by Matt Sutton
I was hesitating to do a 2010 version of “Know Your Archives” for the sake of the Springfield, MO, Chamber of Commerce. But since Paul asked for it…
In late May I returned to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center for research. I was there eight years ago, on my first major research trip as a graduate student. At that time, I had no funding, but was offered access to a confidential file I really wanted to see on the condition that I show up in person. I did. I stayed as a shady Red Roof Inn and took the public bus to the archives each day. I figured my less-than-favorable view of the area was colored by my economic status at the time.
This summer, traveling as faculty of an under-funded state institution, I managed to swing a room at the Holiday Inn Express (with a view of the minor league baseball field) and a rental car (a very manly Chevy HHR) from Enterprise. The Assemblies’ archivists continue to be wonderful, and while there I met a recent Duke PhD who regaled me with stories of DVDs she had been watching of “amateurs and their machine guns” when not perfecting for herself the name-it-and-claim-it philosophy she was studying (she landed a great job—it must work). We checked out the picture of Grant Wacker’s grand-daddy in the pentecostal Hall of Fame and I learned that the father of another famous religious historian played a role in one of my favorite movies, A Thief in the Night.
Sadly, Springfield still looked the same as it did almost a decade ago. Jogging through downtown reminded me of walking around Detroit. It is a sad, bombed-out city.
From there I went to New York, first to do research at the Schomberg Center. Either New York is regressing, or I was in the wrong places at the wrong times. At one point a guy on the subway started flipping out. A woman pulled a canister of pepper spray out of her purse, un-holstered it, and threatened to pull the trigger. I prayed that I would not experience the effects of pepper spray in a small, confined, underground area (luckily I didn’t).
From there it was off to the NY Public Library. I spent a few hours working at a computer while another man quietly worked next to me. At one point another patron, intrigued by something on my neighbor’s screen, stopped and asked him about it. Out of nowhere he started screaming at her, calling her all sorts of expletives. Ah… big city life.
With the subway and the library providing some challenges, I decided to relax by jogging in Central Park. All was well until I passed an older Russian man, who for reasons that are still not clear to me, started screaming—at me. He must have known that I spent the ‘80s watching Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Red Dawn, War Games, and Spies Like Us. I just kept jogging.
From there it was on to the FDR library in beautiful Hyde Park. Trying to save some money, I opted not to rent a car and instead to stay in the Golden Manor Motel across the street from the library. I booked the $55/night room, but got a free upgrade to the $65/night room. It smelled worse than a hundred-year old Michigan basement on a hot humid day. I will spare you the rest of the details. An up-and-coming new Yale PhD told me that it was a decent place to stay. Apparently Yale is also suffering from the financial crisis. Nevertheless, the local pizza, a forty from the quickie-mart down the street, and the television remote-control (which I had to check out from the front desk) made for one exciting evening watching justice prevail as the Lakers stomped the Celtics to win the NBA championship.
Despite these travails, I returned home with suitcases full of scanned images and photocopies. Now, I better get back to actually writing this stuff up…