Friday, December 12, 2014

More adventures in cataloging

I have no doubt mentioned more than once that one of the things I do as a volunteer at the local historical society museum is cataloging. I've been cataloging the archives as well as the artifacts. It's been interesting, and not always in a good way.

Sometimes it's a case of opening a box that's come down from the attic or in from the storage building and realizing that critters have been it. There's nothing quite so disheartening as lifting something that would have been really cool for the museum to own and discovering that mice had figured out that shredded fabric makes a great nest-building material. Sometimes there's the heartbreak of watching old documents crumble before my eyes because they were improperly stored in a hot dry sunlit area (the attic). And sometimes it's a case of "holy crap, I can't believe someone thought this garbage was museum-worthy."

Picture, if you will, a banker's box packed full of used matchbooks, matchbooks that are crumpled and mangled and just generally weird. Hundreds of matchbooks, and none of them are in a condition that a serious matchbook collector would look twice at. What is the point? What do I do with this stuff? Paw through it all looking for matchbooks from area businesses that no longer exist? When I first popped the top off that box I spotted a matchbook for a political race from the 1970s, so that was kind of neat. I actually went through a brief period of feeling moderately excited about the stash. That was before I took a closer look and realized just what poor condition most of the matchbooks were in. The Nixon campaign matchbook may have been mangled, but it was still worth saving as political ephemera. But what if that's the only good thing in the box? Is it really worth going through the entire pile hoping to find another pony?

I found the matchbook stash last spring. The box has been sitting in a corner of the office since then imploring me to do something with it. I came close to asking my high school student intern to go through it this past summer but decided I didn't want to totally discourage her. Readers may recall she was bummed out enough when we brought boxes down from the attic and discovered stuff like three dozen pageant banners and a whole lot of bug-filled cheap wigs. I don't have an intern for this school year yet and can't help but wonder if word about the boring reality of what the museum does and does not have has spread among the students at Baraga High.  

In any case, it turned out those three dozen banners and the box of beetle-ridden wigs were not the end of the pageant stuff. I recently found more. In fact, I have several boxes sitting in the museum office now waiting for me to finish going through them. It's all pageant stuff: a couple black frock coats, a taffeta gown, multiple banners (just how many hundred did the pageant committee pay for?!), a dozen or so felt pennants, and lots and lots of remarkably disgusting wigs, most of which were worn by (as the pageant ads proudly proclaimed) REAL INDIANS portraying Indians. I also discovered half a dozen Naugahyde loincloths. I wonder how the REAL INDIANS felt about wearing them?

1 comment:

My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.