by Steve Ammidown, Gilman Archivist:
Prying into a box I’ve never opened in the Gilman Archives is always an adventure because I never know what I’ll find. This week provided a great example. Monday I found a plain letter-sized envelope labeled:
“Roof shingle from top section of The Cage. May 1989.”
And true to that vitally important label (I’ll talk more about that in a moment), I opened the envelope to find a piece of asphalt shingle. But it wasn’t just any shingle- it represented a vital connection to Gilman’s past.
Now a part of the Redmond C.S. Finney Athletic Center, “The Cage”, with its distinctive pyramid-shaped roof has been a part of the Gilman skyline since it was built in 1928. The building originally had a dirt floor inside, with a slight slope at the four corners to create an indoor track. The upper part of the roof was made of glass to allow for a maximum of natural light, while the lower part was covered with asphalt shingles. It was meant to serve as a cold-weather practice space for outdoor sports, and in fact, the minor-league Baltimore Orioles used it for spring training when their travel was restricted during World War II. Period photos of the inside show an extensive net system, presumably to protect the roof from errant balls.
Let’s go back to the significance of the label on the envelope. It provides us with two vital pieces of information about the shingle. The first is where it came from- with the number of buildings on the Gilman campus that at one point had asphalt shingles, this is incredibly useful. The second is the date- 1989 was the year when the Finney Athletic Center was built, which involved a complete renovation of “The Cage” that converted it into the main basketball court among other things. Most importantly for our purposes, the roof was converted to all-metal, so the shingles were permanently retired.
As an archivist, I’ve come across lots of artifacts saved by well-meaning folks who wanted to commemorate a moment that was important to them. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that the object isn’t labeled, or the person hasn’t written down the significance of it so by the time that object makes it to the archives, it’s just another asphalt shingle, or baseball, or t-shirt.
I had a great visit with Mrs. Reiter’s 3A class earlier this fall where we talked about objects that represented their summer adventures. I want to close by telling you what I told them- write down your stories! Decades from now, your family- and your friendly neighborhood archivist- will thank you for it.