Tag Archives: American Archives Month

Tracking the William Crooks: An Archival Adventure

Last Friday evening the news program Almanac, TPT’s signature show, offered its weekly Index File challenge – the traditional sign-off Minnesota history question.   As it happened, this particular Friday I was writing about archives, a lay person’s tribute to the lasting contribution of archivists who preserve and facilitate access to the record of humankind.  October is, after all, American Archives Month.

Though the work of archivists is generally structured to meet the scholarly needs of serious researchers, it is a great boon to Almanac viewers who begin their quest for the answer to the Index Question with to realize the usefulness of a structured search strategy.

The question last week had to do with the final resting place of the William Crooks, the historic steam locomotive that played a role in the state’s and nation’s history.  Without leaving the comfort of my cluttered home office it took about thirty seconds to locate the mighty iron horse at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.  The William Crooks has rested in state there since 1975.

Having located the William Crooks – and because I was thinking archives – I started to think about what else the archives might tell me about the locomotive.

My first discovery told me about William Crooks, the man for whom thelegendary locomotive was named.  Crooks, the man, was the Colonel of the Minnesota Volunteers’ Sixth Regiment during the Civil War.  Returning to civilian life Crooks was later Chief Mechanical Engineer for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroads.

Wikipedia provided more information about William Crooks, the locomotive, information gleaned from archives and from literature based on the archival record of the engineering marvel of its time.    The steam locomotive, the first to operate in Minnesota, was built in 1861 for the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad, a system that eventually evolved into the Great Northern Railway in 1890.  The steam engine weighed in at 55,400 pounds with boiler pressure of 110 psi.  Though the William Crooks was retired in 1897 when the engineering was deemed obsolete. James J. Hill intervened and had the engine rehabbed to pull his private train.

Beginning in 1924 the locomotive went on an exhibition tour. Among other sites the William Crooks participated in the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927.  At the 1939 New York World’s Fair the venerable locomotive made an appearance in the Railroads on Parade Program.  The program from that event speaks to the preeminence of the railroad in the era:

Into every corner of our social and economic existence, the railroad is tightly interwove.  It is the backbone of the country, no, even more, it is the veritable lifeblood in its 250,000 miles of steel veins, it flows to every far corner of a far-flung land, it binds in its living, throbbing embrace city and town and village, the open country, the first, the mine, the forge, the factory, and the sea.  It is indeed the nation’s lifeblood, the great arm not only of its industry, but of its military defense.  If it were to die, then the nation would die.  (http://www.1939nyworldsfair.com/worlds_fair/wf_tour/zone-6/Railroads_on_Parade.htm)

A search for the visual record of the William Crooks led me immediately to Minnesota Reflections Collection of images.  There I found photos of the train, contributed to the collection by the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

Along the way I found a great poster featuring the Will Crooks.   And there are lots of William Crooks postcards on e-Bay.  http://www.ebay.com/bhp/william-crooks

I also found a delightful replica of the William Crooks on a YouTube posted on Choo Choo Bob’s Train of the Day.  The down-sized train chugs along a 12-inch wide track in Ham Lake. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=choo+choo+bob+train+of+the+day+william+crooks&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Then I found what may be my pick of the search, an article about the William Crooks, published in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 17, 1937.  It was written by Ruth Thompson, local historian and librarian, who, upon her retirement from the Minneapolis Public Library, published a treasure trove of articles published in the Tribune from January 1, 1945-October 9, 1950.  Her snippets of Minnesota lore are all carefully preserved by the archivists at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library at the Minneapolis Central Library. (http://www.hclib.org/pub/search/specialcollections/personalarchives.cfm?EAD=Thompson.%20Ruth)

Getting back to the question as posed:  Eventually the William Crooks settled down in St. Paul where it was completely rebuilt at Great Northern’s Dale Street Shops.  The Great Northern transferred ownership to the Minnesota Historical Society which hosted a display of the mighty engine at the Saint Paul Union Depot until the Depot closed – actually went on sabbatical —  in 1971.  In 1975 the William Crooks was moved to the grand new Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth where it reigns supreme to this day.

In sum, my brief Friday evening exercise was not a scholarly effort to plumb the literature pertaining to the venerable William Crooks, the man, or the locomotive that bears his name.  Instead, my intent was to celebrate American Archives Month by sharing a simple archival experience.  It is both fun and enlightening to look beyond the document or the photo to see the hand of the archivists in the preservation of the record.  Some human being, probably an archivist by profession, had to identify collect, organize and preserve those fragments of the re cord, the photos, the programs, the timetable, the stories.

