NMU celebrates Archives Month

Von Lanier

This week marks the start of National Archives Month at NMU, a celebration in which three major events will take place on campus.re-archives_ET

In accordance with LGBT month, one of the events will be a presentation from associate professor of history Chet Defonso, about the role that archives play in documenting the LGBT community.

A visiting Grant scholar, Elizabeth Oliver, will give a presentation titled “The Embezzling Bishop.” It is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.

The topic is about Bishop Ablewhite, who was the Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Northern Michigan in the 1930s, and was arrested on charges of embezzling money from the church. Oliver is currently in the process of writing a biography of Ablewhite’s life in which he was sentenced to prison.

John D. Voelker was the prosecuting attorney at the time who convicted Bishop Ablewhite. He is also the author of the book “Anatomy of a Murder,” which was made into a movie. The movie is tentatively scheduled for screening at Campus Cinema on Sunday, Nov. 1 and it will be the final event of National Archives month.

Voelker was a successful lawyer and a writer in his time. According to Sara Kiszka, records manager for the NMU Archives, the collection in the archives department contains a lot of old case files, and files on writing from Voelker.

“He was a bit of a kleptomaniac, and actually took some evidence from the courtroom during the trial which inspired “Anatomy of a Murder,” Kiszka said.

The Voelker collection contains the shell casings recovered from the murder scene of Mike Chenoweth in 1953, as well as the bullets removed from his body during the autopsy.

“I don’t know how he managed it, but he smuggled them out somehow,” Kiszka said.

Marcus Robyns, university archivist, actively solicits the donations of personal papers and organizational records for institutional archives. According to Robyns, the part of the job he finds most interesting is when people are using the collections.

“The whole point of the archives, our job, and everything we do here is to identify, collect and preserve this important documentation of our history,” Robyns said.

NMU’s archive has an extensive collection of records with some that date back to the beginning of European settlement in the Upper Peninsula. Some of these records are from the early nineteenth century up to the present. The archive is estimated to have somewhere around 6,000 cubic feet of historical manuscripts.

This includes early records from the start of the mining industry and collections of historical photographs from prominent people who visited Marquette, like Theodore Roosevelt and George Shiras.

Robyns said he wants to emphasize that the archives is always open to students and the general public as well. There is no fee to utilize the knowledge and just do research. Students are free to just sit and study in the reading room if they’d like to.

“You don’t have to have a reason to be here. You don’t have to have a justification,” he said. “It’s not a place that’s off limits or requires real serious scholarship.”

Renovations in the archives are currently under way. The department will soon have a multipurpose room that may be used as a workplace or for instructing a visiting class. Other modifications entail a breakroom and a personal office for the records analyst. There will also be a wall that separates the processing area as well as the storage area from the public reading room.

“This is going to greatly improve the amount of space we have in the reading room and reduce noise and distractions to researchers,” Robyns said. “This is designed to hopefully improve the experience for researchers here.”

A lot of students like Gregory White, senior criminal justice major, have admittedly never been to the archives before, but this month may increase students urges to go. White said he’s been aware of the archives’ location for quite some time but has never had any reason to go in there.

“This John Voelker guy seems pretty interesting though,” White said. “I’m definitely more persuaded to go there and check out some of the cool stuff they have on that.”