Archivist Online Day 1

In times of trouble or change historians by nature turn to stories from the past.   As a historian and archivist, that is certainly true for me.

Archivist online

My work as a curator (custodian, caretaker, shepherd) of local history collections at Washington University is usually a mix of  physical work (going through boxes of papers, photographs, newspapers, and more) with more virtual tasks (sharing info via websites, emailing, and such).

cardboard boxes stacked next to a metal ladder

Much of 2019 I spent packing and boxing a new collection documenting the St. Louis architect Phil Durham.

Being away from the physical archives (as I, and my coworkers at Washington University Libraries, transition to working online from home) means my work with those tangible items of history is now on hold — and I suddenly have much more time to work on digital tasks, such as posting online.

So, starting today I have decided to try and post something everyday* that offers a voice from the past with a connection to our local history — for reflection, humor, or just thoughtfulness in our time of turmoil.

Where the heck to get a drink?

To start, I offer you a brief newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch May 1919.  This was the spring after the massive novel-influenza virus swept the world in 1918.  While cases in St. Louis were much lighter that following spring, the illness was still very much on the mind of everyone.   Or I should say, what was on everyone’s mind was how the illness interrupted daily life — especially where to get a drink!

image of newspaper story

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 15, 1919.

 INFLUENZA MADE TOWN DRY

Owner of only Saloon ill and place was closed.

Hecker, Ill. is happy again because Hecker is wet again. It was dry for only two weeks, but such a long two weeks!

The influenza made Hecker temporarily dry. It fastened upon Joseph Brock, saloon monopolist of the town, and as he had no barkeeper he had to shut up shop. There was great anxiety until he was reported out of danger, because a temporary drought was bad enough, but how much worse would it be if the town’s only saloonist died. But Brock is able to be up and about again and beer flows and the Heckerites are again happy.

(In case you were wondering, Hecker, Illinois is a small town in Monroe County south of Belleville, about 40 miles from St. Louis city. )

The future

*Ok, yes, posting something everyday is overly ambitious, but that’s my aim now that virtual is our main way to communicate.

If you have a St. Louis history question about this post, or other topics, I can be reached at mrectenwald@wustl.edu or on twitter @mrectenwald

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.