At the Library, a Stack of Choice Finds

Tina Habash, a volunteer at the Library of Congress, views a stereograph found by interns sifting through 135 years of copyrighted material. The newly processed items will be available to researchers.
Tina Habash, a volunteer at the Library of Congress, views a stereograph found by interns sifting through 135 years of copyrighted material. The newly processed items will be available to researchers. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

Michael Jordan wasn't much of a basketball player when he was 13.

Well, he might've been, but certainly not in this 1977 footage of a junior high school game in Wilmington, N.C. It was shot on a camcorder from the bleachers of a gym, probably by another player's gung-ho parent. And His Airness is just another jerseyed youth popping airballs.

"He makes one shot out of five, so he wasn't that great," says intern Marlena Brown, scrutinizing a DVD of the transferred footage in an oak-paneled room at the Library of Congress.

Then there is Marilyn Monroe at a Los Angeles driving range in 1954, hacking at a golf ball with an iron. Then a grainy movie of her ceremonial appearance at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field for an all-star soccer match in 1957. After being escorted to the field by guards, Monroe primps, tugs at her tight pencil skirt and readies for the opening kick.

"She's wearing that skirt, so she can't move," Lea Engle, a second intern, notes. Indeed, the skirt chokes Monroe's follow-through, and the bombshell awkwardly punts the ball with the pointy toe of her high heel.

Footage of the athletic misadventures of Michael and Marilyn are the spoils of a summer of treasure hunting, of slogging through the dusty boxes of copyright deposits, of discovering things (yes!) that had already been discovered (oh, sigh).

Brown, a Pasadena, Calif., native and recent Wellesley graduate, and Engle, a senior at the University of Maryland -- and 19 other Library of Congress summer interns -- have spent the past 10 weeks locating, identifying and indexing thousands of items that made it through the Copyright Office but were never fully processed, from personally annotated Noel Coward plays to a candid photo of William McKinley minutes before his assassination. They've researched, cross-checked, labeled, filed, sweated and sneezed.

Then, they picked the most compelling items and showed them off yesterday morning to the library staff, who circulated around the buffet of priceless goodies and curious junk. It was like a combination flea market and antique show, comprising 135 years of backlog, including:

· Humorous stereographs that depict the 1870s grasshopper plague in Nebraska.

· The text of a 1913 lecture by teacher Anne Sullivan titled "The Education of Helen Keller."


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