As I became situated in my new role as a conservation intern at Special Collections & University Archives at Rod Library (SC&UA), I was given the task of organizing and rehousing the Eugene Francis Grossman Papers in the Manuscripts Collection. This simple instruction quickly became one of my favorite opportunities of the semester, and I’m delighted to share why.
The Grossman Papers are a collection of various materials that come from the exciting life of Eugene Francis Grossman, an Iowa State Teachers College alum, who graduated in 1916. He was interested in radio and was able to broadcast a station from his apartment. During World War I, he joined the United States Navy as a radio specialist. In 1922, he worked as a sound engineer for the National Broadcasting Company, where he remained until 1928. Eugene joined the Fox Film Corporation where he worked as a sound engineer for major motion pictures for a few decades. Mr. Grossman returned to Cedar Falls to establish a scholarship for students interested in radio, television, and film. He passed away in 1982.
Included in this collection are numerous photographs, letters, blueprints, papers, and other materials related to Grossman’s life. As I went through the archival boxes, it was clear that Eugene was a very scholarly man. It was so interesting seeing his schoolwork compared to the schoolwork we complete now.
Picking up these photographs that were sometimes 100+ years old, I almost felt unworthy of possessing what I was holding. These precious memories of his family and friends were now in my hands, ready to be put in special archival-quality sleeves to be preserved. Looking through these photographs, it was very easy to place myself in that time.
I came across many photographs that I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a series of photos that were shot during a fun day at a lake. Grossman and his friends posed on top of large rocks and smiled down at the camera. I felt completely there as an observer, and also as far away as possible. I suddenly was as present as Eugene’s friends and could feel the warm sun in my hair. I knew everyone in these photos were now long dead and wondered if they even had a chance to see the images I was holding.
It seemed unfair that I was able to look at these with the possibility of being one of the only people ever to look at them. I realized this is why preservation and access to archival material are so important. The entire world stopped spinning so I could hold these memories, and preserve them as long as possible. These collections of photographs and other materials that are kept in places like the SC&UA are incredibly important to get a sense of what life was like during another time period and to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.
Contributed by SC&UA intern Clara Petri, April 2020