Each of the digital records I could easily access from my armchair has two stories to tell – one is the story of William Crooks, the man and the locomotive; the other is the story of how that record survived and made its way to my desktop.   Though technology vastly expands the availability of the record, it has taken the work of many to get the words, the image and the story to the researcher – or to anyone in quest of a ready answer to the Index File question.

American Archivists: Essential Links in the Information Chain

Archivists bring the past to the present.  They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory.  They organize unique. historical materials, making them available for current and future researcher.

Archivist Lisa Lewis won an under-28-word Elevator Pitch contest for this pithy description of the meaning of archives.  And Lisa nailed it.

The role of archives and archivists is seldom explicit in today’s cacophonous brouhaha about secrets and secrecy, whistleblowers, privacy and access.  Though October is American Archives Month the media persist in keeping their focus on hot news rather than the complexities of a changing political, social, and technological information environment.   This is ironic since the media, like the legal profession, depend heavily on the work of archivists. – more than those who are neither journalists nor attorneys might realize.

Though the media and legions of attorneys depend heavily on robust archives, as most of us, tend to under-value the work of those professionals who meticulously preserve and make available the historic record of humankind.  Though some love to focus on state secrets and security, archival resources are ubiquitous, accessible, and, once one dips into the records, irresistible.

Just because it’s American Archives Month, consider for a moment, your archival options.  Though these are armchair accessible, take time to think about the process and the people who saw to it that the records were identified, organized, preserved and made accessible when and where you’re looking for it:

 

  • Are you or do you have a young person in your family who’s working on a History Day Project?  Check the primary resources that the archivists at the Minnesota Historical Society have spotted on the 2014 topic, “Rights and Responsibilities in History. http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/records/electronicrecords.htm
  • Yearn to re-listen to an interview you heard during the 2012 election?  Minnesota Public Radio doesn’t delete those tapes; then them at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/
  • Are you a “birder” tracking that elusive rare species?  Archivists at the U of M Natural History archives identify, digitize and describe over 150,000 materials that document the early natural history of the State of Minnesota http://blog.lib.umn.edu/uar/naturalhistorymn/
  • Maybe you’re an amateur historian looking for a photo of your hometown’s main street, a public building or a typical farmstead in Stearns County. Check out Minnesota Reflectionshttp://www.mndigital.org/reflections.  The collection brings you 135,000+ images, maps and documents from more than 150 of the state’s cultural heritage organizations. The Reflections tutorials offer tips on a range of archives-related topics, including saving a personal collection.
  • Do you want to know more about Ramsey County buildings, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, community leaders?  Visit the Ramsey County Historical Society at the Landmark Center or check their website: http://www.rchs.com/library_archives.htm

Obviously, this is an appetizer.  These are but a few of the archival collections of particular interest to Minnesotans.  Though the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov) can be overwhelming as starting point, they will soon entice you to explore paths, places and people you had never imagined.  Drink deep or taste not of the archival stream.

And, if what you want is to sense the spirit of archives and the work of archivists, you might want to spend a few winter evenings immersed in Une affaire d’amour and dust”, the memoir of Arlette Farge, recently translated as The Allure of the Archives.   Farge’s words speak for many archivists:

The first illusion that must be cast aside is that of the definitive truthful narrative.  A historical narrative is a construction, not a truthful discourse that can be verified on all of its points.  The narrative must combine scholarship with arguments that can introduce the criteria of truthfulness and plausibility.  The poet creates, the historian argues.

Bottom line, there are hundreds of archival treasures in counties and cities, historical societies, corporations, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, museums, the media, churches and more.  The work of the archivist may be invisible – until you want to dredge up a record or a fact.  Whether your information need is to write a book, trace your family history, learn about the history of your house or settle a bar bet, chances an archivist has had a hand in preserving the record.  If there was no archivist involved, you probably won’t find the information you so desperately need.

 

 

 

 

 

An Ardent Archives Advocate Is Born

Regular readers of this blog may wonder why so many recent pieces about archives and archivists. The truth is that American Archives Month has presented an opportunity to think about a topic I’ve wanted to ponder for a relatively short while. Though folks may think it’s in the librarian DNA to think about archives, the fact is my interest is fueled not by training or long years of working in the library world but by my more recent dip into writing, particularly writing about the history of my neighborhood.

As a patron of Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library I have had the opportunity, the time and the incentive to dig deep into those archives. It’s in handling the documents and photos, reading the notes left by past archivists and librarians, noting the care with which the records are physically preserved, that I have come to appreciate the commitment of the individuals and of the institution itself to preserving the stories of our community.

