Hello again Desk Setters…we’re in a bit of dreary, cloudy, damp and chilly streak here in southern Oregon and I’m looking forward to spring. And I’m feeling very nostalgic for springtime in New York City and wish I could be there and could go on the Desk Set’s New Yorker Library field trip! That sounds completely amazing…SPEAKING of completely amazing…(they don’t call me the segue queen for nothin’) I promised that I would tell you about my latest inventorying project: The Carl Ritchie Audio Archive Project. And I will not let you down.
As a preliminary step in securing some kind of intellectual control over the audio materials in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Archives, I am currently inventorying all 100 cubic feet of them. The invaluable collection includes reel-to-reel tapes of varying sizes, standard cassettes, DATs, CDs…all the usual suspects of the last 60 years.
It’s taking quite some time, but I conquer a little more every day and slowly but surely I’m becoming the boss of those tapes. It helps that Processing Archivist Debi is very good about encouraging me along with a “You Rock!” here and an “Atta girl!” there.
Also helping me along is the unseen yet very real presence of a man by the name of Carl Ritchie. I have not met Carl but as a result of the work I’m doing right now I really feel like we’re old pals. For the time being, I am simply recording shelf locations and verifying the accuracy of items on a spreadsheet created some years ago by a volunteer. The spreadsheet is an inventory of the OSF audio collection as painstakingly cataloged and annotated by Carl Ritchie. Ritchie (let’s call him CR from here on out) tackled this massive endeavor on and off for almost 3 years between 1996 and 1998. And now my job, a job that could be tedious indeed, is instead enlightening and entertaining thanks to the cataloging system CR devised and thoroughly documented with corresponding box labels, index-card brief records housed with each item, and finally a full record in one of six large 3-ring binders organized according to his cataloging schema. In and of themselves the binders would make a great read, telling the history of the Festival from a specific perspective filled with tons of anecdotes, insider information and amusing commentary.
Despite his stellar instincts in librarianship, CR is not a trained Librarian. In a 2001 OSF publication he was described as a “friend and frequent employee of the Festival since 1950.” In addition to serving as Public Relations Director from 1957 through 1967 he has several sound and directorial credits at the Festival.
He spearheaded an oral history project, which we are fortunate enough to be the beneficiaries of, and also holds the distinction of being a Peabody Award winner for a 15 segment educational broadcast series, “Conversations with Will Shakespeare and Certain of His Friends.” In his report to OSF’s executive director in 1998, CR reveals his enjoyment of his stint in librarianship, and it is therefore understandable that his passion would be contagious to subsequent OSF archivists like myself:
This project has been the source of continuous and delightful surprise. Because the collection—an accumulation of more than 50 years of OSF history—represented several phases of Festival life and activity, each discovery provided a link with some other part of the collection. Filling in segments and cross-referencing elements via the catalog has been part of the fun.
CR goes on to describe how he continued to create and refine categories and sub-categories as the project progressed, and like a true library professional he concludes,
I feel certain that these materials…will be of continuing use to all who write about OSF now and in the future. Increased accessibility is the key.
Thankfully, for one reason or another the job of spreadsheet verification and shelf location is not always as straightforward as you might assume, and I have many occasions to turn to Ritchie’s notebooks and to cross-reference and learn directly from Ritchie himself. Oh yes, and I feel a particular kinship with CR because in the same way that I was still clinging to my Brother Word Processor in 1997, CR was still clinging to the word processing device of his generation; all of his labels, index cards and log entries are done on a manual typewriter. I love that I’m able to indulge my stubborn old-fashioned tendencies and can enjoy the tactile information being passed on to me from this man who dedicated so many years to the Festival. It adds a great deal of satisfaction to the work I’m doing to get a sense of the person behind the work preceding mine. His two-cents and offhanded comments sometimes catch me by surprise.
Sandwiched in between technical notes about tape quality and IPS’s are bits of commentary such as: “This tape represents all that’s left of programs 1 to 15 in the series. Vandals attacked a winter-closed box office in 1952, doing much damage, including wrecking tapes like these. They are now probably international corporate leaders.”
Or I’ll experience a CR moment of sentimentality such as this one regarding a 1970 recording of a WWII big band hit: “…if you ever need it…here’s your quintessential 40’s love ballad for that slow last dance before goodbye. Possibly forever.” OUCH, easy does it Carl Ritchie!
In an entry for a recording from the 60’s, CR mentions a 1967 visit from Louis B. Wright, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. He describes Wright as a “very nice guy” who “knew Angus Bowmer, and admired what Angus was doing.” Then CR goes on to recount what reads like an old-timey, legendary NYC theatre-fairy-tale of going out for a drink at the Mark Antony Hotel after a show with Louis and a few OSF people including Angus and his wife. They talked about their work, future plans, ideas etc, and that resulted in Wright offering Ritchie a fellowship at the Folger “to explore their absolutely untouched collection of ballad operas from the genre’s brief wild and wondrous roughly eleven year gallop through London’s Grub Street.” Ritchie describes the moment when Wright popped the proposal,
Angus and I exchanged a quick glance and I took it at once. So that November, I went to D.C and delved joyously into the Folger stacks for six great weeks. I found things untouched for a couple of centuries. Louis Wright had said they had stuff no one had scanned and that he didn’t think a library should be a hiding place or just a safety deposit box.
Yeah Louis B. Wright!! Ritchie’s fellowship resulted in notebooks full of his findings and inspirations, but he laments that he never received the funding to complete the theatrical adaptation he hoped to create from his research at the Folger.
And so that was yet another special moment for this Shakespearean actress turned Shakespearean archivist while working on the materials Carl Ritchie has so thoroughly and animatedly cataloged for us. If he wasn’t already, the mention of his fellowship at the Folger solidified CR’s status as my Hero-of-the-Month. Or maybe even longer… I’ve always said that in my world, the opportunity of being able to work at the Folger would be the equivalent of a gig on Broadway. Except cooler. No offense to any Broadway actors, Broadway is a major and admirable achievement, but I think you get my Librarian’s point. I guess it was just another moment of feeling like I should pinch myself as my reality and my dream world seem to get closer and closer all the time…And there is something about continuing to feel a connection from my past to my present, and east coast to west coast, that is always comforting as I continue to forge ahead on my own in the wilds of Oregon.
Debi and I are conspiring to convince Kit and Maria that we need to have an OSF Archivists’ Field Trip to visit Carl Ritchie who, as I understand it, is not up for making the 3 hour trip from his home to Ashland these days. We think it could be a bit of an accession opportunity, and I would love to conduct a proper Oral History with the man who pioneered such projects at OSF. I sure hope we get our way and I’m able to meet my Hero-of-the-Month-or-Maybe-Even-Longer. All things considered, it really only seems right that I should thank the man himself for all that he has added to my experience here and for all he has done for the preservation of OSF’s history.
A comment CR made in reference to the aforementioned quintessential 1940s ballad also applies to his work here in the OSF Archives generally, and the further relevance to the wider scope of librarianship is difficult to overlook: “It is of my time, and hence I’ll also save it for your time.” Why thank you, Carl Ritchie, Honorary Archivist. I appreciate that.