Column: History in a folder inside ‘the basement files’

05/16/2015 2:00 PM |

File

The basement here at The Suffolk Times office probably isn’t all that different from your own.

It’s cold and musty. There are some dark corners, some old furniture, books and gym equipment from eras gone by scattered throughout. The insulation and duct work is exposed.

It’s pretty much your average basement.

But downstairs in the basement of The Suffolk Times (previously known as The Suffolk Weekly Times) are six file cabinets you won’t find anywhere else in the world — just like that box stuffed away in the corner of your own basement with those silly old photos of you and your siblings.

Mary Curry worked as the newspaper’s archivist for well over a decade. During her time here, she cut out articles and categorized them into scores of different folders, which can now be found inside those cabinets in the basement. The clippings end around the early 2000s, when the Internet began its slow but steady effort to gather every single piece of information known to man.


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But those older clippings — which date back to the mid-1970s — continue to be used to this day. In fact, you’ll find any number of those folders upstairs in the newsroom at any given time. This, despite repeated notes on the file cabinets asking us reporters and editors to “please use only one file at a time!” Sorry, Mary.

When heading down to “the files,” it’s very easy for me to get lost or distracted by folders completely unrelated to the one I might be looking for. Maybe I’ll come across one related to a story someone else in the newsroom is working on. Why not pull that? Maybe my colleague will get something out of it.

And of course there’s just the natural curiosity of thumbing through the file cabinets and seeing something that piques my interest. As someone relatively new to Long Island, I honestly don’t know a lot of the history in those files. After living in Greenport for a year before moving to Riverhead, I think I’ve learned a lot in my five years here, but I’m always interested in finding out more. So I can get pretty distracted down there — even by the ones with just a few clippings in them.

Take these folders, for example:

• “The Buzz”: Based on the name, this seemed like a promising folder. Yet it contained just one clip from 2003: a story about the local real estate market.

• “Archaeology”: I was delighted to find five clips in here, one of which informed me that Fort Corchaug, which I’ve driven by countless times but have never explored, made its way to becoming a national landmark when “a grammar school boy named Ralph Solecki picked up an arrowhead on the banks of Downs Creek … It was a fateful occasion.” Indeed it was.

• “Breweries”: As a homebrewer, this was another thing I was happy to see. I had no idea another brewery was proposed out here in the mid-1990s: Old Peconic Brewing Co.

• “Japan”: Comments made by Japan’s equivalent of the Speaker of the House that “American workers don’t work hard enough” had locals arguing otherwise in 1992.

• “Escapees”: How could I not pick this folder up? A man escaped from Kings Park Psychiatric Facility in 1990 and was later found on the North Fork.

And of course, the bigger files in the basement point to what has shaped Southold Town’s recent history.

Not surprisingly, those files — we’re talking over 100 articles at least — include farming, education, LILCO, vineyards, Peconic County and politics. Business and education, which are a little broad, were also huge.

For something that remains a need today, I was surprised to see how big the “Affordable Housing” file was — 141 files, to be exact. And then there’s a whole separate (and bigger) housing file. In fact, one headline from 1995 asks, “Remember affordable housing?” If they only knew …

Which leads us back to the present day and what’s in our own basements. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep those memories alive and get them out of the basement at least every once in a while? That is something we’ve been trying to do here at work more frequently online with our #TBT posts (check them out on our Facebook and Instagram feeds if you haven’t yet).

Life, as they say, usually gets in the way of us doing anything more comprehensive.

But the files — just like those family photos — will still be there whenever we do get around to doing something more with them.

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