By A&O Committee member Natalie Fritz, Clark County Historical Society
This month during American Archives Month, the Society of Ohio Archivists Advocacy and Outreach Committee decided to spend most of the month sharing three blog posts that highlight medical collections found in Ohio Archives. This theme was in keeping with the 2022 Ohio poster theme for Archives Month: Ohio Healthcare: The True Heart of it All.
Our final blog post for Archives Month is more in keeping with the spooky October season, focusing on spooky and scary things found in the archives. The committee invited other Ohio archives to share stories and items from their collections online using #ScaryOHArchives.
Today, while I may be highlighting some things that I personally find spooky or scary from the collections of the Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center in Springfield, Ohio, I also wanted to point out the subjective nature of what one may find to be scary.
Several years ago our collections staff here in Springfield decided to put together an exhibit based around scary stuff. We quickly found that each of us had different ideas about what specifically we found creepy in our collections. We decided to lean into the subjective nature of creepiness and allowed members of the staff to determine their objects of choice and write their own text to explain the scary factor, eventually coming up with thirteen objects or themes.
My number one choice? Creepy eyes. Maybe it stems from my four-year-old self’s fear of the Wicked Queen/Old Hag from Snow White On Ice. Could have been that ill-advised screening of Children of the Corn during a middle school sleepover. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been a fan of big spooky eyes. You may be familiar with the “following-eye” portraits seen in haunted houses and scary movies. They make you feel as if someone is always watching you, not in a reassuring way, but more in a “make-you-hair-stand-on-end” kind of way.
Mr. Samuel Shellabarger here was a pillar of the Springfield community: an attorney, abolitionist, and U.S. Congressman. Some might say that this portrait of a young Shellabarger showcases his piercing good looks. However, if you focus on the fact that his eyes are a bit TOO piercing, this image falls into the unsettling and creepy category. Until several years ago, a near life-sized S. Jerome Uhl portrait of an older Mr. Shellabarger used to sit RIGHT behind my desk in the research library. I can tell you that his eyes remained just as piercing as he aged. And that I was relieved when the portrait was moved down into the museum.
In talking with other archivists and museum people, I know that others identify with me in that sometimes WHERE our collections live AND the stories behind them can be creepy. My own building is 132 years old and sometimes I just FEEL the weight of history in the things were are preserving for other generations. This doesn’t make something inherently creepy, but an overactive imagination can really do wonders. You better bet I can creep myself out pretty quickly! I could be reading/scanning/transcribing a sad war-era letter or diary, looking through family photos that include postmortem portraits, or just sitting at my desk alone and listening to creaking in the attic above me (that’s definitely not someone walking around).
Just going through our basement storage is enough to have me dragging along a poor intern or have me on my cell phone with my mother, sister, or husband to ensure my own safety from my own thoughts. The west end used to be a prison and we also mortuary equipment down there, so that’s really enough for me. In the past we’ve had ghost-hunters wanting to investigate the whole building, but ultimately turned them down. In the end, WE still have to work here, so it’s best to NOT have more fuel for the imagination.
I honestly could have populated the entire exhibit myself, but let my colleagues share their own picks. The exhibit also looked at dubious medical instruments, Frankenstein taxidermy (“merman” anyone?), creepy dolls and shop window elves (the stuff of nightmares), hair wreaths and hair art.
We rounded out our collection of thirteen with some things that are scary to archives in general: silverfish and water. At the time, we talked a bit about smaller water disasters we’d dealt with in the past. In April 2019 we learned firsthand just how destructive water can be when we had a water pipe burst and flood the east end of the building!
The water damage meant we had to move EVERYTHING on the second and third floors in the building, emptying out both our collections storage AND the archives to dry out, regroup, and rebuild. It was truly a scary experience and has made us even more wary of rainy days and the sheer age of our building.
So, that’s just a taste of scary things from our archives. How about YOU? Do you have any good stories to share?
Questions or stories to share? Contact the Advocacy and Outreach Committee.
Last Updated on February 10, 2023 by janet_carleton