For my second Project Only a Retiree Could Love (the first being cleaning out and digitizing alumni records and transcripts, last year), I got the OK to attack Hellie Swartwood’s closet in the Alumni Development House. I figured that Hellie, who works with LA’s parents, would like to have the space back, and I was dying to get my hands on the contents: about 40 huge three-ring binders of Kodachrome slides and prints of school life from the 1970s to the 1990s. Fortunately for us, Karen Serach, a previous occupant of Hellie’s office, had been a meticulous collector and organizer of just about every photograph taken at LA, by every photographer the school had employed at the time.
The albums were organized by year or by topic (major events, teams, graduation, etc.); some were general in focus, some more specific. The problem was, what to do with them once I’d emptied Hellie’s closet? Conversations with folks in the development and communications offices generated the idea of an online archive, kind of a complement to the Whipple Archive in the Ansin Building on campus. A bonus came with a search of the third floor in Alumni Development House, which produced another gold mine: hundreds of black and white photographs dating back as far as the late 1950s! Some had been taken for the yearbook, while others were just stored up there because no one knew what to do with them.
The school kindly set me up with a slide viewing table and a digitizing device, and I went to work about a year ago in a spare office on the first floor. First, the thousands of pictures had to be culled, and then sorted by year, subject, team, event, or whatever seemed appropriate. I knew that photographers took a number of pictures of a subject — say, a senior speaker at graduation — to get just the right shot, but I had no idea just how many! I counted something like 73 slides of one late-1970s thirds lacrosse team; one made the cut. The prints were easier to deal with, as the photographer had presumably printed only the best shots.
When the selection and sorting operation was done, I took the pictures over to the communications office to digitize the slides and scan the prints, and put everything into folders on the computer. From there they were uploaded to the new Online Archive on LA’s Smugmug page.
The result of this work is a wonderful visual record of the last 50 or 60 years of LA’s history. You’ll see pictures of major events, like the Academy’s 175th and 200th birthdays, the dedication of Sheedy Hall (and its demise some 40 year later), or the construction of the Madigan Student Center in 1980. There’s also a separate folder containing pictures of about 125 faculty and staff between about 1960 and the 1990s.
Not everyone is there, but we’re working on it.
When you visit the site, which will be up and running soon, be sure to read “Welcome to the Online Archive.” Besides providing easy navigation instructions, it also contains an appeal for contributions: photos, documents, videos, etc. There’s an email address where you can send contributions, which will be duly credited. Enjoy!