May 28, 2009

We're on a Roll...

Avid blog followers may remember this post from back in August of 2008... Those oversized maps and documents that we unrolled for the first time so many months ago are finally receiving conservation treatment!
The rolled documents arrived to HSP housed in long plastic bags, tied at both ends with cotton tape.

Each document is removed from the bag, slowly unrolled and weights are used to hold the document open.

Most of the maps are covered with a layer of dust, soot, and dirt that is removed with vulcanized rubber erasers and Nilfisk vaccuum.

The documents are rolled around 4" diameter acid-free, lignen-free archival tubes with a layer of Microchamber paper and an outer layer of Tyvek. The tube is cut to size for each document using a hacksaw and then sanded smooth.

Cotton tape is used to secure the Tyvek around the rolled document. The newly-housed documents will be labeled and stored on shelves.

May 14, 2009

I will explain about the "heavy religious messages"

One of the good things about the latest find of material has been the addition of information about later generations of the Chew family. The boxes we are in the process of adding contain materials related to the children of Samuel Chew (d. 1887). In addition to all of the office files that document the management of the family's estates and property, there are personal letters from Elizabeth B. Chew, Anne S.P. (Chew) Alston, Oswald Chew, Samuel Chew Jr. and others. In one envelope, there were a series of "messages" that looked like correspondence. I put them into the batch to be processed with Samuel Chew Jr.'s papers.

Last week, I was looking through the collection folders to try to find the original deed of gift, and I came across a bunch of inventories that proved to be very informative. In one of these inventories, there was a note about a group of messages from Samuel Chew Jr. that were written through the aid of a medium. When I asked Willhem if he had run across them, he said "Oh, that's what those were!" He had put them aside to see if they made sense in the context of the rest of Samuel's materials.

In a series of messages from 1920-1924, the Chew siblings attempted to contact their deceased brother Samuel Chew Jr. through a medium named Mrs. Duane. There are eight total communications, some of which read as sermons; others are more like question and answer sessions. In the first message, Samuel Chew addresses his friend John Ingram.

"Well, old man, here I am in the world of spirits + quite alive + able to sit up + take notice, + believe me, dear John, there is something to see. I am not very high up in heaven being, as you know, quite an old sinner on earth, but still I am not in the very lowest place as I had a few virtues, among them that of Loving not wisely but too well." He goes on to talk about his regrets and all of the things he has learned since his passage to the world of spirits. He also conveys pithy advice to his friend: "...use all the rest of your earth life for the good of mankind, forget yourself, your feelings, your loves, your hates in universal service for that is the only thing that Counts over here." (May 20, 1920)

In a later (undated) message, Samuel speaks directly to Oswald (who transmits the message to his sister Anne in the form of a letter). The messages have a pretty weighty tone to them, infused with the humor that Samuel Chew exhibited in his letters while he was alive.

The message to Oswald reads as instruction: "Oswald, old man, buck up about everything. I am the most alive of all of you, though so very well buried....You are really the pick of our bunch, though you thought I was. You are still young, as the world goes for a man, and I am proud of you, especially your war work. Now is your chance however to carry on, for never in the history of the world was there such a need of men. You have a lot more in you than you know and I am going to help bring it out.... I am ashamed that our generation of Chews should go down so unhonored, when the world needs us so much, and having made rather a mess of it myself, I am all the more anxious to see you make good....go slow, be sure where you go, and go straight."
Oswald closes the letter to Anne by saying that he read the message to their mother, who seemed glad to have seen it, but didn't believe in such things. He also notes that he will "explain about the heavy religious messages."

All of the messages attempt to relay to their recipients how important it is for them to do good things on earth, and explaining the way of things in the spirit world. In the third or fourth message, dated June 13, 1922, Samuel speaks once again to his brother Oswald. He gets deeper into explanations about "life everlasting, as we call it here...."

