Recently, Juli asked me to write out a description of an average day of work in Local History. It occurred to me that other staff members may not be aware of what type of work takes place in the Local History Dept. Our three-floor building separates us physically so we really don’t get to see what each department is working on. I have a pretty long drive to work every morning and while I am driving I think about what I need to work on when I get to work. Very rarely though do I get to do what I had first planned. Instead, Emails, phone calls, letters, and visiting patrons often send me off working on research and projects I hadn’t even thought of until I got to work.
This is Monday, February 22, 2021. It is now 10:00 a.m. So far this morning I have helped volunteer Jean Moore get started on creating an inventory of a recent large donation of books on an Excel spreadsheet. I have met with a man from Facility Services and helped him get started on hanging two framed documents in the new Genealogy room and helped two employees from Iredell Memorial get started on looking through images of documents the hospital has on microfiche. Online I have checked my Email and replied to an obituary request from the Boonesborough Daughters of the American Revolution. I have read and forwarded an article on digitizing vertical files to some other staff members and signed up to receive updates from a blog dealing with historical archives. I had not planned on doing any of this on my drive into work this morning.
The work I have done this morning can be completed quickly, but a lot of the work in Local History involves working on long term projects that can actually go on for years. About four weeks ago I had just finished getting my name tag on and checking my morning Email when Iredell County attorney Walter Patterson came into my office. Walter and his long time law partner John G. Lewis, Jr. had often come to me over the years wanting help in looking up a newspaper articles on our microfilm from the Statesville newspapers and had often attended my local history programs.
Walter, 84, explained that his friend and law partner John Lewis, 87, had tripped over a rug at his doctor’s office a few months ago and damaged his knee and shoulder. Due to his age the doctor’s had decided it was best not to do surgery to repair either injury. I can remember John attending the last program I gave in a wheelchair being pushed by Walter. John was now bedridden at his home and unable to walk or even use his hands. They had set up a hospital bed for him in the living room at his house and he was being attended to 24-7 by nurses and hospice palliative care.
John had asked Walter, who is now his power of attorney, to contact me and let me know he wished to donate all the books at his house to the library. I drove out to John’s later that day and explained our policy on accepting donated books and how many of the donations we receive end up in the Friends of the Library book sale and how the Friends in turn use the money to assist the library. John was fine with all of that and Walter took me upstairs where most of the books were located. I had brought three boxes along to gather the books.
Good grief, the whole second floor was full of books! There were three bedrooms on the second floor and they were each lined with bookcases. Walter went back downstairs and I began boxing what appeared to be the oldest books in the collection along with those that were published on Iredell County history. It was so hot upstairs. I guess John stayed cold downstairs lying in bed so they had the heat on and I can testify that heat really does rise. In a few minutes I was dripping with sweat.
Some of these book cases went from the floor to almost the ceiling. I was down on my hands and knees crawling around for the bottom rows and on chairs to reach the top ones. Most of them were covered in dust and soon so was I. Filling up three boxes barely made a dent in the collection. I realized I had overfilled the boxes when I tried to pick them up and carry them downstairs. I had to turn sideways due to the narrow steps on the stairs and at one point you have to stoop down to keep from hitting your head as the stairs make a turn. Once down I had to carry them through the length of the house and out to my car in the back.
By the time I carried the third box out and came back in to say goodbye to John and Walter the nurse was following me around saying she wanted me to sit down and rest before I left. She was afraid I was having a heart attack as I was out of breath, covered in dust, dripping sweat, and red in the face. I actually leaned against my car in the cold air outside to cool down before returning to the library. I still had to put the boxes on carts push them to the elevator and send it up and then run up the stairs to press the button to get them to the top floor before returning the cart and moving my car back to its space.
Many of the books I brought back on Iredell history are now out of print and while I had most of them I need additional copies as backups. I went through and made an inventory of the books including the rare books listing them by title, author, and date of publication and copyright. These books not only looked old they were old. Most of them dated back to the early 1800s. Normally, I do not put old books into our collection and catalog as it just gives a thief a reason to visit our library, but our Friend’s group should be able to sell them.
Over the next couple of weeks I made several trips out to John’s each time taking all the empty boxes I could find. I had decided it was best to have a work order put in for facility services to bring a truck and get all the boxes at once. I learned to leave my tie and coat in the car so I could crawl around and climb and move couches and chairs to get to the books and box them up. I also had to move and stack all the boxes so the nurses could come up and use the upstairs bathroom when needed. I would always take time to talk to John each time I visited and asked the nurses to call if he needed anything.
When finished I had 33 boxes of books counting the three I had brought back myself. A crew from facility services came with a truck and carried them all down. I brought some empty boxes in case they wanted to divide some of the boxes up to make them lighter and warned them ahead of time how heavy they were and about the heat and stairs. They said they knew what I meant after they finished and actually waited a few days before bringing the boxes to the library to give them a chance to rest up.
I had showed John a copy of the inventory I made of the first three boxes and to my horror he said he would like to have one of all the books just to see what he had. Volunteer Jean Moore is working on that list now. The nurses had told me how glad they were to have me visit with John each time I came and how important it was to keep his mind active. In going through the bookcases I had found some of the family photo albums and brought them downstairs so the nurses could old them up and let John look through them.
I thought I was done after boxing up the last of the books when John surprised me by saying he also wanted to donate his photographs to the library including the framed ones of family hung around the house. The thought of taking down his family photographs made me feel very uneasy so I called Walter to ask him about it. Walter explained that John had no descendants or close relatives living and that when he passed the house was to be closed up and everything inside sold at an estate sale. All the money then was to be divided up among three different colleges and universities.
I went back and explained to John about library’s Stimson and Tharpe photograph collections and told him I would take the photographs and digitize them as the John G. Lewis, Jr. Photograph Collection and add them to the library’s Flickr page. Walter signed the donation forms and I brought the photographs back and have been scanning them the last few days. Some of the photos are tin type or else on glass and very old. Many are in pretty rough shape and I will need to clean them up with Adobe Photoshop. I first scan the image as it is and save it as a Tiff file at 600 dpi in order to preserve an exact image of the photo as I first received it. I then resave it as an access Jpeg that I then clean up and make adjustments on before putting them on Flickr.
Unfortunately, many of the photos are not identified and I have to print out copies of groups of the photos to take back and have John identify before it’s too late. John is a descendant of the Lewis and King families whose line goes back to the 1700s when Iredell first formed as a county in 1788. This project has already provided rewards I had not anticipated. I found photos of John’s maternal King line that included an image of ancestor Robert Bruce King in uniform with other soldiers during World War I. Robert would later die in France and his name is on the WWI Memorial just a few hundred yards from the entrance of the library in front of the courthouse. I also found a photograph taken of his mother Mary beside his grave in France in 1934. In 1930 the United States and European countries including France began providing free trips for the mother’s and wives of men who had died during WWI to visit their loved ones grave. Robert Bruce King’s mother Mary visited her sons grave in 1930 as part of the program and again in 1934 on her own. Below are a couple of images from the Robert F Lewis Jr. Photograph Collection which I hope to have online soon.