of the county when the plant closed so I hadn’t followed the story closely.

The man claimed that the company had followed all federal guidelines and explained the process that had been used to work with the lower grade phosphate; they incinerated it at a high temperature so it would form a softball size structure. He did say that when the plant first opened in the late 1940s that process hadn’t been used and some chemicals had been discharged into the ground. Over the years, he claimed, the company had corrected that problem.

The clincher to the story is that he claimed the company was shut down when a finding of arsenic was discovered when an elementary school across the street from the plant was going to install playground equipment. The company was blamed for the arsenic though they never used it.

I asked how the arsenic possibly got there and he didn’t know. Then it hit me; it was the site of a former sawmill from the late 1800s. Arsenic was used to treat wood to preserve it from insects.

I told the gentleman that I thought he should record his memories of working at the plant but he declined. My take is he was still bitter over his job loss. I decided to blog the story, keeping him anonymous at his request, because there should be a record of his insider view of what occurred.

I discovered after I got home that the missing bibliography page was housed in a book in a university’s special collections department. Two days later I arrived to find the information.

Somehow, when I went online to check holdings I did not see a button that I was now supposed to make an appointment to view the book. Luckily for me, the kind student who was tending the desk helped me so I was able to find the information. Eureka! The page contained a name of an author for a book I had at home that had reported the story I was writing about but added where she had found the information – in an unpublished, undated manuscript held at a museum that was now permanently closed. The author mentioned it was missing when she was seeking it, probably in the late 1960s. So, now I’m on the hunt for a missing manuscript.

While I was at the second archive, the student brought out a book I hadn’t asked to see and said he thought I might be interested in it. I looked through it and got some ideas for future research.

Boots on the ground enabled me to get additional information about topics I might investigate someday. That was value-added that I find well worth the trip.

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