What is history? What historic material – documents and other material – is worth saving? Those are two of the most basic questions that form the foundation of a collection of historic items. I’ve been collecting in a small way for over 45 years now – it’s mostly trivial stuff but of interest to me in some way. During the years that I worked at the Yukon Archives I saw how the pros do it, and it’s not substantially different than how I’ve always done it. I received a small stack of papers yesterday that the Archives had rejected, but most of it has gratefully been accepted into my collection. The vast bulk of it is history-related special newspapers from 1965-1980, but in one of several envelopes containing correspondence about the historic Captain Martin House in Whitehorse (from a Martin family member in Seattle) were two photographs that I’d like to show you.
The first is a photo of the sender, Beverly Birkmeyer, in front of the Captain Martin House in September 1980. I’m sure that there are lots of such photos around but I find it very interesting to see what sort of condition the house was in 30 years ago.
The second is quite unusual. This shows Beverly again, on the Carcross Road (now called the South Klondike Highway) near the townsite of Conrad, where her grandfather had a large block of land. Photos showing the condition of the Carcross Road in those early years seldom show up – when I was researching my book about the area I was unable to find any good ones.
Over the years I’ve sometimes been very surprised by how little interest many (most?) people place on history – even the history of their own families. That’s good for me because I’ve been able to add some excellent material to my collection. The best addition has probably been a large photo album from an airman stationed at the Air Force base at Kodiak, Alaska in the 1950s (many photos from that collection have now been posted – Naval Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, in 1949-50). The sad part about that lack of interest, though, is that it means that much valuable material ends up in garbage dumps around the world. The popularity of sites such as eBay certainly results in a lot of stuff being saved that wouldn’t have been a few years ago, but no doubt much is still lost every year.
The point of this commentary is to urge you to think about things before you throw them away. Yesterday is history, and that means that what you or your family did yesterday may be of interest to people like me some day. It would take a long time for someone to go through the 50-60,000 photos in my collection, for example, but there may very well be images there that show things that don’t exist anymore, from an angle not usually seen. I just learned a few days ago that in a collection that I have access to is a photo of me in a crushed-velvet, bell-bottomed suit that I had made back in the ’70s – classic disco stuff! History can be fun 🙂