Features editor Lenny Shulman came by my office several weeks ago holding a smallish envelope that contained faded clippings of newspapers, magazines, and other miscellaneous materials. With Bob Baffert threatening to become only the second trainer in history to win two Triple Crowns, Lenny thought it would be interesting to write about the trainer that, until June 9, stood alone in that achievement—James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. The envelope for decades had resided, slowly decaying, in our “morgue,” the name given to newspaper and magazine filing cabinets.
Before Google started to collect all manner of content and make it accessible on the Internet, publishing houses kept a collection of newspaper clippings, correspondence, notes, and other items of interest in envelopes organized alphabetically relating to topics they covered—individuals, events, places—that could be used as research material for writers, editors, and fact-checkers.
The Blood-Horse did the same from its inception until about 2004. We now have more than 500 linear feet of 4x5 envelopes packed with folded copies of information and hidden gems in a couple of dozen heavy metal cabinets.
In his cover story on Sunny Jim in our June 23 issue, Lenny added richness to the narrative by his use of quotes from stories about the legendary trainer that are kept in our morgue. Slowly unfolding these fragile clippings to find wonderful writers such as Arthur Mann, Arthur Daley, and Pete Axthelm, Lenny was able to bring Sunny Jim alive through the words of these journalists after so many years.
This got me thinking about how we might preserve and share these treasures. With the help of our resident historical writer, Tom Hall, and our managing editor Evan Hammonds, I arranged to meet with Roda Ferraro and Becky Ryder, the librarians from Keeneland. They came by to discuss what we had and what we might do to preserve our collection. Fortunately for us, Becky specialized in library preservation, and both are a font of knowledge and expertise. In keeping with their, and our, efforts to enhance the enjoyment of our wonderful sport and to tell the stories of its fascinating history, they have generously offered to help us develop a plan to preserve and make accessible the vast amount of this unique content. While randomly looking through just a few of the thousands of envelopes, they found original notes and correspondence from our famous editor Joe Estes as well as original correspondence from Jack Keene, who sold Hal Price Headley and his group of horsemen the land to build Keeneland racetrack.
This preservation effort turns out to be a more daunting task than one might imagine. We are hoping to develop an index of all of the materials taken from handwritten notes of the content on the envelopes. Possibly at the same time we will also transfer the contents of each envelope to envelopes designed to slow the deterioration of the fragile, decades-old paper.
The next step is to determine the feasibility of digitizing the content. This will be a significant undertaking, as each item will need to be carefully unfolded without tearing the dried out paper, which are all of varying sizes, background, and color type; and capture them in a usable digital format. If we are able to digitize the content, we can provide efficient access to this massive amount of history.
The plan would be to share with others and allow our writers more efficient and productive access for their storytelling, which will enrich our content for our readers.