Starting a long and tiring week going through the contents of every dusty box in the room didn’t fill Jenny with joy. Of all the things she loved about her job, this was the part that felt the most arduous. Ahead of her were days of lifting each container down from its shelf, comparing the contents with her list, checking for any signs of decay and perhaps re-wrapping anything that had suffered due to long term storage.
It wasn’t always this tedious though. Working in an archive had been her dream job since she was a child. A day out with her father when he was researching their family history had triggered a lifelong obsession with those quiet windowless rooms, filled with glimpses of the past. As a teenager, she was the only kid at her high school to volunteer at a museum as soon as she was able. At university she learnt about the past, becoming even more fascinated with twentieth century history than she had been before.
After graduating from the Museum Studies Master’s programme at NYU, it wasn’t long before she was offered her first archivist role. Every day felt like a new discovery. Jenny was struck by how many items in that museum’s collection had not been accessed by anyone since they had been accessioned. Donated by kind people who were keen to preserve the piece of the past that they’d found in a garage or attic, many of these objects had been recorded by disinterested archivists who had logged them, placed them in a box and then forgot about them.
Occasionally, on days when she managed visitor appointments, as Jenny was laying everything out for each researcher’s arrival she would discover something that had been missed. On one particularly exciting day in her first job, she spotted a Victorian train ticket tucked under a hat band, and a wedding photograph that had somehow found its way into the back of the accounting books of a local family run business. Jenny always hoped that, one day, she’d unearth something that people outside her working world would find as exciting as she did. A magical object which would capture the imagination of the world.
Nothing could have prepared her for what was in that box at the back of the fourth shelf she’d tackled that afternoon. As she lifted out a big stack of papers, ready to check it off against the catalogue list, she found a leather-bound book underneath. It wasn’t on the contents list, so was either undocumented or had been misplaced from elsewhere in the archive.
It was a photograph album, full of decades-old images taken using analogue cameras, with the negatives carefully tucked in the back. When she saw the iconic image of Buzz Aldrin – a reflection of the photographer, Neil Armstrong, in his helmet’s visor – she knew she’d struck gold. That evening, she excitedly phoned her father to tell him about her day knowing that, this time, he’d completely understand her excitement.
This is the third in a series of creative writing blog posts, written during or inspired by a creative writing short course I took at Central Saint Martins in 2017. The image is from Carolina Prysyazhnyuk‘s Flickr photostream and is used under Creative Commons licence.