Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Heart My Real Job!

So, as you know by now I have two jobs. There's my annoying ("temporary") part-time job at Sbux that drives me insane and deprives me of sleep, then there's my real full-time job in Preservation Services that can be boring at times, but can also be very interesting and creative. I love my real job! It keeps me from losing my sanity when it comes to Sbux. My real job is everything Sbux is not. It allows me to be the introverted and semi-creative person I am...and occasionally it can be very a slightly book nerdy kind of way (aka the best kind of way).

Recently we received these Hamilton County Morgue Records from our Archives and Rare Books Library. The library was just awarded a grant to have these records digitized, thus allowing people to access them without even putting there hands on the deteriorating text. But, before they can be digitized they had to come to us to be disbound. Disbinding books for digitization is something we only do once or twice a year (because we don't have many digitization projects) and it can range from being a quick and easy task to being an arduous and messy one. It all depends on the construction of the book, how it was made, what materials were used to make it (i.e. cloth, leather, the type of paper, the type of adhesive, etc), and if it was sewn (and what type of sewing) or adhesive bound. We lucked out with these, they were sewn with tapes which is very easy to take apart. However the ledgers were fairly messy since they were bound in leather that has deteriorated over time, which leaves a reddish-brown residue on everything it touches (aka red rot). And some of the spines were also lined with leather...messy!
Here's an example of one of the ledger cases (i.e. cover).

Here's some of the gross bits and pieces that are removed from the textblock during disbinding. It's mainly bits of thread, the tapes (the cloth bits in the upper right hand corner), and bits of leather or cloth and adhesive that is removed from the spine.

In the end you are left with this...a stack of single signatures devoid of thread, adhesive or leather/cloth! Ready to be digitized!

And here's a picture of the sad, lonely cases after the textblocks have been removed, disbound, and placed in separate boxes to be digitized.

Usually, the things we get to disbind for digitization aren't particularly interesting (last time it was some sort of university Engineering records...yawn!). But that wasn't the case with these morgue ledgers! The ledgers were from the late 1800's and the early 1900's (up until the 1930s) and contained detailed descriptions of the various deaths the morgue encounter during that specific year. Most of the records were very specific, including the date, time of arrival to the morgue, name, physical description, occupation, marital status, who the body was identified by, what affects accompanied the body (i.e. purse, $2, pocket knife, etc.) and, most interesting, how the person died. One student even had a morgue ledger that included pictures of the was freaky!

Here's an example of the text, as I'm disbinding it. Notice the thread in the centerfold holding it together...this is snipped to help expedite the process.

I know, it sounds morbid (and it kind of is), but everyone in the department got really into reading through these records as we disbound them. There were 5 of us who did the disbinding: myself, another staff member and three of our students. As we were disbinding we would read off interesting or peculiar deaths to the others at the bench (that's what we call the area where we do all our conservation/repair work). Something about these records was so fascinating. It was so interesting to see the ways people died, and particularly how that change as the decades progressed. With the records from the late 1800s there were a lot of wagon related deaths and Railroad deaths. But as time progressed there were no longer any wagon related deaths, instead it was primarily railroad and street car ones...and later, in the 1920s and 30s, automobile deaths made up a large portion of reported accidents.

There were also the speculative ones, the ones that weren't crystal-clear. Like a number of fetuses found in sewers, dumpsters, and alley ways (I had one that was found in a toilet and another that was found at the zoo). We started to wonder if these fetuses were the result of illegal abortions, although nothing to that effect was mentioned in the records. Then there were the eerie deaths that were crystal clear. In one ledger I was disbinding, a woman died from an unsuccessful self-abortion (yikes! and ouch!!). In another a husband murdered his wife with a pair of ice tongs...

Here's a photo I took of the first half of the record.


And just in case you don't know what ice tongs look like...those are ice tongs! Ewww!

In addition to murders, there were a number of drownings, suicides, and sudden deaths/natural deaths. We were also astonished by the number of people who fell out of windows and down elevator shafts, accidentally! I had one ledger where a husband and wife were both struck by lightning, however it did not list the specific circumstances of the event. My favorite of all the interesting deaths I came across in the 5 morgue ledgers I disbound was the man who died from eating a "tainted ham and cheese sandwich". No lie! I guess that's what you get from poor refrigeration!

Sure they were morbid (as was our fascination with them), but it was also very interesting! I think what makes these ledgers particularly intriguing is the ability to view them so many years after the fact, when we have no emotional connection to them personally. The ledgers allow us to view these peoples deaths subjectively, since we did not know these people and they died nearly 100 years ago, yet their stories are real. And unlike what you see on CSI or Law & Order...they're lives/deaths are tangible. Each record lists the individuals residence and the address where they were found, and all of them are located in Cincinnati...some just down the street from us. It's a strange paradigm that allows us to feel safe and secure (since these people died so many years ago) yet somehow connected, if only minutely. I don't know if that makes any sense to you...but it was a pretty cool experience.

Most importantly, from disbinding these morgue ledgers I've learned to stay away from wagons, trains, automobiles, street cars, open windows, swimming in the Ohio River (why would you do that anyway...yuck!), open elevator shafts, and ham and cheese sandwiches! And Antoine, if he's holding a pair of ice tongs!

Sidenote: Happy 100th post folks! Thanks for reading...those few of you who do read this!! Sorry my 100th post had to be so morbid! I promise to make the next one cheery!

1 comment:

Christian said...

I'm actually envious of your access to these materials.