Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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May 22

The Importance of Documentation

Posted on May 22, 2020 at 1:02 PM by Melissa Dalton

Are you able to watch TV, listen to the radio, or scroll through social media without hearing or reading something about the current pandemic? I can almost guarantee that answer is a resounding “no”. We are inundated with information and updates about COVID-19 on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It’s even been ever-present within the County offices - the Greene County Commissioners are holding their meetings virtually, all County offices are closed to the public, and almost every social media account for the County has some mention of COVID-19 and information about how the department is conducting business (Fig 1).

Fig 1. COVID-19 Notice to Visitors (JPG)
Fig 1. COVID-19 Notice to Visitors (Greene County Archives)

From the beginning of this pandemic, state and federal officials have drawn parallels to the flu pandemic of 1918, which we plan to discuss in more detail in future blog posts. However, there is one glaring difference - Documentation.

When the current pandemic hit our region, Robin began looking through the newspapers from 1918-1919 to see how the flu pandemic was reported and documented. She was surprised to learn that most reporting was buried in the newspaper, and she had to scour each page to find such articles (see our Facebook page to read/see the articles).

We assumed the County records would provide a clearer understanding to how the flu pandemic affected our region. We searched the Commissioners Journals, Infirmary Commissioners Record, and Children’s Home Minutes (the Health Department records, unfortunately, do not start until 1920) - there was not a single mention of the flu. Not one. We do have some hints, though, such as the purchase of a “disinfecting machine” and an increase in population at the Infirmary and Children’s Home, but no mention of the actual pandemic (Fig 2).

Fig 2. Infirmary Commissioners Record Vol 1 p 175 (JPG)
Fig 2. Infirmary Commissioners Record Vol 1 p 179 (JPG)
Fig 2. Infirmary Commissioners Record Vol 1, pgs 175 & 179 (Greene County Archives)

So, why is that? Although we cannot say for sure, we have to keep in mind that there was an actual, physical war raging in Europe. The United States entered World War I in early 1917, so the focus was not on what was happening at home. Robin found that in every newspaper she reviewed, the war was front and center. However, it is interesting to note that the first cases of the flu were identified in military personnel in the spring of 1918. There still is speculation as to the origin of the flu, but the fact remains that the war did not help the spread.

One may ask, why does it matter? Why do we care how the flu pandemic of 1918 affected our region? There is one main reason: Understanding our past informs our future, and documentation is so vitally important to unlocking information about our past. As we think about the current pandemic, everyone has been affected in some way. Everyone has a story to tell about their experience. And, as we slowly move toward “normalcy” (what is actually normal anymore?), I encourage you to think about how your life has changed. Document it in some way – write in a diary or journal, create a blog, or post to social media (join our COVID-19 Facebook group). I can guarantee you that future generations will look back on this time and try to piece together how their ancestors dealt with such a monumental time in history, and your documentation will provide invaluable information.

Until Next Time!

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov)
Greene County Archives

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