Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Notes from the Microfilm Reader

Lincoln's Horse, Old Bob, in 1865

I spent some time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library last weekend. If you’ve never killed an afternoon scanning microfilm, you're missing out.

Of course, I’m only half-joking.

I admit, the microfilm experience can be frustrating. It can be difficult to locate the right microfilm reel or the right article within the reel. Equipment can be difficult to operate and sometimes it completely breaks down.

Thankfully, bad microfilm experiences are few and far between at a first-rate facility like the ALPL.

I had a very good time while I was there. That’s right, a good time staring at microfilm.

How is that possible?

It happens when the room is dark and quiet and I’ve already found the things I was looking for. I can get lost in the experience.

It happened to me again last weekend.

I found myself just reading the newspaper. I’m talking about a newspaper written 170 years ago! Each issue was only a few pages long: a page for national news, another for local, and a page or two of advertisements.

The ads were especially good. The fantastic descriptions of law firms and miracle tonics more than made-up for the lack of colorful illustrations.

I read through a week or two of the Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL] before I realized I had drifted off to the nineteenth century. This article, published 172 years ago today [March 26, 1836], caught my eye:

FROM a stable in Springfield, on Wednesday, 18th inst. a large bay horse, star in his forehead, plainly marked with harness; supposed to be eight years old; had been shod all round, but is believed to have lost some of his shoes, and trots and paces. Any person who will take up said horse, and leave information at the Journal office, or with the subscriber at New-salem, shall be liberally paid for their trouble. A. LINCOLN.

I don’t know if Lincoln ever found his horse, but as I was walking across campus today, I found myself hoping he did.

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