As we close the celebration of Black History Month and head into Women’s History Month, it is notable that historic preservation is back in the news.
Last week, the Library of Congress reported that nearly 80 percent of all motion pictures filmed before 1930, as well as countless sound recordings, have been lost.
The world’s largest library system has a solution and is working hard to preserve more than a million films and recordings that are archived. The solution is to digitize as much of this cultural history as possible before time and the elements speed the process of disintegration.
Recorded sound and film have been around for more than a century. Sound was a phenomenon that men like Thomas Edison were able to capture in the late 19th century.
A century-and-a-half later, recordings of campaign songs, popular music, films of the silent era and the talkies that folloowed are stored in basements, garages, barns and attics all over the U.S. The Library of Congress and other museums attempt to secure them when they are made available.
Locally, the Calumet Archives is housed at Indiana University Northwest and Stephen McShane is doing what he can to preserve materials of value to our history. A walk through his archives illustrates how sensitive his documents are to light, heat, humidity and human touch.
As mentioned last week in this column, Tom Clark’s Lake Central High School history classes are also preserving local history in the form of letters, mementos, medals, and other artifacts from local veterans killed in wars from the 20th century through today.
Clark and his students were spotlighted Thursday on a segment of television's CBS Evening News. His students should be commended for their tireless work collecting materials now preserved in wooden cases that line Clark’s classroom and fill his garage.
Hopefully, with preservation making the news, we will grow to appreciate all that is out there and give the people doing the hard work their just desserts. Historical societies in towns like Highland, Munster, and Griffith, to cities like Hammond, have managed to save a great deal of the valuable documents that we will need to tell the rich story of this area.
In this little corner of the state, we have contributed to the history of this nation by the steel we produced to build the great modern cities to the soldiers that marched off to war in places near and far. Where the Library of Congress has preserved film and music, we have contributed to that as well.
Growing up in a house filled with music, we appreciated the history of all types of music. We had 45s as well as the old 78s. Later we would add 8-track tape players and cassette tapes. Much later, CD players came along. Each of these recording types changed the way we listened to our favorite tunes much like MP3 players and other handheld devices have changed the way we listen to music today. What hasn’t changed is the need to preserve the sound.
Thankfully, there are people doing just that. The history they are preserving is too important to throw away.