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Urban Archeologist: Digging for Scraps

Piecing together scraps of history, lest we forget.

 

Memory boxes, photo albums, scrapbooks, these are words that the dawn of the Internet rendered obsolete. Memory boxes will eventually become hard-drives, and photo albums have already become Flicker, Picasa, or Pintrest, and scrapbooks are becoming blogs.

Once upon a time you could hold these items in your hand and sort or flip through them leisurely. I don’t see memory boxes or photo albums too often when I dig, but I have found scrapbooks.

How does something steeped in the recollections of an individual end up for sale? That is a question that often has no answer. Sometimes there is no one left to assume possession of these keepsakes, a distant relative must climb a mountain of memories in a minimum of time. We have all committed that sin — choosing between what must go for what could replace that empty space — a box of papers here, a stack of books there.

As an urban archeologist I tend to steer clear of scrapbooks, my main complaint is that the papers preserved within have been reduced to, well… scraps! Most newspaper scraps are missing every indication of who published them and when. The photographs have been taped or glued to oblivion and the result is a collection of “almosts” and “maybes.” However, in leaner times I have looked upon these as “challenge: accepted” and bought a few just to see if I could rescue something.

Because I purchase papers as box lots, mostly sight unseen, I have to settle for what I get. Some of my scrapbook finds over the years: a small composition book with numerous science articles of the period (1890s-1920s, I think); A history of the news of Cleveland from the 1930s and ‘40s (not bad); A pair of Hollywood scrapbooks — 1 Nelson Eddy and 1 Jeanette MacDonald (not a fan); A 1950s scrapbook from my hometown — many cool, vague memories and some classic memorabilia — and one signed autograph.

Thirty years from now, my grandchildren will never know what memory boxes, photo albums, and scrapbooks were… unless they find grandpa’s secret blog topic repository. Take a look at some of the best of my favorite scrapbook finds and see the autograph of the sexy Hollywood starlet I found (No, it’s not Jeanette MacDonald, well, maybe her, too.)

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story.  You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Donna Monteleone Randle May 18, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Great to see your column back on the Newtown Patch! I am a Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald fan... and would love to see the scrap books some time! Again, "U.A." it is good to see your articles again. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading more...
Greg Van Antwerp May 18, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Thanks Donna!

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