Clearly, this is the same attitude and support that have created community library collections, county and local historical societies, the records of state agencies, nonprofits, the papers of individuals and institutions that have been shared, even digitized – and the records that have yet to be discovered.

Though it is my good fortune to be able to explore the archives in the serenity of the James Hosmer Special Collections – and with the generous assistance of extraordinary staff, I have become a ardent advocate for digitization that brings the content, if not the ambiance, to the learner. Whether that learner wants to know about his or her family, town, college, church, business, environment, house or neighborhood, the armchair searcher has exponentially expanding digital access. That means that archivists have not only turned paper photos into machine readable digits; they have cataloged the information so that the finding tools guide the searcher to the range of options or to the precise goal of the information quest.

It is of increasing concern that today’s extreme focus on today blinds the public and the Deciders to the importance – and the delight — of knowing from whence we came – and the beautiful human inclination to share with our descendents the stories of what we were thinking and doing “in the day.”

Something to think about as legislators, lobbyists and football franchise owners covet those Legacy funds that have opened the doors to many of the state’s archives.

Celebrate American Archives Month!

The very term “archives” conjures images of dust and decay accompanied by acrid aromas and tended by bespectacled history geeks.  All wrong.  And anyone who has ever explored family or house history, faced a legal dilemma, or wondered about local lore has had a brush with paper, digital or other archives.

 

October is American Archives Month, a season to be celebrated by the most tempero-centric – a time to think for a minute that those preserved photos, clippings, stories, public records and more didn’t just happen but have been collected, organized, preserved and made accessible through the deliberate and committed work of individuals and the commitment of institutions. 

 

At the time of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial I skimmed the state’s archival surface to compile a random list of irresistible lures to the world of archives.  Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit – and was amazed to find it posted (sans attribution) on the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information website.  I have not checked to see if the original was edited by that group.

 

For some time I have wanted to share this listing and concluded that American Archives Month 2011 might be a propitious opportunity to resurface the whimsical list, slightly pruned and otherwise modified – not significantly updated because the month is just too short for a serious revision.

 

Many of the materials and descriptions here are accessible online; the print listings suggest a link to digital options. Because the digital resources offer an absolute minimum of the preserved record, we need and always will need multiple access options. Though digitization is growing at an exponential rate, its main contribution is to lure the armchair searcher into a passion to know more and to make the minimal effort to learn more.

 

This random list is absolutely arbitrary and whim-biased  with links to minute bits of Minnesota history.  Each of these guides, descriptions, stories was prepared by a Minnesotan, an organization or a state agency that cared enough about the state’s stories to collect, preserve, organize or otherwise help create the legacy.  Not everything is digitized or on the web – websites are just the most accessible right now.  These sites exemplify the ways in which Minnesotans have used the public records to plumb the depths of their particular interest or passion or legal encounter. 

 

Tending to the record of Minnesota is a collective responsibility and a public trust.  It takes personal conviction, time, talent and public support.  Without these and hundreds of thousands of other records, carefully organized and preserved, the Sesquicentennial would signify the passage of time rather than the values, the experience, the public record, and the recognition that access to information is at the very core of the democracy we share.  The challenge of today is to embrace that principle so that 21st technology enhances access to the building blocks and expands the embrace of this diverse, informed and sharing culture.

 

The disorganization is absolutely arbitrary – draw no conclusions. The omissions are legion.  Though a comprehensive and authoritative list would be a wonderful tool, the universe of possibilities is well nigh infinite and digitization is having a daily and profound impact on the possibilities. 

 

Pick a topic, probe a bit, and pause to think a bit about why and how we  preserve the data and the stories of our state.  Some places to start, bearing in mind that each of these tools reflects the commitment and labor, past and continuing, of an archivist and, in many cases, an institution:

 

Minnesota Archives, Minnesota Historical Society – MHS, along with several state agencies, is taking a lead at the national level in preserving the state’s own information digital resources.  It’s a monumental undertaking that does Minnesotans proud!  The depth of resources and the collaborative efforts of state agencies deserve an American Archives Month commendation. 

 

Minnesota Reflections, an overwhelming and growing collection of documents, photographs, maps, letters and more that tell the state’s story – a great starting point for any age.

 

James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Hennepin County Library – actually a collection of collections on topics ranging from Minneapolis history to club files to World War II and Abolition.  Much is digitized but, as always, that is but the tip of the iceberg – a tip worth checking out however.

 

Minnesota Place Names; a geographical encyclopedia, by Warren Upham.  A classic, originally published in 1920 and now available on line through the Minnesota Historical Society.   Overflowing with wonderful stories. 

