Archivist organizing Elburn artifacts

By on September 5, 2010

Library’s goal is to create public collection
by Martha Quetsch
ELBURN—A wealth of artifacts related to local history has been in storage for many years, boxed and stacked in two rooms at the Elburn & Countryside Community Center. Now, a project is under way to archive the artifacts and establish a collection that the public can see.

Archivist Laura Lorenzana is organizing the collection at the request of Town and Country Library Director Mary Lynn Alms, who hopes that someday all of the archived items will be housed at the library.

“I always thought that the library would be a good place for it,” Alms said. “It is our responsibility to preserve this historical information.”

The library adopted the collection from the former Elburn Historical Society.

“When we were finally able to acquire it, I was very excited,” Alms said.

A donation from the Almer Gliddon estate and the library budget are funding the project.

“Now the library has the ability to take care of the collection and make it accessible,” Lorenzana said. “Hopefully the people of Elburn will find value in it.”

Archivist Laura Lorenzana

Archivist Laura Lorenzana handles Elburn historical documents and photos with care. Photo by Martha Quetsch

Lorenzana said her job is to organize, arrange and describe material of enduring value, and make it accessible.

“Basically, we take somebody’s old stuff and put it together to be accessed for historical research,” said Lorenzana, an archivist for Kenamore & Klinkow, Inc. “We take things out of boxes and try to create an order.”

The Elburn artifacts, donated over the years by Elburn residents, have not been assembled for public viewing for more than two decades, since local historian Bea Johnson kept the collection. For decades, Johnson made it a personal mission to gather and maintain those items.

“Bea Johnson is the reason this material is here,” Lorenzana said. “She was a meticulous, detail-oriented hoarder.”

Village President Dave Anderson remembered seeing some of the artifacts at Johnson’s house at the northwest corner of Gates and Pierce streets in Elburn, where she filled the third floor with the historical collection.

“As Scouts, every year our den would go there and she would give us a presentation,” Anderson said.

After Johnson died, members of the former Elburn Historical Society stored the collection at various places, and when the group disbanded the artifacts ended up at the Community Center. There, locked in two rooms on the first floor, are stacks and boxes of artifacts-photos, school records, art, letters, trophies, military items, village documents, residents’ mementos and more.

There, Lorenzana has set up as small working space including a computer, where she spends two days a week delving into the collection, which she has found extremely interesting.

“This is one of the coolest collections I’ve ever seen because things are so interconnected,” Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said among the “yummies” in the collection is a ringside ticket to the Tunney and Dempsey prize fight in Chicago in 1927. Who owned the ticket is a mystery, one of many she hopes to solve as she connects different elements of the collection.

“Someone in Elburn went to that fight,” Lorenzana said.

Photos of children and grade books from the early 1900s provide some of that connectivity. Having the students’ names, she can connect them to earlier family members whose photos in the archive date to the 1800s. Through a genealogy program, Lorenzana said she will be able to start making more familial connections among the photos and other items in the collection.

“We can start to put people together,” Lorenzana said. “We could make a genealogy of the village of Elburn through the 1940s. It’s a fascinating collection. From a genealogical standpoint, people would go nuts to get at it.”

Lorenzana is creating a database that will list and describe each item in the collection. She also wants to digitize all of the historical photos, some of which she has arranged in files and hundreds of others that still are in storage boxes.

Alms’ ultimate goal is to make the collection accessible to the public to view and study in a controlled setting at the library on North Street. However, that would require an addition to the building, she said.

“For the foreseeable future, it will be housed here (at the Community Center),” Alms said.

Among the artifacts
• A photo of Ever Swanson, who pitched for the Elburn Town Team in the 1920s and later was a White Sox outfielder.
• An 1870s desk from the former commuter train station in downtown Elburn.
• 1940s Red Cross nurse uniform that belonged to Elburn resident Edith Johansen, plus her Red Cross 1933 textbook and a recognition certificate signed by President Harry Truman.
• Military items that belonged to Elburn American Legion Post 630 member Charles Lee Morris, including a beret emblazoned with the post name and “Paris 1937,” which he wore while a member of the Foreign Pilgrimage Committee during a ceremony honoring WWII soldiers in France.
• The 1960 U.S. Census, hand-transcribed by Elburn historian Bea Johnson.
• A 1922 bill from the Elburn Herald for a public notice ad for the estate of Thomas E. Ferrell, which ran three times for $6.
• Elburn baseball and basketball statistics from 1921 through 1924, in a handwritten score book kept by Joseph Cheli.
• Cardboard diorama of Elburn circa 1895, probably made in the 1920s.
• A wood model of Albert’s Corner filling station, formerly located on the southwest corner of Routes 47 and 38.
• Elburn municipal records from 1905.