A Nice Man and The Pit of Despair

Part I: On Wednesday afternoon, I met Mr. Craig Bowers at his engineering office in Kirksville.  He told me he wanted to show me some of the documents he emailed me pictures of: photos and artifacts from his grandfather Earl L. Stahl who fought with the Kirksville area company.  I expected a small pile, maybe a folder of stuff.  When I arrived at his office, there were crates of family photos, artifacts, and letters.  Mr. Bowers let me look through whatever I wanted and explained each personal photo and family member to the best of his ability.  Best of all, Mr. Bowers let me photograph everything.  I have photographs of his grandfathers dog-tags, his “I arrived to France safely” post-card, and his medal earned as a soldier and as a WWII draft-board employee.  (Mr. Bowers said Earl always said that serving on the draft board was harder than fighting World War I.)  I have photographs of graves in France with the names of his fellow company-men written on the back.  I have pictures of their training camp in Oklahoma and Earl’s discharge papers.  Oh, did I mention Earl’s brother Floyd was a pilot in the Air Force during World War I?  Yeah.  I hit the jackpot.  They both survived the war, and I know what they did with their lives and how many children they had.  And the crowning jewel to this collection: an old fabric swatch book that Earl’s mother (we think) pasted scraps of newspaper clippings of Kirksville/Greentop happenings during this period.  There are reprinted letters of soldiers, death reports, reports of influenza.  It’s amazing and wonderful and in amazing condition.

I am excited because these images and objects are not in a collection anywhere.  I am the first one to digitize them and share them with the world!

Part 2: The Pit of Despair, also known as the Truman State University Microfilm Room, is slightly less bleak and miserable with the addition of two fancy-schmancy microfilm scanners.  Gone are the days of giant boxes that suck your image back inside and then save it to a PDF on another computer.  Unfortunately, the microfilm headaches are still just as plentiful.

All pain and suffering aside, TPOD had a plentiful bounty this evening!  And the new scanners take awesome images of the films itself with none of that ugly grainy copier-like splotching.  As the Kirksville Daily Express  published daily, I had (and still have) a lot of issues to sort through.  The longer I spend looking, the funnier and more interesting the newspapers become.  Especially underwear ads.  Those will never get old.  The most interesting story WWI I found was about a local Kirksville girl who wrote her name and address for fun on a dozen eggs being sent to Europe in 1916.  Someone at a hospital in England received her addressed egg and wrote back, telling her that the eggs were used to feed wounded soldiers!  He included his address for correspondence, asking her when the eggs were shipped.  (In my mind, they wrote letters back and forth throughout the war, met, got married, and lived happily ever after.)  Also in 1916, an ASO (American School of Osteopathy) janitor found his cousin’s body in a pickling vault, waiting to be dissected by students.  When the man died, his box was not properly labeled so he ended up in the vats for 60 days of preservation before a body could be dissected.  His cousin the janitor recognized him, and the family received the body back.  Apparently there were no hard feelings, which is hard to believe today when that would have been a multi-million dollar lawsuit!  

Basically, I won this week.

5 thoughts on “A Nice Man and The Pit of Despair

  1. Wow, what a rich collection of materials you’ve found! Sounds like an incredibly productive week.

    Oh, and I sympathize about the microfilm headaches. I’ve been there.

  2. How cool is this! And as I was reading your egg story, my imagination went exactly where yours did — to love and marriage for those two. Historians are hopeless (hopeful?) romantics. Congratulations on the best week ever. Yes, I too am familiar with microfilm headaches — I get motion sick! Congratulations on finding this treasure.

  3. Wow! What a great find! I had been hoping to find a family with lots of family WWI stuff, but haven’t found them yet. It’s so neat how some people keep things for so long, and the fact that he’s letting you digitize and tell the story is so cool!

    We’ll have to invent a better way to whip through newspapers than on the microfiche. Maybe we could make some money? I know what you mean, though, daily papers have a lot of stuff in them. And it’s not the short articles and long features like we have today. Sounds like you’re doing great work!

  4. Wow, it sounds like you had a great week! That is so cool, that Mr. Bowers let you look through all of his family’s collection and that you are the first to digitize it! I would just be careful about any sensitive information certain items may have or allude to, and when you decide what all you want to put up on your site, definitely make sure to run it by him and his family again, so that they know what is being made available for the public.

    Awww the egg story! My mind jumped to the same conclusion–I guess we’re just a bunch of hopeless romantics around here!

  5. I think it is so awesome that you were able to find someone who was willing to share with you so many family stories and documents from that period. Since those materials have never been accessed by scholars before, you have an amazing opportunity to contribute something truly novel. I managed to come across some names of Montevallo soldiers this week in a local newspaper, so I am hoping to seek out additional records or family members of these men. I hope I hit the jackpot like you did!

    And I know the other comments above mine already said this, but I love your egg story!

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