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West Bank Boogie.  If you were around in the 60’s and 70’s you’ll be reminded – if not, see what you missed!  Cyn Collins is the collector and storyteller.

 

Holland, Maurice, Architects of Aviation, 1951.  William Bushnell Stout 1880-1956.  One man’s determination to record the stories of our aviation history.

 

A knack for knowing things: Stories from St. Paul neighborhoods and beyond, by Don Boxmeyer.  BiblioVault.

 

The Cuyuna iron range – Geology and Minerology, by Peter McSwiggen and Jane Cleland.

 

Ron Edwards, The Minneapolis Story Through My Eyes: A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man’s World. Continued by a bi-weekly column from The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder  and a TV show on Channel 17.

 

Center for International Education (The CIE) – a self-proclaimed “media arts micro-organization” the goal of which is to “make poetic media with people of all ages from all over the world.”  Videos including interviews with Robert Bly, Tom McGrath, Jim Northrup, Frederick Manfred and documentaries on Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone, Robert Bly, and much more. The world of Media Mike Hazard.

 

Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs, Collections Up Close.  This is just one of numerous podcasts and blogs describing in depth the individual collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.  Re-live the day-to-day travels of this mission family in Minnesota 1830-1860.  Just a sample of the podcast/blogs from MHS.

 

Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository – built as part of the settlement with Philip Morris, Inc. et al.  26 million pages of documents.

 

Frances Densmore  Prolific writer and chronicler of the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe and other Native American Tribes.  Densmore also recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music.

 

The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection.  The largest non-seminary Bible collection in the Upper Midwest.  Donald J. Pearce, Curator.

Rhoda Gilman, historian extraordinaire,  The Story of Minnesota’s Past, just one of several books by Gilman.   “The Dakota War and the State Sesquicentennial” is a more current blog representing her ongoing contributions to preserve and elucidate Minnesota’s story.  Google Rhoda Gilman for more glimpses of her writings over the past several decades.

 

Evans, Rachel.  Tribal College Librarians Build Map Database, Library of Congress Info Bulletin, Oct. 2002

The Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Perfect Porridge.  A good compilation of the TC’s Electropunk scene and lots of information about what’s happening on the broadly-defined media scene.

 

Saint Paul Police Historical Society, Saint Paul Police Oral History Project.  One man’s (Timothy Robert Bradley’s)  passion shared with the public.

 

William Watts Folwell,  Though  Folwell was best known as the first President of the University of Minnesota from 1868-1884 he moved on from that post to serve as professor of political science and continued as University Library until 1907.  The Folwell family papers, 1898-1944, can be found in the U of M Archives.

 

This Sister Rocks!  Thirty years ago Joan Kain, CSJ wrote a small book Rocky Roots: Three Geology Walking Tours of Downtown St. Paul.  The book, which  resurfaced during the 2006 International Rock Symposium, is now being edited for reissue by the Ramsey County Historical Society.

 

Lowertown, a project of the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, interviews artists who live, work and exhibit in Lowertown St. Paul.  The website also provides links to the websites of the individual arts.  A rich celebration and close-up view of this area’s art community.

 

Park Genealogical Books are this community’s specialists in genealogy and local history for Minnesota and the surrounding area.  Their list of publication includes how-to’s on genealogy, research hints and unique assists for anyone working on Minnesota genealogy, records and archives.  The life’s work of Mary Bakeman.

 

Fort Snelling Upper Post is a labor of love on the part of Todd Hintz.  Todd offers an historical timeline, a description of the current situation, wonderful photos by Mark Gustafson and an intro to related resources.  Great for anyone who cares of preservation of Fort Snelling.

 

Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Collection.  Pioneers of the Medical Device Industry in Minnesota.  A sample of the rich oral history collection of the MHS.

 

Scott County Historical Society, Stans Museum.  Minnesota Greatest Generation Scott County Oral History Project.

 

Haunted Places in Minnesota.  Scores of deliciously spooky sites you’ve probably visited – but never will again – without trepidation.

 

Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi. Postcards and lots of memorabilia that tell the story of the river.

 

Special Libraries Association.  MN SLA: Early Chapter History (1943-1957)

 

Land Management Information Center – zillions of maps and mountains of data, plus people to help.

 

Minnesota Legislature, Geographic Information Services – maps of legislative and congressional districts, election results, school districts and much more.

 

Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Library.  Maps and Atlases – great guide to government produced maps and atlases

 

Minnesota Public Records Directory.  A commercial listing of Minnesota’s public records sources.

 

Minnesota Senate Media Coverage – live and archive coverage of Senate floor sessions, committee hearings, press conferences and special events.

