Not everything is online.
Over the weekend I was writing about moving into our new offices at 30 N. Racine.
And I thought that I should give a quick run-down of where the Chicago Sun-Times has been located during its 76 year history, starting with the creation of the Chicago Sun in 1941.
Which raised the question of where the original Chicago Sun offices where.
Nothing in Wikipedia. Nothing that popped out of Google Books. Nothing anywhere. I wasn't that worried because I happened to have a copy of Volume 1, No. 1 of the Sun, bought on eBay for $5. Surely, that would say. Down in the basement to retrieve it—it was in the box I thought it would be in. So far, so good.
But the address wasn't in the paper. Not in the little box of legalese on page five, where I thought it would be. Not in the big story ballyhooing the start of publication, going over again and again about the three newsreel cameras and the radio microphones relaying the news to a grateful world, presided over by Mayor Kelly and Governor Green and not once saying where the heck this entire circus was taking place.
Maddening. You wanted to reach across the decades and shake them. Where is it?!?!
Not that pawing through the Dec. 4, 1941 Sun wasn't interesting. There, on the front page of the third section: "County Pushes Plans for Its First Super Highway," news of the "first super-speed, no-intersection express highway similar to those in New York and Pennsylvania. The new road, to be known as Edens Parkway, will start at Peterson and Caldwell avenues and run north to join the Skokie road five miles south of the Lake county line."
The new road would have two lanes in each direction.
Interesting. But not what I was after. I must have looked online for 20 minutes and finally I thought. "Back to the paper. You must have missed it." Indeed I did. There, in the little box on page 5 I had started at and somehow overlooked: "Published daily and Sunday at 400 West Madison Street, Chicago, Il."
A fact which, before my story Monday, had never appeared online before, that I can tell. Not once. Nothing in Nexis. Nothing anywhere. Why would it?
You never know what odd question you are going to have, and where that information might hide. I did brusquely throw those card catalogue cards away, and it was honestly liberating. But it was also done by force of will, by straight-arming thought, never mind regret, the way you would drown a litter of kittens if you had to. Close your eyes and do it.
I'm the guy who read Nicholson Baker's book about preserving old newspaper archives, "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper," and was outraged, and grieved along with him, cheering Baker on as he races to save the last complete bound run of the Times of London. Most to the point, I read "Discards," his 1994 (!!!!) piece in The New Yorker about the tactile and informational value of card catalogues, a plea for their preservation. Sign me up!
When possible. The good news is we are in an age of conservation that dwarfs any in the past. The internet is the greatest library in the history of the world, bar none, and also the most permanent, or so one hopes. Preserving the past used to be an issue—it still is, but not the primary one. There is also cutting through the enormous mass of stuff we now have at our fingertips. You can't care about everything—that's a recipe for caring about nothing. You can't preserve everything. You have to pick your battles. But I am glad I held onto that first copy of the Sun.