Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rescued from the trash

A British tank photographed on April 5, 1918. (Mercury Press)
My favorite story about a Civil War treasure rescued from the trash concerns Dr. Esther Hill Hawks, whose scrapbooks were saved from curbside pickup in Lynn, Mass., nearly 40 years ago. The scrapbooks contained letters and accounts of Hawks's service as a nurse, teacher and regimental surgeon in the occupied South during the war. They now reside in the safety of the Library of Congress, where it is a joy to behold them, as I did while researching Hawks's story for Our War.

Now comes a similar story about Bob Smethurst, a trash collector in London. During 36 years on the job, Smethurst picked up an estimated 5,000 photographs, letters and other mementos of World War I. When Smethurst began his work in the 1970s, he noticed that people often discarded wartime pictures and papers, presumably as the veterans of the war died off. He began to take them home.

You can read the full story of his collection and see a sample of the photos here on the website of The Telegraph of London.

Bob Smethurst with a portion of his vast collection (Mercury Press photo)..  

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