Surfacing detritus in the archives

Back in March, I reported on our “Shifty Business” of moving offsite holdings to a new warehouse. Naturally, such a move caused many mysteries and forgotten projects to surface, one of which is the set of discards from the Luke S. May Papers. The papers of this prominent Seattle detective have been accessible only by permission of May’s heirs since their donation in 1969; read more about “America’s Sherlock Holmes” in this HistoryLink article.

In 2004, a volunteer removed “evidence objects” and deteriorating photographic negatives from May’s case files and segregated these into six boxes of discards, but no further action was taken to remove the items from the collection. After our warehouse move, rather than simply assign new space to the discards, Special Collections’ staffer Nan Cohen has taken on the project of reviewing and attempting to deal with this “detritus” appropriately. I first learned of Nan’s task when she stopped by my desk one day to casually complain about the smelly negatives and crumbling “evidence” she was handling, including “a murder weapon.” Sure enough, among the files of discards she had found a rusty pocketknife wrapped in a crumpled sheet of paper.  But is the “rust” actually something more sinister? We leave that to your imagination.

Evidence object weeded from the Luke S. May Papers, Accession No. 1299-001

All in a day’s work at UW Special Collections Division!


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