Searching for Sam
I went on a quest yesterday to find Samuel S. Stratton.
Yes, I know he died 19 years ago. But nonetheless, I had to find him.
Our U.S. representative died before we had an electronic archive system. Every single story we ever wrote about him was clipped out, by hand, time-stamped and then lovingly filed into envelopes, which at first were given such titles as “elections — U.S. 28th Congressional” or “city politics.”
Later, as reams of Stratton stories poured into our files on every topic under the sun, the librarians gave up this helpful labeling system and began to file everything under the simple topic “Samuel S. Stratton.”
This filled dozens of envelopes, each packed to the brim with stories. (And yes, on every single envelope they wrote his full name, including the “S.” And just as our filing system required, they dutifully underlined his name on every clip. Just in case we couldn’t find the reference.)
So when Stratton’s widow died Monday, I went searching for information that could only be gleaned from our Stratton file. I knew there would be dozens of envelopes. I walked down the people file to the “S’s,” confidently opened the right drawer, flipped through yellowing envelopes to “Stratton” and discovered ... nothing.
He was not there.
Plenty of other Strattons, but not the one and only. A librarian had instead left a polite note, typed out decades ago, directing me to “please” see the “Elections” file.
Okay. Off I went to our towering file on U.S. elections. There I found the 25th. The 26th. The 27th. Everything but Stratton’s.
I even searched the subject file, under city mayors and anything else I could think of, but in every likely place I was met with a little typed note directing me to “Elections.”
He had vanished from our files.
There are no librarians at the Gazette anymore, a loss I blame on both the recession and the ubiquitous electronic archive that can answer any of our questions, if we would be so good as to confine ourselves to answers written after 1997.
For anything prior to that, we’re on our own to try to figure out where a legion of librarians might have filed it in the past. Usually, it’s not that difficult. But this mystery — this made me long for a librarian.
Instead I complained to my editors. My managing editor then marched me back into the library. And there, on a shelf above what used to be the head librarian’s desk, about as far as you could get from the filing cabinets, there was a long brown box.
It was labeled “Samuel Stratton” in big red letters. “Deceased” was added at the top. And, somewhat worryingly: #2.
Stories in there were dated back as far as Jan. 14, 1969, when Stratton introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. If I wanted to know about his campaign for city mayor or his first congressional race, I was out of luck.
Thankfully, all I needed was his obituary, which was in the very last envelope in the box. But before I read it, I hunted for box #1. It was nowhere in sight. What have we done with Stratton 1?
When I find it, I’ll put it on top of box #2. And now that I have a few minutes of free time, I think I’ll edit those “please see” notices.
I can only imagine the look on the next reporter’s face, when he or she opens the file and finds my handwritten note: “Please see box(es) on librarian’s shelf.”
They can only hope there’s a librarian to ask for help.