October 8, 2011

One man's mold is another man's gold

Oh for the love of mold!
Last week I was taken on a tour of the Stacks room in the archives. The Stacks room is, you might guess, full of stacks. Stacks of what, you ask? Stacks of old, moldy, dusty books, of course!

The tour was initiated by me asking questions of G, the map man. G is a retiree who volunteers at different historical facilities during the week for the love of preserving history. Anyway, I heard him fiddling around in his map cove and wandered in to see what sort of mischief he was making. (The archives is a painfully quiet and lonesome place sometimes, so I look for any excuse to go chat it up) So after talking about this and that map and half-scale blueprints for a steam locomotive (!) I asked what other goodies the archives held that I'd not been told about yet. So off to the Stacks we went.

The stacks reside quietly behind a locked door. G opened the door and at first all I saw was darkness. I followed close behind as G flipped switches as he passed them - click!- each illuminating a long row of shelves that spanned a goodly length off to our right. Click, Click, Click, as we walked... Click. Click. Click...etc. At long last we reached the end of the room and to the section I was most eager to see: the stacks and stacks and stacks of city court dockets. Some four, some six or more inches thick, these enormous books were used to record each person's name and the offense for which they were arrested, going as far back as the late 1800's. Some are in perfect condition, as if they'd been placed there only hours before. Some are reduced to just papers thinly held together by the string that once tightly bound them, the hardcovers hanging on, literally, by a thread. These are the ones I am interested in. What sorts of crimes were people being arrested for in 1889? As it turns out, such things as larceny, gambling, soliciting and vagrancy were the crimes that plagued the city back then. "Larceny of peanuts" , "allowing a viscous dog to roam free" and "reckless bicycling" are just a few of the offenses that were plaguing the citizens of Birmingham . There are many pages that list a 10-20 entries for "gambling", all arrested on the same day, at the same time. Apparently, underground gambling in the day wasn't underground enough. It is the same with drunkenness -- fifteen or more names often appear in a row, including, to my surprise, quite a few women.

As we left, G clicked each row we passed, leaving the dust and mold behind in its dark repose, until the next time one endeavors to take a trip into the past. Oh G, how I thank thee!

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