An apology to my fellow researchers, from the bane of the reading room

Day 1: Sick at the New York State Archives

I have been looking forward to my return trip to the New York State Archivesin Albany, NY for ages – I was even up early and lined up to wait for the elevators to open to get to the reading room. But apparently my body had other plans for today: I’m sick. Slight fever, a runny nose, and some aches and pains – nothing horribly bothersome to complain about – but I also have this annoying cough. As if my constant sniffling wasn’t enough to annoy my fellow researchers in the otherwise silent reading room (and yes, I noticed the glares), I was periodically attacked with coughing fits throughout the day. This is the one time I wish water bottles were permitted at archives – each time a fit hit I had to leave the room (get buzzed out), get some water, and return to the room (get buzzed in) only to repeat the process over and over. So I succeeded not only in annoying the other researchers with my sniffling and coughing but I also annoyed the archivists who have to unlock the door for me repeatedly.

And the thing about being sick while on an archive trip is that it’s not like you can just head back to the hotel, hang that “do not disturb sign”, and sleep for the remainder of the day. Archival research trips operate on a seriously tight budget (or at least mine do) in which you’ve paid for travel, paid for a place to stay, are eating peanut butter sandwiches you made in your hotel room, and have tried to schedule far too much research into far too few days – there is just not really any time to waste.

On a more positive note, I got to spend the day with copies of The Opal, the patient newspaper from Utica State Hospital that dates to 1851. I had seen the first volume during my last visit but had run out of time before I could go through the later editions. The volumes are filled with stories, opinions, and poetry – some of the text deals with the asylum, much does not. My attention was caught by far too many article and poems to comment on here but one to leave you with was a page titled: “Old Songs to Sing, Old Books to Read, Old Wine to Drink, Old Friends to Converse With” in the 12th number of the second volume. It opened with “At the risk of being considered antiquated and unfashionable, I must confess, a predilection for old things instead of new; even as a child I was fond of the company of aged people, their stories of olden time, their reminiscences of early days, their memories of hours, over which the moss of forgetfulness might grow deep, all were invested with strange fascination, to my curious ears, and I left dolls and plays to listed to some gray haired sire or venerable dame.” For those interested in The Opal, some of the volumes are available online.

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4 Responses to An apology to my fellow researchers, from the bane of the reading room

  1. Histochristo says:

    Sorry to hear that you’re ill. Be well soon!

    I had hoped for something interesting in the Opal item “Considerations on the subject of insanity”, but it turned out to be a pious platitude. No author names. Are most f the articles like that, or have you been able to match some up with particular patients about whom you have fnd something in the hospital records?

    – chris

    • The author names in The Opal are all pseudonyms. I’ve actually ordered the records related to the “bindery and printing” department to see if it has any information about the creation of the issues. Most of the articles and poetry that mention aspects of the institution are positive – almost excessively so. The articles I ended up getting more out of were called “Editor’s Table” and relayed information about events held at the institution.

  2. JLY says:

    Feel better soon!

  3. […] get some more information about the publication of the patient newsletter, The Opal, that I had looked at earlier in the week. It turned out to be (1) correspondence relating to the publication of the American […]

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