 

Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes – statutes, indexes, rules, drafting manuals and more.

 

Minnesota State Law Library, Minnesota Legal Periodical Index.  A practical guide prepared by the state’s law librarians.

 

Minnesota Historical Society Press, Minnesota History.  Quarterly publication featuring original researched articles, illustrations, photographs and other treasures from the MHS.

 

The Civil War Archive – more than you ever needed to know about the Union Regiment in Minnesota.

George, Erin.  Delving deeper: Resources in U’s Borchert Map Library, Continuum 2007-08. description of the massive resources of the U of M’s Borchert Library.

Shapiro, Linda.  Art History Goes Digital..   Description of the digitizing initiatives of the University of Minnesota’s collections.

 

Drawing: Seven Curatorial Responses.  Katherine E. Nash Gallery.  Curators’ perspectives on the challenge of organizing and make accessible this one art format.

 

The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums.  A forum for peer assistance among over fifty county, city and other local historical societies.

 

Minnesota Historical Society Collections Up Close.  Beautifully illustrated podcasts about what’s new at the MHS.  Regularly updated.

 

The Tell G. Dahllof Collection of Swedish Americans, University of Minnesota Libraries.  The collection encompasses American history seen from a Swedish perspective, the history of Swedish emigration to America, Swedish culture in America, and general descriptions by Swedish travelers to America.

 

University of Minnesota Media History Project, promoting media history “from petroglyphs to pixels.”

Ten Years of Sculpture and Monument Conservation on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, compiled by Paul S. Storch, Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory, Minnesota Historical Society.  Just one of dozens of similar conservation studies you’ll find at this site.

Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records.  Live access to federal land conveyance records for the public land states.  Image access to more than three million federal land title records for Eastern public land states issued between 1820 and 1908.  Much more!

Minnesota History Topics, a list of Minnesota-related topics to get you thinking about exploring Minnesota history.

 

Minnesota Government, an excellent guide to state government information sources compiled by the Saint Paul Public Library.

 

Minnesota History Quarterly.  Publication of the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Available as subscription or with membership.  This one sample will give you the flavor, but there are lots more where this came from!

 

Revisor’s Office Duties – publications duties.  The Office of the Revisor of States covers many bases, particularly during the legislative session.  This list of publications offers a good overview of the Revisor’s domain.

 

New!!  Library Search, now in beta test phase.  A web interface for locating print (including articles), databases, indexes, electronic, and media items. Try it out and offer your unique feedback!

 

Geographic Information Services, State of Minnesota.  Includes scores of interactive maps of population, election results, school districts, legislative districts and more.

 

Children’s Literature Research Collections (Kerlan Collection), University of Minnesota Libraries, Special Collection.  A unique and inspiring collection of books, illustrations, manuscripts, notes and other records of children’s writers and illustrators.  The Kerlan also offers a robust series of presentations by children’s authors, writers and critics. 

 

Family History Centers in Minnesota.  One small component of the massive resources of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.

 

Historic Museums in Minnesota.  Prepared by the Victorian Preservation of Santa Clara Valley.  An amazing resource with tons of information and in incredible wealth of links.  They offer this self-deprecating introduction:  “This is all pretty high tech for a bunch of people living in the past, but then you probably know our valley by its other name, Silicon Valley.”

 

Minnesota History Along the Highways, compiled by Sara P. Rubinstein.  Published by the Minnesota Historical Society.  Locations and texts of 254 historic markers, 60 geologic markers, and 29 historic monuments in all corners of the state.

 

Ramsey County Historical Society, the officially-recognized historical society of Ramsey County.  The Society’s two primary programs are the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the quarterly magazine on Ramsey County history and St. Paul.

 

The Regional Alliance for Preservation, formerly the Upper Midwest Conservation Center at the Minneapolis Art Institute.

 

Minnesota HYPERLINK “http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/index.html” Lakefinder, sponsored by the DNR, provides in-depth information about 4500 lakes and rivers in the state – surveys, maps, water quality data and more, including a new mobile app for the water or ice-based fisher.

 

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral History, a database including 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information re. immigration to America and Canada, 1800-1850.  Produced in collaboration with the University of Chicago by Alexander Street Press.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Finding Aids to Collections Organized by Topic in the Archive of Folk Culture, compiled by Ross. S. Gerson. Minnesota Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture.  Library of Congress.   Sound recording in various formats.  You won’t believe the recordings they have preserved. The American Folklife Center

 

Minnesota Spoken Word Association, formed to create an alliance among spoken word artists and a resource center. Emphasis on youth.