"It did not take me long to see I had made a lot of mistakes + no end of a mess of things on earth. I cannot very well go into details, but I want to say this, --that no one who does anything they know is wrong gets away with it here. One pays always.
Well, in some ways being a decent sort, I was not obliged to herd with the greatest sinners, but they were not as picked a group as the Philadelphia Club thinks it is. By the way, that is no criterion over here. Nothing counts but character--what you are....
I woke up here to my real self, I was a little upset + my first idea was 'Help me to keep others from these pitfalls," + that saved me. The desire to save others literally saved my life from depths I don't like to think about. So they keep me busy + I am right on the job. Day after day I help bring people out of Hell."

These messages are really interesting examples of spiritualism in the United States, and show a more personal side of the children of Samuel Chew.

May 6, 2009

"It's funny how things never turn out the way you had them planned..."*

A few weeks ago now, I was feeling pretty good about the progress of the Chew Papers processing project. We had just reported to NEH that we had only 8-10 linear feet to process, and I was finally able to really imagine the project being finished. I was nearly finished with the last large series of papers, and expecting processing to be completed by early May. And then, everything changed. (Okay, so I'm being quite dramatic here, but that is definitely how it felt.)

Matthew walked into the processing room and told me that they had found some Chew materials in the stacks while surveying, and wanted to show them to me. He kept an optimistic tone, but I just knew that it wasn't good. He showed me these stacks (three full shelf sections, floor to ceiling), and my heart sunk. How did I overlook these materials??

Now, nearly empty... two weeks ago, full

I had never laid eyes on these boxes, despite the fact that they were only two rows away from the rest of the collection. Though it doesn't matter much now how they didn't make it into my original processing plan, they weren't in it, and so I felt pretty overwhelmed by the idea that they somehow all needed to get processed in the next month and half. After a lot of tears and an afternoon of personal reflection on my skills as a project manager, I dove in and figured out what needed to go where and considered how it might get done and by whom. Luckily, we've got a wonderful team here, and pretty much everyone in the archives division is now working on processing the last few series. Most of the material is related to the Chew Estate Office, which operated (from approximately the 1890s-1960s) to manage the finances, legal matters, and property transactions of various members of the Chew and Brown families. The papers cover the management of the family's many properties and the settlement of estates, primarily, but also document the donation of the Chew Family Papers to the Historical Society, among other topics.

There are some items in this new group of materials that have made the entire find worth it--like the handwritten list in the back of a volume related to the proceedings of the Benjamin Chew estate, which details how all of the records at Cliveden were stored. I called Matthew and told him that it felt like I had found the Rosetta Stone of the Chew collection. It lists the location of each group of materials, and offers a brief inventory of the contents of each packet. In many ways, this list is the archivists' dream...offering an actual glimpse into how the papers were stored and used.

Series X. Samuel Chew, Estates; Court Proceedings in the Estate of B. Chew (1844-1863)

It reminded me, too, that there are many other detailed inventories done by various family members over the years in our collection files. All of these items provide a real wealth of information for writing up the background and processing notes. The fact that so many people--family members, lawyers, archivists, and others--have sorted through these papers makes them incredibly interesting as a group, as well as sometimes quite frustrating. There are papers that clearly are part of the same group scattered all over the collection, but it has not always been obvious until we've gone through about 10 series!

After two weeks of working hard on this new group of papers, I am left with one cart of material that needs to be integrated into previous series, and a bunch of miscellaneous groups of documents that will likely fall into the "Other Family Members" series.

What's left to integrate into existing series

Today, while talking to some visitors from another institution, I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all. Somehow, with the help of a lot of supportive colleagues, we are getting through this seeming-crisis. I hope that we will emerge at the end of July with a collection that is well-described, accessible to researchers, and easily searchable online. As I have been constantly reminded, the papers are much more accessible now than they were. We have actually done a pretty good job of reconstructing the ways that these papers were grouped considering the circumstances and the unwieldy nature of a 400 linear foot collection.

Dear researchers, soon there will be a finding aid online, I promise!

*The title to this post is a quote from Bob Dylan's epic song "Brownsville Girl," a fitting summary of this processing project if I ever heard one!