The Jewish Chronicle’s move from Shadyside to Squirrel Hill is proving to be a bonanza for the archivists of Pittsburgh’s Jewish history.
Since the Chronicle announced its move in late December, representatives of the Rauh Jewish Archives, a division of the Senator John Heinz History Center, have been scouring the paper’s files searching for items worthy of preservation.
They have found quite a bit, including, books, newsletters, back issues of the Chronicle and other Jewish papers — but nothing more exciting than the Chronicle’s extensive photo collection, which contains an estimated 32,000 files of prints of Jewish leaders and philanthropists taken over the paper’s 48-year history.
The Chronicle plans to donate the collection to the Rauh, whose archivists will begin moving the 70-plus boxes of files this week.
How many prints those files contain is virtually impossible to say just now.
“One file could contain one print or it could contain 50,” said Molly Tighe, a contracted archivist for the Rauh who has been working at the paper preparing the files for the move to the Heinz center.
The shear size of the collection makes it an exciting project for the Rauh.
“We think this is an extremely important collection,” Rauh archivist Susan Melnick said. “It not only documents the newspaper and its work, but it’s the content of the newspaper, which has documented the community since 1962.”
She added, “This may be the largest collection of pictures of people in the Pittsburgh Jewish community. What a resource!”
The Chronicle recently sold its two-story office building at 5600 Baum Blvd., and is preparing to move into a smaller space at Congregation Beth Shalom by mid-January. While the new location is not large enough to accommodate the paper’s photo collection, the Rauh is also better suited to store the files until they can be sorted, catalogued and ultimately digitized.
“We’d also like to select some of the photographs … have them digitized and put up on Historic Pittsburgh,” Melnick said.
Historic Pittsburgh is an online collection of local resources that supports personal and scholarly research of the western Pennsylvania area. The University of Pittsburgh’s Digital Research Library maintains the Historic Pittsburgh website.
The photo collection includes images of both the nationally famous, and locally prominent — feminist and former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, filmmaker Stephen Spielberg and former Pittsburgh Mayors Sophie Masloff and Richard Caliguiri, to name just a few.
The collection includes photos of several past members of the Chronicle staff, including former General Manager Al Zecker, former Executive Editor Joel Roteman and former Assistant Editor Iris Samson.
Processing and digitizing the photos and other records will, of course, cost money. Melnick said she is planning an intensive fundraising effort to support the work.
She did not say how much she is seeking, but the work will take years to complete.
“They’re not going to disintegrate in the next few years,” she said, “but I just think this is a marvelous collection, and I’m going to be as aggressive as we can be to get this done.”
Among other artifacts at the paper are old newsletters and press releases from Jewish organizations, back issues of the Chronicle and other Jewish newspapers around the country and from Israel, and old advertisements.
Tighe has been spending much of her time at the Chronicle “triaging” items with the most historical significance.
“Triage would be identifying any major preservation issues,” she said. For instance, “if I found mold growing on something or if I found some film in really bad physical condition — deteriorating — and could harm other items just by proximity.”
Those items would be flagged for immediate attention, she said, which has not yet happened.
So far, so good,” Tighe said. “Nothing has been so bad that much [attention] is needed at this point.”
The only item of concern she has found is adhesives — tape and glue — on several older prints. That is generally not good,” Tighe said. [Adhesives] can deteriorate a lot quicker than paper. It can cause yellowing and deterioration.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)