When you think of the Hall of Fame, what springs to mind? I’ll admit that when I first saw the application for the Hall of Fame collection to considered for METRO’s Culture in Transit service, I did think it related to the baseball Hall of Fame. However, this Hall of Fame – the Hall of Fame for Great Americans – and its history is infinitely more interesting (to me) than baseball’s equivalent.
The Hall of Fame colonnade
This collection was the focus of my on-site digitization work for February when Bronx Community College hosted me for 2 weeks. Nestled high in the Bronx, on a plateau that overlooks the Harlem River, Fort Tryon Park and the Palisades, lies a neoclassical colonnade replete with busts of some of the most prominent Americans to have ever lived, honoring their impact on the nation’s history. From past Presidents to scientists, inventors, activists and reformers, the Hall of Fame is a place of reflection and inspiration.
Bronx Community College Library boasts a beautiful painting of the Hall of Fame.
The archive collection brings the Hall of Fame to life; it has a fascinating history that is revealed when you begin looking through the documents. Designed by Stanford White, of the powerhouse architectural firm that was Mckim, Mead & White, the Hall of Fame was dedicated on May 30, 1901. Originally owned by NYU and built as part of their expansion into the Bronx, organizations and ordinary people could nominate members to the Hall of Fame. By the 1970s, NYU was facing financial difficulties and sold its Bronx campus to the State Dormitory Authority, which gave it to CUNY – the last election to the Hall of Fame was in 1976. Of particular interest in the archive collection is this difficult period during the 1970s with documents revealing that NYU sought to relocate the Hall of Fame to different areas in the City. I was interested to see a lot of letters from Robert Moses, an infamous figure in NYC’s history and his involvement in the attempted relocation’s of the Hall of Fame.
Some items from the collection I digitized
From a digitization perspective, it was an easy collection to digitize. I scanned the majority of it, just using the copy stand for a couple of larger items. The challenge was its size – it’s an extensive collection, that was far too large to digitize whole in a two week stretch, so prior to my arrival the archive staff carefully went through the collection, selecting items that would form a capsule collection to reflect and tell the story of the Hall of Fame. This is key when offering a mobile digitization service and working with different institutions – it’s vital to lean on local knowledge to ensure items can be selected that reflect the larger and broader history of a collection. This allowed us to demonstrate the importance and rich history of the Hall of Fame in 142 items. I’m in no way detracting from the importance and rationale of digitizing a whole collection, simply looking at it from a different perspective – some digitized content is better than no digitized content. The items digitized can form the basis to showcase the collection and its importance that could lead to further opportunities down the road. An aside from this collection but something that illustrates this point perfectly – White Plains Public Library, who were our hosts in September when I digitized 246 items from their local history collection, recently used the content I digitized in a Knight News Challenge proposal – Virtual White Plains. This was really exciting to see and we wish them luck with their application!
One of the entrances to the 630 foot open air Hall of Fame.
Thinking back to the rationale for Culture in Transit, which is something I often do when working with a new institution, this type of collection is also a perfect example of demonstrating the value of a mobile digitization service. I’m the first to admit I didn’t know about the Hall of Fame and talking to colleagues and others, it turns out they didn’t know about it either. Cultural heritage institutions are full of collections just like this one – collections that tell vital stories of the City’s history that deserve to be told on a broader platform. This collection isn’t just NYC-centric, it’s USA-centric – it champions the people who made important contributions to the history of America and the world (Alexander Graham Bell has a bust in the Colonnade) and digitization gives us the ability to add not only to our collective memory but to the historical record of New York.
The Wright brothers, inventors and aviation pioneers, have busts in the Hall of Fame.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter, as we’ll be letting everyone know when the collection is ready and published on Digital Culture!